Archive for the ‘Taiwan’ Category

My 2011 Master’s Thesis Now Available: Looking at China’s A2/AD Capabilities and U.S. Perceptions of the Challenge

April 24, 2012

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally been cleared to post my 2011 master’s thesis, entitled “AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS OF CHINA‘S ANTI-ACCESS AND AREA-DENIAL CAPABILITIES: IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. MILITARY OPERATIONS IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC.” I completed the research on it in May 2011, defended it in June in front of a thesis committee featuring a pair of highly-regarded defense and security experts in Taiwan (Dr. Wen-cheng Lin of National Sun Yat-sen University, who served as my thesis advisor, and Dr. Andrew N. D. Yang, Taiwan’s currently serving Deputy Minister of National Defense), and then made my post-defense revisions throughout the summer, finally completing the work in September. It’s basically been in various states of review for release since then. I suppose it is only fitting that I am finally able to release it on the occasion of the joint Chinese and Russian naval drills taking place in the Yellow Sea and the anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Enjoy!


The post-Cold War world has created a number of important new challenges to the United States‘ power projection capabilities. The worldwide network of bases and stations that enabled the U.S. to contain the Soviet Union have, in many cases, been made into liabilities. U.S. dependence on fixed, vulnerable ports and airfields for the buildup of combat power, as seen in the 1990-91 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War, have shown potential foes like China and Iran that it doesn‘t pay to allow penalty-free access and freedom of action in maritime, air, and space commons. In the Western Pacific, China has pursued an anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, developing capabilities designed to deny U.S. freedom of movement in the region.

This study examines U.S. perceptions of China‘s growing A2/AD capabilities and their implications for U.S. military operations in the Western Pacific through the analysis of authoritative official and unofficial U.S. documents and studies. This work establishes a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of Chinese A2/AD capabilities through American eyes, updating previous comprehensive works in key areas such as the status of China‘s anti-ship ballistic missile, conventional ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and their implications for key U.S. facilities in the region, and new technology and platforms like China‘s first aircraft carrier and stealth aircraft.

The thesis concludes that the U.S. has been slow in reacting to Chinese A2/AD developments and that it is unlikely that continued Chinese military modernization (including the refinement and development of additional A2/AD capabilities) will end in the near future. For the U.S., this means that development and implementation of a truly joint concept for counter-A2/AD operations, as well as the right mix of military capabilities to carry out such operations, cannot be delayed any longer.

View this document on Scribd

US weapons sales to Taiwan, 2011 redux

January 22, 2011
Hu Jintao

Image via Wikipedia

China has been all over the news lately. Between President Hu Jintao’s recent US trip and the test flights of the J-20 stealth aircraft that coincided with US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates‘s visit to China earlier this month, it’s been pretty much non-stop. In the run-up to Hu’s US trip, a lot of folks wrote about whether or not Sino-US relations were faring well or heading toward another fallout. Whether or not relations are good or bad right now, if the rumors of new round of weapons sales to Taiwan that began to swirl just prior to Hu’s visit turn out to be true, then we can pretty much assume that relations will be in the tank again soon.

We can make this assumption based on, among other things, the PRC’s reaction to the last round of US weapons sales to Taiwan, which was announced a year ago. This package, which boasted a sticker price in excess of $6 billion, consisted chiefly of utility helicopters like the ones that @Starbuck_WOI flies, missile defense systems (the latest version of the venerable Patriot system), and command and control equipment. In response, the PRC cut military-to-military ties to the US for nearly the balance of the year. These “mil-to-mil” ties are an important part of the regime of confidence building measures (CBMs) in place between the US and the PRC, mainly because the PRC government is not forthcoming with information about many things, in particular defense and security-related issues.

During the moratorium on US-China defense ties in 2010, Secretary Gates requested to make a visit to China in conjunction with a trip that already had him in Asia. The PRC response was that the timing  was “not convenient,” and his request was denied.

Gates was finally able to make the trip this month, and while he was there, the PLA trotted out its new J-20 stealth aircraft for some very public test flights. (US-based observers freaked out.) The PRC vowed the timing was purely coincidental. Of course it was.

Also seemingly not coincidental was the timing of a Taiwan missile exercise during Hu Jintao’s US trip. It is also possible that the results were not coincidental – one third of the missiles tested failed (most of these were US-supplied weapons of a rather old vintage). Could this be a plea to the US to provide “more weapons, more quicker?”

