Once again, the Washington insider report The Nelson Report has another round of inside-the-Beltway analysis on the Arms Freeze.

++++++++++++++++

TAIWAN ARMS…”fallout” continues from PACOM Adm. Tim Keating’s speech to the Heritage Foundation last week, covered in recent Nelson Reports, in which Keating informally confessed that the White House has put a “freeze” (press language, not his) on a big arms package for Taiwan.

The consequence, observers report…”letters, resolutions, all kinds of things flying all over the place”, given what appears to finally be a formal request from Taipei, for the bulk of the arms first offered by President Bush back in 2001. [MT: The presentation here isn't clear that there are seven-eight systems in the pipeline, some already funded by Taiwan. I am still working on getting a list of what has been funded. The Nelson Report also takes the view that the freeze is recent but clearly it goes back a couple of years.]

Indications were clear, even before the controversial Keating speech, that Bush was reluctant to move on his offer at this time…given the current state of US-China relations, and the apparent thaw in China-Taiwan relations under a new KMT government.

As we have been reporting, while it is obvious common sense that the US take into account both the bilateral and Cross Strait situation at the time of any arms sales, the letter of the law, the Taiwan Relations Act, requires that the only consideration is supposed to be an objective analysis of Taiwan’s defense needs.

That, of course, can be and usually IS loosely defined to include a strategic and political assessment of all kinds of things, current major examples including US-China relations, such as cooperation at the UN on Iran, and the 6 Party talks with N. Korea…the problem being that while you DO it, you aren’t really supposed to SAY it.

Enter Adm. Keating…

Before reprinting the full text of a Republican staff letter seeking support for a Congressional Resolution by HFAC Ranking Member Ilena Ross-Lehtinen, it’s important to consider that for most of the Bush Administration, the normally very vocal, mainly Republican Taiwan lobby on Capitol Hill has been forced to keep as calm as possible, so as to not upset China, and the China-Taiwan policies of the Republican White House incumbent.

Not that support for Taiwan or arms sales ever disappeared, but events between China and Taiwan, and statements or actions by the White House, and senior State Department officials which, during the Clinton Administration, might have caused a furor on the Hill…didn’t.

You may remember, back in early 2002, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, at the peak of his powers, told an American Enterprise Institute audience that he planned to lead an attack on the “one China” policy which has underwritten US-China relations since the Nixon Administration.

We don’t know who made the call, but with Vice President Cheney’s office clearly on record as supporting a professional cooperative relationship with China, nothing further was heard from Mr. DeLay about “one China”.

Increasingly, mainly Republican, pro-Taiwan inclinations, especially on the House side, were forced by their own rising, if grudging anger at the then-KMT government of President Chen, to join with the White House, State and DOD officials in warning Chen that he was failing to take vital US interests into account, perhaps even at risk of undermining the fundamental US defense commitment to Taiwan.[MT: the "KMT government of Chen"? LOL. Here is the Beltway mentality hard at work -- Chen wanted the weapons, the KMT-controlled legislature blocked them. Naturally, the US blamed Chen, instead of the actual culprits. So much of the US anger at Chen was totally unnecessary and Washington's own fault. The Bush Administration blew an eight-year long opportunity.]

Republicans Warner, then-Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick, and then-Asia Subcommittee chair Jim Leach all, at various times, made statements which, even a few years before, would have been politically unthinkable.

Administration and Congressional frustration also was fed by domestic Taiwan political squabbles which made it impossible for Taipei to respond until this year, to the big arms sale package which WAS offered during the summer of 2001, following, not coincidentally, the Hainan Island PC-3 crisis with China. [MT: this is apparently all wrong. A number of weapons systems were approved in the regular budget and supplied to Taiwan during this period, $4.1 billion worth in 2002-5 alone. The big package was not a creation of the US but of Taiwan policymakers who put some of the offered weapons in the regular budget, and other systems in a special budget, creating an inevitable mess. Far from "impossible to respond until this year" Taiwan requested F-16s back in 2006. The italicized letter Nelson includes has a better understanding of the issue.]

We have argued for some time that the next president, whether McCain or Obama, is likely to encounter an increasingly active pro-Taiwan effort from Congress…for a variety of reasons.

First, McCain himself is clearly more skeptical of the embrace of China which Bush has fostered; second, Obama, as a Democrat, is going to naturally face a more combative Republican minority, and it’s not hard to predict that a revived effort on behalf of Taiwan will be an early and perhaps constant battleground.

For the sake of further discussion, please note we sincerely stipulate China’s escalation of “missile diplomacy” along the coast, and the openly stated plans and objectives of the PLA…armament and power projection which WILL take place, likely regardless of anything the US does or does not do.

Of course these events and policies will affect McCain or Obama decisions on Taiwan arms, as was intended by the TRA back in 1979. The question, as in life, marriage, and all important things, is balance.

Here’s the text of a “staff dear colleague” which lays out the issue as seen by Republican staff, following last week’s Heritage Foundation speech by Adm. Keating:

“A long rumored freeze on United States weapons sales to Taiwan, a policy which has apparently been in force for all of 2008, was confirmed on July 16 by Admiral Timothy Keating, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. According to press accounts of his remarks at the Heritage Foundation, Keating observed that there have “been no significant arms sales from the United States to Taiwan in relatively recent times,” and that the absence of arms transfers reflected “administration policy.” Keating went on to suggest that he had in fact discussed the issue of Taiwan arms sales with leaders in Beijing, noting that “The Chinese have made clear to me their concern over any arms sales to Taiwan.”

According to press reports, the list of military hardware being held up includes eight diesel submarines, 66 F-16 Block 50/52 fighter aircraft, four Patriot PAC3 fire units (384 missiles), 30 Boeing-made AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and 60 UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopters. These are all items that the Bush administration has approved in principle for export to Taiwan - and for which Taiwan’s legislature has appropriated the funds or put down payments. Indeed, on July 12, 2008, new Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou made a public appeal for renewed arms transfers, saying that the island still needs to secure defensive weapons from the United States, despite a warming of relations with mainland China.

As stated an editorial this week in Defense News, the freeze marks a complete reversal in the administration’s policy toward Taiwan, which started in 2001 with a promise to furnish Taipei with new submarines, patrol planes and Patriot missiles. It is also in apparent contradiction with longstanding U.S. law and policy, including section 3(a) of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 (”the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability”) and the Six Assurances of July 14, 1982 (including assurances that Washington had not agreed to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan nor to consult with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan).

The TRA also specifies a congressional role in decision-making on security assistance for Taiwan. Section 3(b) stipulates that both the President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services “based solely” upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan. Section 3(b) also says that “such determination of Taiwan’s defense needs shall include review by United States military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress.” To date, however, the Administration has declined to brief the Congress on the legal justification and rationale for this stunning departure from a bipartisan, consensus approach toward Taiwan that has well-served every U.S. Administration for the last thirty years.

The judicious sale of defensive weapons system to Taiwan has been an essential element in United States support for a secure, stable and democratic Taiwan, as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. In that context, please consider cosponsoring the attached legislation which, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, would require the Administration to consult with Congress in the development and execution of its arms transfer policy toward Taiwan. The Ranking Member hopes to introduce the resolution this week. If you would like to be an original cosponsor, please contact [her office...].”

++++++++++++

Everyone in Washington is saying the same thing: that no matter who wins, Taiwan is likely to rise in importance. And the next president, whether McCain or Obama, will have a much-improved Taiwan policy over the current disastrous presidency.