Taiwan To Modify Its Defense Strategy
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI - In an effort to placate Beijing and Washington, Taiwan's new Nationalist Party (KMT) administration is debating a defense strategy that could abandon offshore offensive missions capable of striking mainland China.
Taiwan's defense strategy is guided by the long-held concepts of resolute defense and effective deterrence. The former is basically a political statement indicating Taiwan's determination to resist Chinese military aggression; the latter refers to a commitment to create and maintain a military capable of destroying China's ability to invade Taiwan. But how to achieve these strategies has been debated for years.
The principal debate is over the so-called offshore engagement strategy that would take the fight to the enemy. It would employ limited offensive missions, including F-16 airstrikes, against China during an invasion and would develop offensive missile systems like the Hsiung Feng 2E cruise missile and short-to-medium-range ballistic missiles.
During the recent election, Ma Ying-jeou, now president, promised "no unification, no independence and no use of force." "No use of force" is interpreted as no offensive operations against mainland China.
In line with Ma's "Hard ROC" defense policy, the new defense strategy is expected to emphasize surviving a sudden attack by improving air defenses, strengthening bunkers and aircraft shelters, improving firewalls for command-and-control hubs, and upgrading land warfare rapid response capabilities.
But the debate is ongoing, and the Ma administration is not expected to make a public announcement until February, when the Quadrennial Defense Review is released.
"Now we are in a period of debate and inspiration, especially in the next two months," one Taiwan defense specialist here said. "How the 'Hard ROC' concept would be 'authoritatively' translated into programs, budgets, force structures and investments remain to be seen."
Ma has promised a defense budget increase of 3 percent of gross domestic product.
The administration has been pushing Washington to release arms notifications to Congress for the sale of $11 billion in U.S. weapons to Taiwan - eight submarines, 30 AH-64D Apache attack and 60 UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, and six Patriot Advanced Capability-3 air defense missile batteries.
However, Ma might reject subs and sub-launched Harpoon missiles in line with new strategies. The proposed design phase for the sub program is estimated at $360 million, and those funds could go into other defense projects that would produce more immediate results.
Su Chi, new secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC) here, has publicly opposed the procurement of subs. In a January 2006 opinion piece on soft power and defense published in the Chinese-language United Daily News, Su said the submarine delivery would take 10 years and the money could be better spent elsewhere.
There are fears China could attack should the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) retake the presidency in 2012.
The real motivation for the new strategy, according to Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon consultant on China's military, is to placate China in the hopes of getting concessions.
"This is part of the larger strategy of showing goodwill to Beijing and the U.S.," he said.
There are fears Taiwan will forgo requests to buy new F-16s in another attempt to improve ties with Beijing, Pillsbury said.
"Will this goodwill gesture to China be believed? Will Beijing see this as a major concession? 'We [Taiwan] are not going to buy hardware that can be used to attack you,'" he said. "Will China reciprocate?"
Pillsbury attended an Aug. 9 defense conference here hosted by the DPP-supported Institute for Taiwan Defense and Strategic Studies (ITDSS). York Chen, an ITDSS researcher who was a member of the NSC under the former DPP administration, presented a paper arguing that Ma's change in strategy would endanger Taiwan's security.
Outside of the conference, Pillsbury said China must respond by reducing the number of short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, reducing the number of fighter and naval ship patrols along the centerline of the Taiwan Strait, and toning down diplomatic efforts to isolate Taiwan on the international stage. But Ma could end up getting no concessions from China, while irreversibly weakening Taiwan's military and lessening the likelihood of U.S. military support.
Ma's long-term goal is a peace pact with China under which Taiwan would pledge not to declare independence and China would agree not to use military force.