The rumored new weapons sales will not be quite as expensive as the 2010 version ($4 billion this time), and supposedly would include upgrades for Taiwan’s aging F-16 fighter jets, including avionics, engines, and missiles (Washington Times, Foreign Policy).

The US agreed, in the 1982 Joint Communique with the PRC, to decrease both the quantity and quality of the weapons sold to Taiwan over time, but in practice this has been contingent on the military threat to Taiwan being reduced.

The US has not backed away from making weapons sales to Taiwan in the interim, but one could argue that too much accommodation of Beijing’s anticipated reaction has affected at least the timing of the weapons sales, if not the content (though likely this as well – after all, whatever happened to the submarines and F-16s that Taiwan was supposed to get?).

Because of the perceived “sell-out” involved with agreeing to curtail weapons sales to Taiwan, at the same time that the 1982 Joint Communique was being negotiated, the US provided Taiwan with what has become known as the “Six Assurances.”  The assurances indicated that the US would not set and end date for weapons sales to Taiwan; that the US would not alter the Taiwan Relations Act (see below for more on it); that the US would not consult with Beijing in advance of weapons sales to Taiwan; that the US would not mediate between the PRC and Taiwan; that the US would not alter its position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, which is that it was something that needed to be peacefully resolved by the Chinese themselves (and would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with Beijing); and that the US would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. You can see how these assurances directly go against the 1982 Communique’s assertion that weapons sales would taper off.

But the US’s continued insistence on selling weapons to Taiwan, despite knowing that there will be a price incurred each time in Sino-US relations, as mentioned earlier, is predicated on a decreasing military threat to Taiwan. Anyone familiar with the PRC’s military modernization and expansion in the past couple decades, in particular the massive numbers of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) that are arrayed against Taiwan, knows that this has not been the case. So the weapons sales will continue.

The US knows that its weapons sales will not right the cross-Strait military balance, but does want to keep it from getting too far tilted in Beijing’s favor. (See more useful debunking of myths about weapons sales here, in a piece from the Center for Strategic and International Studies published not long after the last round of weapons sales.)

Taiwan also knows that there are some weapons the US simply will not sell them, so they must be produced indigenously. For example, Taiwan recently decided not to deploy a Taiwan-developed multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) on its offshore islands near the PRC to avoid provocation. Missile development is but one facet of what one observer calls an “evolving defense doctrine” characterized by greater self-sufficiency.

Defense Secretary Gates, when asked by a US senator last year what could be done to reduce or stop US weapons sales to Taiwan (referred to by the senator as a “substantial irritant” to US-China relations), replied that the issue was political, not defense-related. Until the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which mandates that the US will “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability”, is amended (note that the Six Assurances guaranteed that the TRA would not be amended) or repealed, there is no escaping this requirement. Gates replied similarly to a question about Taiwan weapons sales during his recent China trip, adding that in his view, that until the threat to Taiwan is reduced much more than it has been even in the era of cross-Strait rapprochement since the Ma Ying-jeou administration took office in Taiwan in 2008, that the weapons sales will still be necessary.

I can’t disagree. If you look at the capabilities that the PRC has aimed its defensive modernization and upgrades at, it seems quite clear that they are aimed at triumphing over the US in a limited regional war to take Taiwan. The PRC anti-access/area denial strategy supports it, development of 5th generation stealth aircraft supports it, expansion of the submarine fleet supports it.

In conclusion, when the next round of weapons sales to Taiwan are announced, don’t be surprised – surprised that the sales took place, or surprised that the PRC will be all aflutter about it. It’s nothing new, and it won’t be changing anytime soon.

The new Korean War and Taiwan

December 20, 2010

Chinese Military Involvement in a Future Korean War

Capt Jacquelyn Schneider, USAF

Strategic Studies Quarterly, 2010 (4), 50 – 67.

I came across a timely article in a not-too-well-known journal last week that discusses the likelihood of China intervening in the next edition of the Korean War (which, based on contemporary news accounts, seems like it could start any day now).

