Defense News Editorial on Taiwan Arms Sales

When the U.S. State Department notified Congress Oct. 3 of a proposed $6.4 billion arms package offering a range of defensive weaponry to Taiwan, the sheer scope and cost of the package caught everyone’s attention.

Yet the package has a history dating back to 2001, and these notifications were both incomplete and well past due. The U.S. administration has drifted away from long-established policy in dealing with Taiwan during this time, and it only undercuts American interests in Asia.

U.S. President George W. Bush released a number of items for sale to Taiwan in April 2001 that were seen as crucial to Taiwan’s military modernization, thus fulfilling an important role in U.S. obligations to provide for Taiwan’s self-defense under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). That decision was based on counsel from all parties in the U.S. interagency process, as well as on Taiwan’s own assessment of its defense needs.

Taiwan bears equal responsibility for the seven-year impasse over arms sales, given its domestic political wrangling over the arms budget. Nevertheless, the budgets for these systems were passed in Taiwan in 2007, with eight pending congressional notifications starting to roll into the State Department from the Defense Department in early 2008.

While the notification package sent to Capitol Hill was welcome as a positive step in an otherwise troubled relationship, it omitted Black Hawk utility helicopters for logistics and humanitarian support, well as some of the requested Patriot anti-missile systems and a submarine design program.

It also took more than seven months for the notifications to accumulate – an unprecedented action irrespective of Bush administration claims that this was part of “a normal interagency process.” There is simply no existing example of notifications being stacked at the State Department in such a manner.

Editorial in Defense News – “Taiwan Arms: 2 Steps Back, 1 Step Forward” (PDF)

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