On Friday, a letter was delivered to the White House calling on the Obama Administration to move forward with the sale of F-16 fighters to Taiwan. In a demonstration of true bipartisanship 136 members of the House including more than 50 Democrats signed the letter. The letter described Taiwan’s security situation as precarious in the face of more than 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles and a rising number of advanced fighters. It also reminded the administration of its continuing commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to prevent any actions that would undermine Taiwan’s security.
Last year the administration announced a $6 billion program of arms sales to Taiwan. Inexplicably, the most important request made by the government in Taipei, for 66 new F-16 fighters to replace their aging air defense aircraft, was left out of the package. Some observers thought that the White House was hoping to mute any criticism of the sales from Beijing by leaving out the F-16s. The administration still caught flak.
The administration has made something it calls “building partner capacity” a centerpiece of its defense strategy. Building partner capacity is an indirect way of saying give our friends and allies the wherewithal to defend themselves. Doing this will enhance deterrence, improve interoperability of U.S. and foreign forces and enable U.S. forces to maintain a smaller local or regional footprint. It can also have a beneficial economic impact in this country to the extent that partner capacity is built by selling U.S. systems to foreign countries.
The sale of F-16s to Taiwan would be a master stroke for U.S. foreign and security policies. By this single act the Obama Administration would be helping to stabilize the military balance across the Taiwan Straits, informing Beijing that this country holds to its commitments, improving the self-defense capacity of an important partner country, reassuring other allies in the region and enhancing the interoperability of the Taiwanese and U.S. Air Forces.
Will Beijing complain? Undoubtedly. Does it have a leg to stand on? Absolutely not. The People’s Republic has engaged in an unrelenting arms race intended to destabilize the cross-straits military balance and simultaneously make U.S. intervention on behalf of Taiwan less likely or even feasible. The U.S. military is taking steps to counter Chinese efforts threatening the operation of our naval forces in the Western Pacific. Building the capacity of our ally Taiwan to defend itself is an equally important step.
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