It’s fairly well-known that the beginning of the original Korean War (1950 – 1953) in June 1950 had the side-effect of placing the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Strait to keep another conflict from erupting in East Asia at the same time.  The author of this piece, Jacquelyn Schneider, argues that ever since that time, Korea and Taiwan have been linked, which raises some vexing issues for the present:

However loathe the United States is to link actions on the Korean peninsula with Taiwan, it is historically impossible to completely separate the two issues. As mentioned previously, China’s attempts to initially reunify Taiwan with the PRC were stymied by the Korean War. Would it be possible for China to capitalize on the US focus on Korea to launch a simultaneous amphibious operation to conquer Taiwan?

Her question is an interesting one.  She answers it by looking at military capability to take Taiwan and willingness to do so.  Her take – the capability exists, but it is too difficult for non-Chinese to understand the Taiwan issue fully, for there is no equivalent in the American experience, and thus impossible to make a willingness judgment.

In my mind, if China would decide to enter a new Korean War, assuming that it was initiated by the North, then I think that there would be little additional loss in terms of international standing, economic losses, etc. from also initiating a move against Taiwan.  China would already be branded an outlaw and condemned in places like the UN for backing North Korea’s aggression, so why not settle up when it comes to Taiwan at the same time?  After all, why else would the PRC have in excess of 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles stationed opposite Taiwan, a burgeoning fleet of attack submarines, and a rapidly modernizing air arm?  It’s not to offset any equivalent military buildup taking place in Taiwan, that’s for sure.

Back to Korea, though, Schneider surmises that modern China as a largely integrated stakeholder in the international order has too much to lose, and thus chiefly for this reason (though also including the absence of a Mao-like leader, fear of domestic repercussions in term of refugee flows out of North Korea, and the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in Northeast China to U.S. attack) would not enter a new Korean War.  That’s all well and good, but I think there is more to it than that – what about treaty obligations?  My understanding of the PRC – DPRK treaty of friendship, etc. is that it makes security guarantees that specifically exclude those of the nuclear umbrella-type, but that it also states that the PRC is under no obligation to assist if the DPRK initiates the aggression.  How about this – the DPRK attacks South Korea (as we’ve seen them do twice this year so far), who then counterattacks into North Korea, and then the attacks escalate, from initial artillery and air strikes on mainly military facilities of both sides to more and more areas populated mainly by civilians, at which point U.S. forces become involved in a range of military operations, including troop movements (with the South Koreans) across the DMZ.  What now, China?  I think that in such a case, the PRC joins in – I don’t think they are going to sit idly by if U.S. forces are being actively involved, just as I think U.S. forces would be automatically committed if PRC forces were involved.  It’s like each side on the Korean peninsula has their “big brother” there waiting to jump in if the other side’s back-up decides to get feisty.

And, if that all happens, then who knows if China would decide to try to capitalize on the opportunity to move on Taiwan?  It’s certainly a possibility I hope the planners at U.S. Pacific Command have taken into account…

Schneider goes on to introduce some very sensible “rules of engagement” that would help prevent a rapidly escalating conflict in Korea between the primarily interested non-territorial powers, including the establishment of buffer zones and assignment of responsibility over refugees in particular locations.  I agree that measures such as these would be essential to keep from quickly moving down the road to a greatly expanded war in Korea. (Ah, but could the U.S. trust China to live up to their parts in the rules?  She talks about this as well…read the article.)

She returns to the Taiwan issue at the end:

The change [North Korea’s defeat and the reunification of the Korean peninsula] could prove advantageous for decoupling the Taiwan situation from the Korean peninsula. By demonstrating the will to use force, openness in military planning, and gracious collaboration in victory, the United States would demonstrate its inherent trust in China to participate in the region as a stabilizer.

…and then the closer:

In a game of multiple iterations, a Korean conflict could help the United States and China more advantageously perceive utility and value of each nation’s interests and actions in Asia. By building trust between the two players in the Asian region, the probability of provoking conflict becomes less likely. Perversely, if executed properly, a conflict on the Korean peninsula could serve as a stabilizing event in the Pacific region.

I’m not buying it.  It’s just too optimistic.  I can only see negative and ill effects on the Asia-Pacific region from a new Korean War – heaps of dead bodies in Seoul, a shattered former North Korea hollowed out from refugee outflows, and an even greater tension between China and the United States, if not outright war.  I think she’s right about decoupling Korea and Taiwan, but only because there would no longer be troops facing off over the 38th Parallel.  If China refrained from invading Taiwan at the same time, then cross-Strait tensions would be vaulted to new highs.  Let’s hope Korea doesn’t kick off anytime soon – the U.S. is militarily still too preoccupied with exiting Iraq and searching for the door in Afghanistan.

