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A Delicate Balance

April 18, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: For an explanation of, and debate about, the administration’s proposed weapons sale we turn to Walter Slocombe, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Republican Senator Jon Kyl — he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee; Michael Oksenberg, Director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council in the late 1970′s — he is now a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, and travels frequently to China; Colonel Larry Wortzel, the army’s defense attaché to China from 1995 to 1997 — he’s now retired, and is now director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.

Welcome, gentlemen. Secretary Slocombe, first of all before we get into the package what is your assessment of the current military balance between China and Taiwan. How vulnerable is Taiwan?

WALTER SLOCOMBE, Undersecretary of Defense: As of now the China doesn’t have the capability to actually invade Taiwan. It does of course have the capability to harass shipping and in other ways to interfere with Taiwan and to do things that are intimidating. The current balance is not too bad. The danger is that China is engaged in a very substantial military buildup that does create new defense requirements for Taiwan.

MARGARET WARNER: What kind of military buildup?

WALTER SLOCOMBE: They are adding missiles, they’re getting new ships, they’re getting new aircraft with new capabilities.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now tell us about this package, and what it would do to enhance Taiwan’s situation?

WALTER SLOCOMBE: There is a number of things that are very important. First of all, it provides new missiles for air defense, for anti-ship to break a blockade or interfere with an amphibious invasion, it provides anti-tank capability, antitank missiles, if they should land on Taiwan. In addition, it will provide a greatly improved radar early warning system and it will provide something which is very important for Taiwan which is more training, more integration of their forces. They have a little tendency like some other people to buy a lot of hardware and not pay adequate attention to how to use it effectively. And, finally, we’re committed to a comprehensive study of their naval requirements in which one of the possible candidate systems would be the Aegis system.

MARGARET WARNER: That is the destroyer system that we saw in the setup piece?

WALTER SLOCOMBE: That’s right.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senator Kyl, is this enough?

SEN. JON KYL, (R) Arizona: No, it’s not enough. In the period of time within which it would take us to sell and deliver these Aegis cruisers to Taiwan the Chinese will have eliminated the advantage that Taiwan has always enjoyed in terms of air superiority and the ability to defense a Chinese blockade or against Chinese missiles. Secretary Slocombe is absolutely correct that the Chinese, the PRC that is to say, are in a system of buildup in which they plan over the period of the next five years or so to be able to dominate the Taiwanese and the Taiwan Straits. That will include air superiority, at least 800 of the kind of missiles they’ve shot over the island and against which there is no defense without these Aegis cruisers as well as other submarines and other things necessary to blockade the area. So this goes part of the way toward defending Taiwan but it doesn’t satisfy the Taiwan Relations Act which calls upon the administration to sell the Taiwanese what they need to really defend themselves.

MARGARET WARNER: Now when you say missiles, you are talking about ballistic missiles fired from the mainland of China to Taiwan, or at Taiwan?

SEN. JON KYL: That’s right. As Secretary Slocombe pointed out the ability to influence actions through intimidation is critical here. It isn’t necessarily the case that China would launch an amphibious attack, but you heard in your set-up piece the Chinese say that if the Taiwanese did not begin to engage in negotiations about being incorporated into the PRC, then they should expect military action against them. I think we have to take the PRC at its word and understand that there is about a five-year delay here in getting this equipment to the Taiwanese for them to use and, therefore, we have to make the decision now not begin a study of the issue at this point.

MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Slocombe, why were the Aegis warships not included in this package?

WALTER SLOCOMBE: Because we believe that Taiwan very much needs to modernize its navy. It has ships in its fleet that fought in the Second World War but this can’t be done piecemeal and it should not be done except on a basis of understanding how the whole system will fit together. One of Taiwan’s biggest defense needs is, in fact, to integrate its different pieces of equipment together. You get their navy and their air force working together. If the right answer is they should have a system like Aegis, that is certainly something we’re prepared to consider. But to go ahead and decide at this point would not have been a wise thing for Taiwan or for the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Kyl, what about the point that Taiwan really needs to be able to get all its parts working together? I think there was a Pentagon study earlier this month that said that is one of its problems – not the lack of weaponry but the fact that its command and control and integration just isn’t that good.

