The Trump administration announced Monday it had approved $2.2 billion in sales of air-defense missiles and tanks to Taiwan. Barring congressional disapproval, this sale will represent a necessary but insufficient step to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
Under the deal, which Congress now has 30 calendar days to review, the U.S. will sell Taiwan 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and 250 Block I -92F MANPAD Stinger missiles, as well as other military equipment. The sales would help Taiwan deter or repel an initial invasion by China. Taiwan confirmed in June that it had requested the tanks and Stinger missiles.
The new tanks also provide a much-needed upgrade to Taiwan’s aging armored force. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency says the tanks will help the island “maintain a credible defensive capability.” The Stinger missiles, in turn, will help Taiwan “expand its existing air defense architecture.” The sale is consistent with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the U.S. will provide the weapons “necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”
The proposed sale comes as Beijing continues to seek full control over the free people of Taiwan. The U.S. Defense Department’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report released in June warns that China is “preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force.” Due to China’s massive military buildup and Washington’s past reluctance to provide sufficient arms to Taiwan, the military balance of power in the Taiwan Strait has shifted in Beijing’s direction – making war there more likely.
Missing from Monday’s announcement are the new fighter jets Taiwan has repeatedly requested. After the Bush and Obama administrations refused to do more than upgrade Taiwan’s existing fighter fleet, the Trump administration is reportedly now considering a request for 66 new F-16 Block-70 fighter jets.
The delivery of any American military equipment to Taiwan is sure to provoke anger from Beijing. A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry claimed Tuesday that the sale of tanks and missiles “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests.”
Despite the clamor it will produce in Beijing, the sale supports the free people of Taiwan, consistent with U.S. national security interests. Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait is liable to spark a major war between the U.S. and China, an outcome best avoided by ensuring Taiwan can properly defend itself. America can also help deter Beijing by conducting bilateral training with Taiwan focused on high-end military threats. After all, an effective military deterrent requires more than quality equipment; it also demands regular and rigorous military training and exercises.
In addition to traditional deterrence considerations, America should stand with free people opposing authoritarian regimes. Indeed, support for those resisting Chinese authoritarianism is in keeping with the democratic values Americans support and the best traditions of U.S. foreign policy.
For these reasons, Washington should look to deliver this current tranche of weapons expeditiously and undertake high-end joint combat training opportunities with its Taiwanese partners. Simultaneously, Washington would be wise to approve F-16 Block-70 fighters and work with Taiwan to identify additional weapons sales that could make clear to Beijing that an invasion across the Strait would be too costly.
Bradley Bowman is senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Mikhael Smits is a research analyst. Follow them on Twitter @Brad_L_Bowman and @mikhaelsmits. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.