Still in business

December 17, 2010

R.O.C. Marine band members

Since my last post, I’ve been busy pursuing my hobby (triathlons / triathlon training), made a quick trip back to the U.S., and as of late, been burdened quite heavily writing papers and presenting on them at grad school.  First, I’d like to talk a little bit about this last point, sharing a little bit of what I’ve been researching, writing about, and presenting on.  I’ll also share what remains “in the hopper” – requirements left to be satisfied before the end of the semester about a month from now.  Be warned: there will also be a fair amount of miscellany tossed in for good measure!

  1. I wrote a paper and made a presentation this week entitled “China’s Rise and the South China Sea.”  I find China’s recent aggressiveness over its claims in the South China Sea to be part of their overall trend toward consolidation of territorial claims, both maritime and land-based (for example, the September 2010 row with Japan over the Chinese fishing boat which rammed Japanese patrol vessels near the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands not far from Taiwan in the East China Sea is another example of aggressive behavior over a disputed maritime claim).  While China’s claim of “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea made just after the July ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi made headlines, in fact China has been making the same types of claims about the South China Sea for decades, going back to not long after the establishment of the People’s Republic.  What was significant in China’s rhetoric about the South China Sea this year was the elevation of the area to “core national interest” status, something that heretofore only long-standing PRC irredentist claims such as those involving Taiwan or Tibet were assigned.  Looks to me like China is positioning itself to be more aggressive about the South China Sea, not less.   There is a chance that the paper might be accepted for publication next year in an edited book on topics related to China’s foreign policy produced by my school, National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), so I will refrain from posting it until that situation is sorted out.
  2. I also participated in the creation and delivery of a presentation this week about Japan’s national security strategy under Koizumi (2001 – 2006).  There was no paper for this project, just the presentation.  It was interesting to me to learn about how much the U.S. has pressured Japan to assume a greater and greater security role as the decades passed after World War II, and to see how changes in Japan’s laws governing overseas deployment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) marching in lock-step with U.S. overseas wars since 1990.  Today, Japan is assuming more and more of a “normal” role in terms of its own security, though a there is still a long way to go until the process is complete.  It will be interesting to see how far the process goes, and whether or not at some point perhaps in the next decade Japan’s people reach enough of a consensus to make changes to or perhaps eliminate altogether Article 9 of their American-authored post-WWII constitution that currently outlaws Japan from possessing “military” forces and bans aggression as a policy choice.  You can see the presentation here. (Google Docs)
  3. Papers I am still working on this semester include an examination of the continuing utility of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that established the current non-official relationship between the United States and Taiwan when the U.S. decided to switch official recognition to the PRC, another on non-traditional security issues in Southeast Asia (probably focusing on pandemic disease threats and response preparation, since this [East Asia]  is the region that suffered the most in the SARS outbreak back in the early 2000s and has also been subject to not a few bird flu scares).  The final paper will deal in with national security / crisis management, and will likely revolve around a case study of one or both of the Quemoy crises in the 1950s.
  4. I talked in a recent post about deliberations over selecting a thesis topic.  I decided that the anti-access/area denial (A2AD) realm is the one I am truly interested in with regard to China’s military modernization, so that will be what my thesis will be on – the effect of China’s development of A2AD capabilities like the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and associated systems on Taiwan Strait security.  At the very least, the Navy guys should be interested in it.
  5. We continue to benefit from NSYSU professors “mining their Rolodexes” when they will be unable to give classes due to international travel or other conflicts.  This week Ambassador Feng Tai (酆邰), formerly Taiwan’s ambassador in Tuvalu and 37-year veteran of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered a talk on crisis management and negotiating skills.  By far the best parts of the talk were when he leavened it with personal anecdotes from some of his own experiences, from hosting the Saudis here in Taiwan in 1990 when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was weighing switching its recognition of Taiwan to the PRC (it ultimately did so) to stories about preparing to negotiate with meticulous and well-prepared Japanese and Chinese delegations on various issues.  Ambassador Feng mentioned that he is weighing retiring from the MOFA next year and going into academia, teaching foreign affairs at a university in Taipei.
  6. Not really related to academic affairs as the rest of this post has been, but interesting nonetheless: last month I traveled to Taipei to attend the U.S. Marine Corps birthday celebration.  The U.S. Marine Corps was established 10 November 1775, and every year about that time Marines pause to remember fondly those who have gone before us.  The interesting part about this year’s celebration here in Taiwan was that it was the first official celebration of any size since the late 1970s when the above-mentioned Taiwan Relations Act was passed.  For decades after the TRA, there were no active-duty U.S. military officers stationed as attaché with AIT.  It was only in 2005 that the first active-duty military folks returned to AIT.  A couple years later, the first post-TRA U.S. Marine attaché came to Taiwan.  Since that time, every year the celebration of the Marine birthday grew a little bit, and now, in 2010, the celebration of the U.S. Marine birthday here in Taiwan (235 years young!) was on par with celebrations held at places with very robust U.S. Marine presences (like Marine bases in the U.S. or Okinawa).  There was one key difference, though – here we were able to celebrate hand-in-hand with out R.O.C. Marine counterparts, who attended in force this year, led by their Commandant, Lieutenant General Hsia Fu-Hwa.  The Taiwan Marines were even gracious enough to offer up their band’s jazz ensemble to provide the music for the event – that’s them in the photo at the top of this post. (Good thing, because we couldn’t make much of a U.S. Marine band here with the two of us, no matter how talented we are!)  I have no doubt that in the future these birthday celebrations will only become more and more like the finer Marine Corps Birthday Balls put on by embassies and equivalent worldwide each November.
  7. Blogroll update: I’m adding the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank that put out a fine report on the future of security in Asia this year, and also China SignPost, an effort by Dr. Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabe Collins.  They publish periodic analytical briefs on various aspects of China and the world.  I’ve found especially their report on how China’s dependence on oil imported by sea will only continue to increase, despite efforts at developing overland pipelines.