SEN. JON KYL: Actually it’s both. There is need for better integration. By the way, there is a need for better integration between the United States forces and the Taiwanese, and that is one ever the things that the bill that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed and that the Senate should consider soon will help to promote. Right now, the administration interprets the existing law to prohibit that kind of direct secured communication between the U.S. military and the Taiwanese.

The other point that I would make is while it’s true that the Taiwanese need better training and to incorporate their branches of military better, they also need hardware and, secondly, the United States should not be basing its decisions upon a balancing act between the Taiwanese and the PRC. And I think it would be disingenuous if the administration denied that there wasn’t a consideration of the PRC sensitivities involved here. Very clearly that was a balance that was struck. And that’s not what the current law requires; it requires us to do what the Taiwanese need to defend themselves so that we don’t have to go over there and send our young men and women in harm’s way to defend them.

MARGARET WARNER: I want to get our other guests, but first a reply on that point.

WALTER SLOCOMBE: With due respect, Senator, that is not the basis on which we approach this decision. We approached it on the basis of what does Taiwan need. What can it — for it defensives requirements which is what the law requires and what we are doing; they will have very substantial enhanced capability in all the areas that are most important to them.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Michael Oksenberg, let’s get him in, if you’ll forgive me, Senator. Professor Oksenberg, what is your view first of all of the nature of the threat, how likely is the threat and what this, whether this package is right to meet it?

MICHAEL OKSENBERG, Stanford University: I’m not always been supportive of the Clinton administration policy toward China, but I think they’ve gotten it just right this time. They’ve pay paid attention to substance rather than symbol. It’s quite a package as I understand it that will be delivered to Taiwan and at the same time there is a recognition of a political context. Chen Shui-Bien, democratically elected new president of Taiwan, deserves a chance to assess his situation, to what assess what opportunities he has in dealing with the mainland and after all we have a new administration that will come into office next January. And I would hope that whatever administration that is, there will be a broad reappraisal of policy toward China, toward Taiwan. I think that weapons sales should be derivative of a strategy. Weapons sales should not come first time and a strategy text. It is it’s important for us to work closely with Taiwan, figure out how we are going to cope with this military buildup across the strait, rather than first moving to weapons systems that could at this particular time prove more provocative than helpful.

MARGARET WARNER: What is your assessment, colonel, of the threat and this package?

COL. LARRY WORTZEL (Ret.), Heritage Foundation: It was a very serious threat. I was the arm attaché out in China. I was in Taiwan during the presidential election. I meet with their senior military people. They do have a good strategy. They know what they need. What hasn’t come up here is the overwhelming cruise missile threat that they face. The Aegis destroyer, the radar and destroyer system was developed to fight against, to deter and to detect cruise missile attacks on U.S. ships, so I think they need it now. There are overwhelming cruise missiles of shorter ranges of 50-60 miles and longer ranges up to 250 miles, and that Aegis, Arleigh Burke class system would permit them to detect that as soon as they did.

MARGARET WARNER: Would it do anything to protect against the ballistic missile threat?

COL. LARRY WORTZEL: It would be the basis, if it had the data links that would allow a complete air defense integration to provide the base for a ballistic missile defense.

MARGARET WARNER: What about that point, Secretary Slocombe, about the cruise missile dangers?

WALTER SLOCOMBE: It is certainly true one of the things that we will be looking at is what contribution should the Taiwan navy make to cruise missile defense. That is one of the things which is a possibility — Aegis for that purpose or some derivative. I want to go back to the point that Professor Oksenberg made. This is not just an issue of military forces. We also have been urging Beijing and urging Taipei. That is the time to lower the rhetoric, not to make threats, to led the new administration in Taipei formulate its policy and to get the cross-straits dialogue started. We are committed to the proposition that Taiwan has to have an adequate self-defense and we’ll back that, but we also have to have a broader approach.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Kyl, do you see some merit in that approach in essentially trying to cool down both sides rather than, sort of, contribute to an arms race?

