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Taiwan Facing Multiple ABM Vulnerabiities

The Taiwanese government of President Chen Shui-bian "is under no illusion about the ability of even ideal missile defense to absorb a full-scale Chinese attack," the CSIS report says. "Neither do they expect to defend point targets successfully, even with U.S. assistance."
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Apr 17, 2006
Over the past year we have tracked in these columns the race between China's ongoing deployment of more than 700 missiles threatening the offshore island of Taiwan, and Taiwan's ambitious efforts develop its own ballistic missile defenses and counter-ballistic missile offensive deterrent.

Now a new report published in Washington suggests that China is winning this deadly race.

The report issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Washington think tank, has been almost ignored in the U.S. media, but it has already caused controversy in Taiwan as an April 8 account in the Taipei Times noted.

The CSIS report also painted an uncompromising and grim picture of what it called the chaotic political atmosphere in Taiwan that had delayed and thrown into confusion plans to develop BMD defenses by the Taipei government.

The CSIS report is entitled "The Paths Ahead: Missile Defense in Asia" and was prepared by Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, and CSIS senior fellow Jeremiah Gertler. The report does not focus specifically on Taiwan, but its section on the island comes to controversial and uncompromising conclusions.

In the entire BMD strategic debate, a major problem for proponents of BMD systems is that not only have none of them yet been tested in real conflict conditions, but also the cost of deploying them far exceeds the cost of producing large numbers of old fashioned, lower-tech ballistic missiles to try and swamp their defenses.

The Campbell-Gertner report concludes that Taiwan faces this dilemma in seeking to defend itself from China. It estimates that in any attack, Chinese incoming missiles would outnumber Taiwan's interceptor missiles by six or seven, the Taipei Times reported.

The Taiwanese government of President Chen Shui-bian "is under no illusion about the ability of even ideal missile defense to absorb a full-scale Chinese attack," the CSIS report says. "Neither do they expect to defend point targets successfully, even with U.S. assistance."

Campbell and Gertler cite published interviews with Taiwanese officials in which they say their goal in acquiring a ballistic missile defense would be to "avoid diplomatic coercion and raise uncertainties" in China about the success of a "quick, perhaps limited decapitation strike."

However, the report argues that even this limited aim may be unattainable. "Even those modest goals seem quite remote today," it says.

The report also paints a picture, the Taipei Times noted, of a Taiwanese public and political elite far more divided over the subject of ballistic missile defense than the American, Japanese or Israeli publics are. It describes the subject as "an unusually polarizing issue" and notes that opposition parties see missile defense as "a provocation to ... China and an obstacle to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

And in contrast to the United States, where the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy have all signed on to different missile defense programs as part of the overall national strategy, the CSIS report notes major divisions within the Taiwanese armed forces themselves over whether to have such systems at all.

The report describes the Taiwanese military as fiercely divided over the need for ballistic missile defense with the army opposed, the navy supporting it and the air force still divided. The Taipei Times significantly reported that finding for its Taiwanese readership too.

The report concludes that despite the widespread assumption in American conservative and Bush administration circles that Taiwan will push ahead with buying and deploying U.S.-made BMD systems, "it is difficult to see how the island will be able to proceed with missile defense in the near future."

The vast size of the booming Chinese economy and China's enormous and rapidly growing financial resources also give it a huge resources advantage over little Taiwan that, for example, the United States does not experience in developing BMD defenses against threats from Iran or North Korea, or that wealthy Japan will suffer from in developing its own BMD systems against North Korea and even China.

"Given the cost tradeoffs and a booming economy, China could easily continue to deploy six or seven offensive missiles for every Taiwanese defensive missile to overwhelm the island's defenses," the report says.

The Taipei Times also gave significant coverage to the report's contention that "New Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles, submarines and fast-attack boats are "creating the capability to push U.S. ships out of even marginally-effective missile defense range."

"Even if U.S. AEGIS ships find a way to survive in an increasingly hostile anti-access environment, they face a real challenge to effectively defending Taiwan," the report says. "That leaves the brunt of Taiwan's missile defense to PAC-3" and other new U.S. systems, it says.

In fact, Taiwan is moving as fast as it can to develop another, more aggressive form of deterrence as well. On Jan. 19, we noted in these columns, citing a report in Jane's Defense Weekly, that Taiwan has highly ambitiously plans to produce at least 50 of its own Hsiung Feng, or Brave Wind, 2E cruise missiles by 2010 and eventually it plans to produce and deploy no less than 500 of them. JDW also reported that Taiwan has already home-produced three prototypes of the weapon.

Pushing ahead with such a program will pose enormous risks for Taiwan. As we noted in the Jan. 19 BMD Focus column, it could tempt China to launch some kind of preemptive attack on Taiwan or seek to topple the Chen government before such an offensive strike force could be deployed to threaten so much of China's industrial and financial heartland.

But from the Taiwanese point of view, taking that gamble may appear to make more sense if policymakers in Taipei have already come to the same conclusion as the CSIS report -- that given the imbalance between their limited resources and China's far greater missile capabilities, no purely defense BMD system has much of a chance of protecting them.

Source: United Press International

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