China Brief “spy games”

November 6, 2010
Taiwan is mostly mountainous in the east, but ...

Image via Wikipedia

I mentioned in the last post that I added the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief to the blogroll.  A new issue is out today:!/gjsamps/status/758697928171520

Today’s edition concentrated on Chinese espionage, China’s development of its rare earth (RE) industry and the decline of other nations’ RE holdings, and a recent large-scale PLA military exercise inside of China. (It did not mention the PLA Navy’s recent live-fire exercise in the South China Sea, which reportedly included Chinese marines practicing amphibious maneuvers and coordinated air operations.)

I found the espionage pieces particularly interesting.  One focused on the continuing “spy war” between China and Taiwan, which continues despite warming relations across the Taiwan Strait.  How’s the old saying go? – “There are friendly nations, but there are no friendly intelligence services.”  Too true, and I think that anyone who supposed that since China and Taiwan were making nice across the strait since Ma Ying-jeou’s election in 2008 that it naturally followed that espionage activity between the two would also fall is a bit naive.  The Ma administration’s reported 2009 decision to discontinue the recruitment of spies in China, mentioned in the article, is incredibly short-sighted and certainly has not been reciprocated by the PRC. (In fact, I would be that with improving ties, China’s intelligence services are taking full advantage of the increased ease with which they can get into Taiwan, be it via tourist groups or student exchanges.)  Just because there is a temporary rapprochement now, nothing says that China won’t break out the old “belligerence stick” and wave it this way again when they become impatient with the pace of their pursued unification, and when they do, one of the best ways to know how serious they really are about escalation could be from spies inside China that Taiwan unilaterally decided to stop recruiting – bad idea.

The other espionage piece in the report this week is about PRC efforts to infiltrate U.S. security services.  The story discussed is one that I had heard of via other media sources, but the context in which it is discussed here – trying to determine if this type of infiltration attempt is part of a larger shift in Chinese intelligence strategy away from previous  long-term efforts to use Chinese nationals towards one where they co-opt and then exploit non-Chinese American citizens who are not at the time of their recruitment in sensitive positions – is quite interesting and unique.  I think the overall conclusion is that there simply isn’t enough information to know just yet if this is indeed a major shift, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Asahi Shimbun interview with former U.S. Pacific Command commander

April 23, 2010
ADM Keating

ADM Timothy J. Keating, USN (Ret.)

