Sunday, July 31, 2011

Let's See That Smart Diplomacy At Work

I think we will sell Taiwan the new F-16s they want. Taiwan needs them and we need Taiwan to be capable of resisting the Chinese. Perhaps the key is that President Obama needs the order to keep F-16 production lines open. This was a factor in 1992 with the elder Bush, too, lest you think I am being too partisan in noting that fact.

This telegraphs the sale, I think:

The United States and China on Friday held top-level talks on Taiwan, with Washington working pre-emptively to avoid a fallout as a decision nears on whether to sell fighter-jets to Taiwan.

US officials have said that they will decide by October 1 on whether to sell F-16 jets to Taiwan, a longstanding request from the self-ruling island which fears that China's rapidly growing military has gained a major edge.

If the October 1st decision isn't to sell the planes, why have talks to avoid fallout? A decision not to sell would automatically be welcomed by China and require no advance work on our part. Let's see if the State Department's newly unleashed nuanced smart diplomacy can make Peking like the decision. (Actually, I shudder to think about what we might decide to give up to keep China quiet--I'll be relieved if we sell the planes and China has a huge hissy fit.)

Of course, less than a wing of late-model F-16s (plus a couple wings of modernized F-16s, assuming we help with that project) isn't enough to stop China given the mainland's advances in military capabilities. Don't think that just because the battle to sell the planes is so hard that it represents final victory for securing Taiwan.

But the sale at least buys Taiwan a bit of time. Time to keep modernizing their military.

And time for our forces to prepare to fight in the western Pacific in the shadow of expanding Chinese military capabilities. In case that smart diplomacy doesn't work out, you know.

UPDATE: Thanks to The View from Taiwan for the link. TVfT also links to a story that I meant to comment on, and which is related: The Taiwan defense report recently released. The bottom line?

The edge the PLA has over the Taiwanese armed forces is becoming increasingly overwhelming, the Taiwanese military says, and within a decade, the PLA won't have a hard time forcing Taipei into accepting unification by military means if necessary.

Don't mistake a hard-won victory over the sale of fewer than 70 late model F-16s as the last victory. China would love Taiwan to believe that. Even with the F-16s, Taiwan faces a rough future. Oh, and they should pay attention to our defense budget trends if they think we can quickly ride to their rescue.

Taiwan has built a prosperous and free little country. But Taiwan pays very little to defend itself from China. No, Taiwan obviously can't match China dollar for dollar in defense expenditures.

But they don't have to. Taiwan has one defense problem--stopping China from gaining a foothold on Taiwan. Don't worry too much about a Chinese blockade. That's the best-case scenario for American intervention. A blockade takes time, we're very good at sea and in the air, and we'll have time to punch through a blockade. No, Taiwan just has to worry about being invaded.

China on the other hand has lots of defense scenarios all around their border. Vietnam to the south. India to the southwest. Restive provinces in their far west. Russia to the north. South Korea (and maybe a united Korea under Seoul's governance one day soon?) and Japan to their northeast. And Taiwan to the east. Oh, and America potentially at the side of any one of them in a crunch.

So Taiwan just has to be tough enough to make China wince at the thought of paying the price to take them. And Taiwan has to make China shudder at the thought of focusing resources to take Taiwan while leaving other portions of their border less defended than they might like.

Oh, and if Taiwan can't see any way to build conventional forces to do those things, they might have to consider what the article only hints at--building a nuclear deterrent to stop China. Rogue states mostly get away with it these days. Why can't a functioning democracy do it?

UPDATE: And thanks also to Mad Minerva for the link.