Double Down on Taiwan

A stronger role for Taiwan in Asia will be a force for stability; it's in America's interests to promote that.

This April marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act. In a resolution affirming the critical importance of the Act, members of Congress note its “instrumental [role] in maintaining peace, security, and stability in the Taiwan Strait since its enactment in 1979” and maintain that continued support for Taiwan “is in the political, international and economic interests of the United States.” Yet, in reality our relationship with Taiwan has suffered from benign neglect for far too long. During a March 14 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) questioned whether “the Administration is doing enough to fulfill the larger promise of the Taiwan Relations Act. America’s support for Taiwan is now more important than ever, and it is vital that we speak with one voice when it comes to our support for Taiwan.”

The United States should work directly with Taiwan to actively promote peace and stability in Asia; strengthen the bilateral economic and trade relationship; preserve democracy, human rights and media freedom; reopen blocked channels of communication; and facilitate meaningful participation in international organizations.

Promote Peace and Stability in Asia by Maintaining Taiwan's Self-Defense Capabilities and Enhancing its Ability to Cooperate with Regional Partners

Safeguarding peace and maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region is vital to U.S. core national interests. China’s unprecedented military modernization over the past two decades has created a dangerous imbalance across the Taiwan Strait. In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the United States should maintain regular and appropriate arms sales to help bolster the capability of Taiwan to defend itself against potential military threats. The Obama administration should specifically not only authorize the sale of advanced weapon platforms to assist Taiwan in maintaining its defense capacity, but also publicly promote joint cooperation between the United States and Taiwan on cyber-security issues. According to University of Miami professor June Teufel Dryer, “the implementation of the pivot would be severely constrained were Taiwan to be subsumed into the PRC.” It thus behooves the United States to ensure that Taiwan maintains the capacity to defend itself, and is a partner in the U.S. regional security architecture.

Providing military assistance and enhancing cooperation is in the strategic interest of the United States. Naval War College professor James Holmes argues in “Partner in the Pivot?” that “Taiwan...must think of itself as a partner in as well as a beneficiary of the United States’ strategic pirouette....The remorseless logic of self-help, whereby nation-states bear primary responsibility for their own defense, still rules international affairs.” Holmes adds that “boosting the means available for Taiwan’s defense while aligning these means with strategy befitting the weak would turn cost/benefit logic in favor of allied solidarity.” By strengthening Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, the United States contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute argued similar points in a groundbreaking article last July entitled “Taiwan’s Crucial Role in the US Pivot to Asia.” When asked by the author to articulate immediate steps that U.S. leaders could undertake to strengthen the bilateral security relationship, Mazza raised three major suggestions:

1.) There is a troubling divergence between Taiwan's military strategy and DoD's vision of what that strategy should be. The DoD seems to believe Taiwan should focus on the homeland defense mission—essentially, defending against invasion—to the exclusion of others. While Taiwan recognizes that is its most important, most pressing mission, [its] MND [Ministry of Defense] wants to field a force that can counter China across the spectrum of coercive scenarios and in all domains, albeit with asymmetric means wherever possible. This difference throws a wrench into what is already a broken arms sales process and hampers Taiwan's ability to secure the arms it believes it most needs. In 2014, DoD and MND should prioritize getting on the same page vis-a-vis Taiwan's military strategy.

2.) The United States regularly denies the ROC navy's requests for ships to stop at Pearl Harbor for resupply when transiting the Pacific to exercise with Central American allies. The U.S. Navy should reverse course and welcome such port calls.