The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, today ran a long and long-ranging interview with retired Admiral Timothy J. Keating, U.S. Navy, the former commander of the United States Pacific Command.

Keating’s remarks ran the gamut of topics this blog likes to deal with, from China – U.S. relation, U.S – Japan relations, the U.S. military buildup on Guam, Taiwan Strait security, the situation on Okinawa related to the relocation of the Futenma Marine air station, and more.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, reproduced for you here in whole after the jump.  But first, a few highlights:

  • On China’s naval modernization:  “They’ll never get better than we are. We’re going to work hard to ensure that that’s the case.”
  • Why it is preferable to have U.S. Marines forward-deployed in Okinawa: “Because they’re there now. And neither one of our countries can afford to, in my opinion, undertake the cost attendant to moving those 18,000 Marines from Okinawa to some other location in Japan.”
  • On a “rising China” as a strategic threat to the U.S. and American allies in the Asia-Pacific: “I’d be careful focusing entirely on China. There have been a couple of opportunities, in similar engagements today, where folks tried to concentrate the conversation on the growing Chinese threat and the likelihood of fighting China. I don’t see it that way.  We have to remain strong, the alliance, the forces of our two countries, and those of our two allies and partners in the region. It is not exclusively to counter Chinese military growth.  If China is less forthcoming than we want them to be, if they develop tactics, techniques, procedures or capabilities that could threaten access or deny area access, then we would have to be prepared to respond. But I do not see a situation in the near term that would require specific focus on China.


Taiwan’s Nuclear Ambitions

April 12, 2010

The Generalissimo and the Father of the Republic

With the recent release of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the signing of the “New START” nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia, and the huge nuclear talks in Washington starting today that dozens of world leaders* are attending, nukes are all over the news and the blogosphere. (For a nice run-down of all three of these things, see this post from The Daily Kos‘s Page van der Linden.)  On the same theme, the National Security Archive‘s UNREDACTED blog recently posted about a document, formerly classified and obtained with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, that discusses aspiring nuclear powers.  Entitled “Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” the report is from 1974, and does include Taiwan as a potential nuclear “up-and-comer.” (UNREDACTED posted the document not because it includes Taiwan, but instead because it includes still undeclared nuclear power Israel.  My interest, though, lies with Taiwan.) I thought it would be interesting to look at what the report said about Taiwan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons back in the 1970s.

With regard to Taipei’s perceived nuclear capabilities, the report stated

In connection with an ambitious program for procurement and operation of nuclear power facilities on Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC) is gradually developing a potential for the production of nuclear weapons.

Sound a little bit like modern-day Iran?  Not really.  The report goes on to discuss the main location for Taiwan’s nuclear research efforts (a place called Lungtan, in northeastern Taiwan) and how, understandably, military efforts related to developing nuclear weapons in Taiwan were kick-started by Beijing’s first nuclear test (October 16, 1964).

There were still several technical roadblocks to a Taiwanese bomb, though.  Difficulties remained in acquiring the proper technology for chemical separation (no mention of centrifuges here, though) and heavy water processing equipment.  Most importantly, Taiwan was far from being able to deliver a nuclear device:

At this stage, there is no evidence of ROC progress toward development of a nuclear delivery system which would pose a credible threat to Mainland China targets.

This is in stark contrast to modern-day rogue states Iran and North Korea, both of whom have conducted successful ballistic missile tests.  The bottom line on Taiwan’s nuclear weapons capabilities, circa 1974:

…[W]e think it would take a decision [to begin production of nuclear weapons] in the immediate future and considerable foreign assistance from sources such as Israel or France for the ROC to be able to construct a device by 1980.

I want to talk a bit more about Taiwan’s nuclear power facilities.  According to a recent article in the Global Post, despite a long reluctance to expand Taiwan’s reliance on nuclear power, the “nuclear-friendly” KMT has begun to take another look at resuming expansion of Taiwan’s nuclear power industry, partially for “green” purposes – reduction of carbon output. (You can see the locations of Taiwan’s three currently active nuclear power stations in this document from Taipower, Taiwan’s state power company, and read about “The Burden-Laden Fourth Nuclear Project” – the controversial new nuclear station that has been delayed over much of the last decade.) The “raw materials” to build a bomb remain, but there are some significant reasons why Taiwan probably wouldn’t try it.

