US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless has said that if Taiwan’s legislature does not pass the arms procurement plan, it will only prove that Taiwanese democracy has not yet reached a level where national security concerns override party politics, and that Taiwan would be seen as a liability, not a partner, by its friends in the international community.
I can sympathize with Lawless’ defense of US and Taiwanese interests, but as the bill will be picked up by the Taiwanese taxpayer, we need to further consider his comments.
First, does a failure to pass the arms procurement plan mean that Taiwan does not respect the importance of national security? A NT$600 billion (US$17.7 billion) arms purchase does not necessarily equal national security. National security includes a will for peace, improved domestic policy, public self-confidence and China’s development, but not necessarily the arms procurement plan.
Government finances are not a horn of plenty. Once overextended, the government will go bankrupt and the whole nation will met with disaster. The best example of this is the former Soviet Union. One of the reasons for its collapse was precisely its excessive investment in military equipment stemming from its inability to assess its own limitations. Furthermore, it doesn’t naturally follow that the arms Taiwan wishes to purchase from the US will guarantee Taiwan’s national security.
Second, will the US and “other countries” doubt Taiwan’s defense promises? I am curious to know what countries, apart from the US, are concerned about Taiwan’s security. Lawless’ statement instead highlights the fact that a joint defense treaty no longer exists between Taiwan and the US, and that the US according to international law has no obligation to defend Taiwan.
If Lawless, speaking on behalf of the US government, could say that the US is determined to back up Taiwan’s self defense and that it really wants to be Taiwan’s partner, then I would want to ask the US government to sign a new joint defense treaty with Taiwan and guarantee the safety of its partner. If that were the case, then it might be worth it for the Taiwanese taxpayer to spend NT$600 billion or more to purchase security.
Third, does opposition to the arms procurement plan mean telling Beijing that its threats are effective? On the contrary, I feel that defending the NT$600 billion arms procurement plan out of fear is tantamount to telling Beijing that threats are effective indeed. If China spends one dollar to build missiles, Taiwan has to spend four dollars to buy anti-missile equipment. Is there any more efficient threat than that? And Lawless’ statement is also intended as a threat, using Beijing to pressure Taiwan into buying US arms.
If the people of Taiwan are not brave enough to say no to unreasonable behavior, then such threats will only increase.
Fourth, does opposition to the arms procurement plan mean that Taiwan’s democracy still hasn’t matured and that national security concerns don’t override party politics? This is an even more serious and preposterous accusation.
In September last year, I published an article entitled “National defense requires more than national defense concerns.” My students said that, “Both the opposition and governing parties today place an overriding importance on the military budget when it comes to national security. Aren’t you afraid of being labeled a Chinese collaborator?” My reply was, “Let others decide on praise or blame. I am merely fulfilling my duties as an intellectual.”
In the year that has passed since then, opposition to the arms procurement plan has gone from being weak to being as strong as the defense of the plan, and opinion polls are beginning to show that opposition now is the majority opinion. The opposition movement includes both independence and unification proponents, as well as proponents of neutrality. Despite ideological differences, they are able to cooperate — a hard-won expression of the maturity of Taiwanese democracy.
The opposition parties were at first merely proposing symbolic changes to the procurement plan, but later changed direction after having seen where their political interests lay. Turning this awareness formed in civil society into an inter-party struggle is an insult to Taiwanese democracy. Maybe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also should protest against Lawless’ inappropriate criticism of Taiwan’s domestic affairs.
Finally, the question of whether or not the NT$600 billion arms procurement plan will be carried out will be symbolic of domestic democratic development and an opportunity to transcend the differences between the proponents of independence and unification, and members of the blue and green camps. It is crucial to whether the Taiwanese people will be able to leave behind the ideologies that have hijacked our politicians. Let us work together and say no to the double threat from Beijing and the US.
C.V. Chen is a senior partner at the law firm Lee and Li.
Translated by Perry Svensson
【2004/10/19 Taipei Times 931019】