- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

So there. No Aegis destroyers for Taiwan. As it turns out, the Pentagon did not like the idea much, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made the recommendation to sell less advanced, decades old Kidd-class destroyers to the Taiwanese instead. All sorts of reasons have been given in the past few weeks since news of the administrations impending decision was carefully leaked to the press: The four ships requested by Taiwan would take eight to 10 years to deliver. They would be too costly anyway, and the Taiwanese do not have anywhere near the expertise to operate and maintain them.
Countering these arguments is not difficult. For instance, with that much lead time, surely the Taiwanese navy could train its people to run the Aegis system. Secondly, Taiwan is certainly not short of funds, being the only country in East Asia to weather the economic crisis.
The U.S. decision was a purely political one. President Bush did not want to antagonize China at this time. In fact, the Chinese government had promised to raise all sorts of trouble if Taiwan received access to the advanced radar technology carried by the Aegis vessels.
It is hard, therefore, not to conclude that China won the first round with the Bush administration, particularly after holding the crew of the American EP-3 surveillance plane captive for almost two weeks, not a glorious moment for this country. Mr. Bush did a good job of playing it cool during the crisis, but is there any reason to keep on playing it cool? The Chinese most certainly are not.
Still, the fact that Taiwan will not have its own Aegis destroyers in the Taiwan Strait obviously does not mean that the United States cannot. Just as our surveillance planes patrol international air space though obviously at some risk our Aegis cruisers can patrol the seas. In fact, the argument is often made that they are the most promising part of a global missile defense system; Europeans and Russians have been known to argue that they represent the best way to counter ballistic missile threats from rogue states, by their ability to shoot down rockets in the boost-phase. It is also argued that the Aegis system does not interfere with the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, to which the Russians and others cling with the tenacity of a drowning man to a raft.
We are already at a stage where missile defense is far more than a theoretical concept, falling short in implementation, though you would not know this from press accounts celebrating the failures.
As noted in a recent issue of American Enterprise magazine by Thomas Mackubin Owens, not only do we now have very serviceable theater missile defense systems to protect out troops (including the PAC-3 version of the Armys Patriot missile), but boost-phase interception of ballistic missiles is very doable today. The Aegis system, which can protect ships and harbors from short-range ballistic missiles is such an example. This brings down missiles in the first stage of their flight, where they are slowest, easiest to hit and still over the territory of their origin. Boost-phase interception would be one part of a three-stage national missile defense if when the United States develops one.
Writes Mr. Owens, "All of these various systems are promising, and between them they have already achieved six successful intercepts in tests. Together the several approaches can provide multi-layered protection."
These are good reasons for the Chinese to not want Taiwan to have the Aegis system. It takes the teeth out of their most potent weapons, now arrayed in growing numbers in the provinces closest to Taiwan. As an invasion from the sea is unlikely to succeed against the island nation, raining missiles on the Taiwanese is a threat in case they should move towards independence. Or, as may just as well be the case, China gets impatient waiting for peaceful unification to take place.
Its too bad the Bush administration took the easy way out this time. Taiwan deserves that security guarantee. Furthermore, it could be a stepping stone in American missile defense plans.
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