The biggest of these is that were that the PRC to catch wind of it, it would probably be grounds for an immediate attack.  Most people agree that the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has decidedly tipped towards China over the past decade, and 9 out of 10 of these folks further concede that China has lots of ways to make life in Taiwan pretty unpleasant while at the same time frustrating American efforts to intervene. (For a concise example of this thinking, see RAND Senior International Policy Analyst Mr. David A. Shlapak’s recent testimony (PDF) before the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.)

At the time this report was written, the U.S. and Taiwan still had a mutual defense treaty, and the possibility of jeopardizing that blanket of protection if the U.S. discovered a clandestine attempt to build a bomb must have also entered Taiwan’s calculus.  As a final word on intention, the report surmises that

Taipei probably sees a capability to design and produce a nuclear weapon as a potentially useful hedge against the unknown exigencies of the future, when it may be alone and facing great risks.

Yes, the writing was on the wall, was it not?  With the beginning of normalization of ties between the U.S. and the PRC in the early 1970s ultimately resulting in American official “de-recognition” of Taipei before the end of the decade in favor of official recognition for Beijing, it had to have been a very uncertain time for Taiwan when this report was written.  Fortunately, through the vagaries of 1979’s Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. was able to continue to provide Taiwan defensive weapons to help keep back the Communist hordes, the most recent iteration of arms sales under these auspices I discussed here and here.

More recently, in 2008 the U.S. accidentally shipped some nuclear parts – four nuclear triggers –  to Taiwan.  This episode was part of a larger pattern of “laxness” with regard to stewardship of the U.S. nuclear stockpile that ultimately resulted in a reshuffling of top U.S. Air Force leadership. (This post from Arms Control Wonk tells about one of the other nuclear “slip-ups” at that time – it’s worth a read.)  I guess that answers the question of whether Taipei, when filling out their order blank for U.S. arms, can just check the box that says “nuclear device” – not usually.

*Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, decided at the last minute that the prospects of being called out at the conference by Middle Eastern neighbors like Egypt and Turkey about its undeclared but relatively universally accepted nuclear status was something he wanted to pass off on his deputy, Dan Meridor, instead.


More on U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan

March 28, 2010

Taiwan Strait Sunset

Complementary to  my last post about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, today’s Taipei Times ran a feature describing the various weapons systems included in the approved package and a small section talking a little about what isn’t in the package but that Taipei would still like to get.  F-16s are included in this latter category.

Every time I see a list like this and compare it to what China’s modernized PLA is packing these days, I am always left wondering, why does Beijing get so worked up about these arms sales?  The meager amounts of weapons and systems included in this list, while an improvement over Taiwan’s current capabilities, still would amount to little more than a relatively small speedbump.  Of course, Taipei’s bet (hope?) is that this “speedbump” would buy them the time necessary in a conflict with China to allow U.S. military forces to intervene.  Further, one would think that by this point, in 2010, China would no longer be surprised when the U.S. chooses to act according to its obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, part of which stipulates that the U.S. will provide Taiwan defensive arms.  In the face of the rapidly modernizing PLA just across the Taiwan Strait, it would be hard to characterize this arms package as anything but defensive in nature.

The Taipei Times link is a PDF document.

The ins and outs of the latest US arms package to Taiwan

In late January, the US Department of Defense’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced the approval of a major arms package to Taiwan. Included in the US$6.4 billion deal were PAC-3 missile defense systems and associated equipment, UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters, Osprey-class mine-hunting ships, work on command-and-control systems, and Harpoon training missiles. Also in the pipeline are PC-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

While Beijing has reacted with anger at news of the sale, threatening economic sanctions against the US defense companies involved, the Taipei Times takes a closer look at each item and its capabilities. To cap things off, we look at what’s missing — and desirable.

This feature, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

via The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato: The ins and outs of the latest US arms package to Taiwan.


Danger Room on Taiwan arms sales

March 21, 2010‘s Danger Room blog this week posted about an interesting development related to the Obama Administration’s recently proposed arms sales package to Taiwan.  The sales as currently expressed do not include what is probably Taiwan’s most desired weapon system, F-16 fighter jets.  However, certain constituencies in the U.S. are lobbying quite vigorously for these planes to be added to the list.  Understandably, in the event that the F-16 sales to Taiwan are approved, China would be even more displeased about the transaction than they already are.