SEN. JON KYL: Of course but the rhetoric has come from the PRC; it hasn’t come from the Taiwanese and I find it inconsistent — as much as I agree with some of what Secretary Slocombe said — for him to say on the one hand that that consideration, that balancing, that diplomatic aspect of this has to be considered in our policy and yet on the other hand said it had no bearing on the decision we made today about the weaponry to send. What I said was disingenuous was the denial by the administration that the diplomatic decisions had anything to do with the decision. They had everything to do with the decision. That was the balancing that went on. The administration tried to send just enough to Taiwan to comply with the law, but not enough to offend the sensitivities of the Chinese. And to deny that I think just denies the obvious.

MICHAEL OKSENBERG: Senator, I do think it’s important to note that there is a diplomatic dimension to that. To note that there is a diplomatic dimension doesn’t mean that one is acceding to Chinese demands. Rather it, seems to me, it is to encourage Taiwan to look at the opportunities that may exist, explore them. After all, a very important development has just occurred. Taiwan has elected a new democratic president. And he deserves every opportunity to think through his speech that he will give on his inaugural address, to put his cabinet together. He has behaved I think, from my perspective, very well, very prudently and it would be unwise of the United States at that time to really add to the burdens that he might face as he tries to seize the opportunities that may be before him.

MARGARET WARNER: Colonel Wortzel. Let’s let Colonel Wortzel back in here.

COL. LARRY WORTZEL: I’m going to talk about the diplomatic dimension too because I think that it’s coincidental, perhaps, but important that on the very day that the arms sale talks with Taiwan were going on, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army navy was in the Pentagon consulting. Now, I believe, if the Aegis had been approved, he would have gotten on a plane and gone home. And I think this influenced part of the decision.

WALTER SLOCOMBE: I don’t know what he would have done or not done, but I do know what he was told which was that any threat or use of force in the Taiwan Strait would be a matter of grave concern and that it is essential for China to understand that it is — they are responsible to tone down the rhetoric, and in that respect I certainly agree with Senator Kyl. They are responsible to tone down the rhetoric and to take advantage of the opportunities that the new democratically-elected administration in Taiwan presents to move forward instead of into a confrontation.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael Oksenberg, how do you read the buildup that both Senator Kyl and Secretary Slocombe have described that China has been doing. The ballistic missiles, I think they are all in the eastern part of the country – they’re adding 50 a year. How do you read that in terms of their intentions?

MICHAEL OKSENBERG: I think that this is ominous; their rhetoric is ominous. That is the reason it is important to enhance Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities. I am concerned in fact that the leaders of China may be painting themselves into a corner having excessive expectations as to what Chen Shui-Ben is likely to say concerning whether he adheres or doesn’t adhere to a one China policy. That’s why a resolute American response is necessary, but at the same time we have to recognize at the same time that there is an increasing dangers of conflict in the Taiwan Strait and that that conflict would involve the United States. It is precisely because of that danger that the United States must behave prudently, cautiously and give every effort to allow diplomatic move on this rather than prematurely escalating what is, in deed, a dangerous arms race.

MARGARET WARNER: Before we go, Senator Kyl, likely Republican congressional reaction to this? Are they going to go ahead with the Enhanced Security Act?

SEN. JON KYL: Well, the Congress will support the administration has made to send this equipment, but I think it will ask for more. The reason is because the Aegis cruisers are necessary to help maintain that balance of power that has deterred the Chinese from aggression to date. That, after all, is the bottom line here. We don’t want to have to be involved. We want the Taiwanese to be able to defend themselves. I think the Senate will consider that Aegis cruiser sale an important part of this defense.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator, I’m sorry. Gentlemen, we have to leave it there, thank you.