“Taiwan has unveiled plans for a record boost in defence spending, weeks after China staged unprecedented military exercises around the democratically governed island … The 13.9 percent spending increase, which includes funding for new fighter jets and other equipment, would take the total defence budget to a record 586.3 billion New Taiwan dollars ($19.41bn), or about 15 percent of total government expenditure.”
One. Like most functioning democracies, elected leaders in Taiwan and Taiwanese citizens would prefer to allocate their national budget to other more productive projects. Facing an authoritarian, imperialist neighbor, Taiwan has no choice. I expect Taiwan to maintain this budget trajectory for the rest of this decade.
Two. I expect to see defense budget increases among Taiwan’s democratic neighbors, including the US Indo-Pacific command. It would sure would be nice, and would make a ton more sense – efficiency, utility, etc., for a US-led conversation among the key players – US, Taiwan Republic, Japan, Quad, AUKUS+ on how best to coordinate strategic and tactical objectives while ensuring that limited resources are not wasted. This is also a rare area where the two American political parties can work together towards a common national security objective.
Three. Which gets us to the perennial problem with the evolving meaning of the American policy of strategic ambiguity. In the olden days when America had to prevent a Chinese communist invasion of Taiwan while also preventing the dictator Chiang Kai-shek from “reclaiming” his mainland (and dragging America into a dreadful Asian land war ….), strategic ambiguity made sense. Now that many of the political, military, and economic realities on all sides have changed, it is time to transition to strategic clarity with tactical ambiguity. Strategic clarity in that the US and its democratic allies state clearly to the Chinese communists that a war in the western Pacific is not acceptable, and if need be, will be prevented by force. Tactical ambiguity means each POTUS will, with particular circumstances of time and place and types of military aggression, choose from a broad menu of policy options.
Four. Perhaps more of this has been done since the 1996 Chinese communist missile crisis behind closed doors, though more ought to be done – normalizing direct and frequent conversations between Taiwan, US, Japan, Australia, Korea, on what will and will not occur, what each nation’s primary military, economic, diplomatic responsibilities would be in the event of a crisis. This is important for everyone. Even a superpower like the US has budget limitations and must prioritize – and for a smaller nation like Taiwan, this clarity is essential. Otherwise, while policy circles and policymakers argue about “porcupine” or “asymmetrical” versus “conventional,” Taiwanese policymakers are not in a position to choose without knowing this broader global alliance context. An example: if the Taiwanese chooses “porcupine” – short-range, land-based, munitions and personnel to fight the invaders who land in Taiwan. What happens if Beijing chooses a blockade? What if China focuses on long-range ballistic missile strikes? How should the democratically elected leaders of Taiwan choose if its democratic allies remain “ambiguous” on what would happen?
Five. Finally, all nations must be more assertive and creative in getting expertise and reform into the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense and its national security-intelligence establishments. President Tsai is the most national security competent president Taiwan has ever elected, but her DPP, and Taiwanese civil society, do not have enough expertise or leverage to reform and democratize the Taiwanese national security establishment. In a kinder gentler world over the course of decades, a democratic Taiwan can reform its military on its own – but it does not have the luxury of time. Ideally, this reform would come from direct contact and military advisory groups from Japanese, and American officers with Taiwanese officers along with regular and direct contact between national security officials on all sides. It may require a diplomatically sensitive transition move, like a return to Chiang Kai-shek’s Japanese military advisor group 白團 in the 1950s and 1960s – to systemically facilitate recently retired American and Japanese officers to come to Taiwan (and allow more Taiwanese officers to visit Japan and the US) and serve as advisors and consultants.
For Taiwan Republic and its democratic allies, increasing the military budget is only a small part of the project. How such an increased military budget is spent will determine how effective this democratic alliance will be. 28.8.2022
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