The full post from Danger Room is below.

Dogfighting over the Taiwan Strait

By Nathan Hodge Email Author March 19, 2010  | 4:17 pm  | Categories: China


For national-security dorks who like to read the Defense Department’s 36(b) arms sale notifications, watching the back-and-forth over weapons sales to Taiwan is pure entertainment. It’s partly a question of political spin, but it’s also an interesting look at how the Pentagon sizes up the military balance between China and Taiwan.

Back in January, the Defense Intelligence Agency issued a stark assessment of Taiwan’s air power: Without a serious upgrade, the report said,  Taiwan’s air defenses would not be able to fight off an attack by China. The Pentagon report — which was sent to Congress in January, but only became public last month — noted the growing obsolescence of Taiwan’s fighter inventory, which includes F-5 Tigers, Mirage 2000-5s and some older F-16A/Bs. “Taiwan recognizes that it needs a sustainable replacement for obsolete and problematic airframes,” the unclassified version of the report said.

That came as welcome news to Taiwan, which has been lobbying to buy more advanced F-16s, the F-16C/D model, from the United States. (China, predictably, is opposed to the plan.)

But here’s the catch: The F-16 production line is eventually going to shut down as the United States and its allies switch to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Now members of Congress are now stepping up pressure on the administration to sell the aircraft, in part to keep a production line in Fort Worth, Texas, open.

And that proves the old adage: All politics is local, even when we’re talking about the Taiwan Strait. In a floor statement this week, Sen. Jon Cornyn of Texas appealed for the sale to go through. The reason? Constituent jobs.

“Taiwan needs these F-16 C/D aircraft now,” he said. “… If hard orders are not received for Taiwan’s F-16s this year, the U.S. production line will likely be forced to start shutting down. Once the line begins closing, personnel will be shifted to other programs, inventory orders will be cancelled, and machine tools will be decommissioned. When the F-16 line eventually goes ‘cold,’ it is not realistic to expect that it would be restarted.”

[PHOTO: U.S. Department of Defense]


Americans in Southern Taiwan

March 15, 2010

Latest in the “things I want to check out” category in Kaohsiung – an exhibit at the Kaohsiung Museum of History about the American presence in Southern Taiwan from 1950 – 1980.  I am interested to see what kind of “footprint” there was here during that time, because I know that right now, the official U.S. presence is pretty small.

Here’s the press release from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT):

“American Footsteps in Southern Taiwan” Exhibit to Open at the Kaohsiung Museum of History from March 16 to July 4

PR-1017EDate: 3/12/2010

In cooperation with the Kaohsiung Museum of History and the America Center located at National Sun Yat-sen University, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Kaohsiung Branch Office is pleased to present “American Footsteps in Southern Taiwan,” an unprecedented museum exhibition which will be shown at the Kaohsiung Museum of History from March 16 to July 4.  An opening ceremony will be held on March 18 with the participation of AIT Director William Stanton, AIT Kaohsiung Branch Chief Christian Castro, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu and National Sun Yat-sen University President Yang Hong-dun.

The “American Footsteps in Southern Taiwan” exhibit features stories of U.S. interaction with southern Taiwan in a key era from 1950-80.  Utilizing historic artifacts, photos, taped interviews and documentaries, the exhibition gives the audience a broad overview of the American cultural, social, military and religious presence in Kaohsiung and southern Taiwan during that period and the impressions Americans and local Taiwanese had of each other.

The items on display include a personal note written especially to commemorate this exhibition from U.S. Representative Lester Wolff (retired), one of the principal authors of the Taiwan Relations Act.  Other unique items provide a rare glimpse into America’s multifaceted post-World War II economic assistance program in Taiwan.  The exhibition also highlights a host of fascinating artifacts, photos and documents from the long-ago U.S. military presence in southern Taiwan.

The Kaohsiung Museum of History is also proud to put on display for this exhibit an especially significant item acquired for its permanent collection – an antique karaoke machine with 30 vinyl records left behind by the U.S. Military Consulting Corps.  Decades later, the machine is still functioning well, and during the exhibition, it will play those vintage vinyl records to give visitors an authentic nostalgic sense of this unique and defining era in Taiwan-U.S. relations.

For further information about this exhibition, please visit the museum website:


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