The Department of Defense today notified Congress on the sale of $6.4 billion in arms to Taiwan, including patriot missiles, black hawk helicopters and assistance for its military communications network.
This almost clears the books on sales committed to by President George W. Bush since 2001. President Bush himself closed the deal on half of it in the Fall of 2008 just before leaving office. President Barack Obama is to be commended for making the second part of the sale happen in the face of vociferous, and in some ways unprecedented Chinese objections. The President should now turn expeditiously to addressing needs that have been piling up over the ensuing 9 years – starting with the sale of the 66 advanced F-16C/Ds Taiwan has requested. Taiwan has been stymied on that request now by two Administrations – going back to 2006. These planes are the real meat of Taiwan’s pending requests – and even they, unfortunately, will not completely fill the need.
The Taiwan-China watching community in the United States, largely resigned to the imbalance in forces across the Taiwan Straits in favor of China, often makes the point that they sales are important “symbolically.” Indeed, they are – and in much the way the commentators intend. They demonstrate U.S. commitment to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan as required by American Law. To the extent that the new sale demonstrates this, it is a very good thing.
But the limited nature of the sale symbolizes something else entirely, something more powerful – an unwillingness to sell anything that truly counters China’s rapidly modernizing armed forces and the threat they pose to its neighbors. What good is reserving the prerogative to sell weapons to Taiwan if we never get around to selling them what they need most? This is about Taiwan’s defense. It is also about U.S. credibility as a security partner and the maintenance of peace and security in the Asia Pacific: Two things that are closely related.