Time to Rethink Arms Sales to Taiwan

Republic of China Air Force F-16s in flight in 2017. 總統府 / OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN

Once, they might have tilted the military balance. Now they just destabilize the region.

Defense One
Date: November 2, 2020
By: A. Trevor Thrall and Jordan Chen

Republic of China Air Force F-16s in flight in 2017. 總統府 / OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF TAIWAN


Even if Joe Biden wins the election, don’t expect the U.S. to stop selling arms to Taiwan anytime soon. For its part, the Trump administration has gone all in on arming the self-governing island. On Oct. 26, the Trump administration notified Congress of plans for a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missiles to Taiwan, which followed an August sale of 66 F-16 fighter jets and U.S. approval to pursue purchases of missiles, rocket artillery, and aerial reconnaissance sensors worth some $1.8 billion. And these are just the latest in a longer trend. Before this year, the Trump administration previously notified Congress of over $12 billion in weapons deals that will  eventually deliver those F-16s plus Stinger missiles and 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Taiwan.

On the surface, selling arms to Taiwan makes sense. Taipei has been an American ally for many decades and the United States has promised to help the island defend itself against China. Advocates of the most recent deal argue that the Harpoon missiles will improve Taiwan’s ability to defend itself from a Chinese attack without direct U.S. involvement. 

The reality, however, is that there is no way for Taiwan to defend itself against a concerted assault by China without American assistance. A few more missiles or fighter jets won’t move the needle much. Given this, arms sales to Taiwan increase tensions with Beijing and generate additional risk without providing any significant benefits to the United States. Unfortunately, given Biden’s recent statements, there is little reason to expect a change of course even if the White House changes hands.    [FULL  STORY]

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