This is getting downright ridiculous. According to Defense News, “Taiwan’s June 24 petition to submit a letter of request (LoR) for new F-16 fighter jets was blocked by the U.S. State Department under orders from the U.S. National Security Council, sources in Taipei and Washington said.”
Reread that sentence. Let the absurdity of it sink in.
To paraphrase: Taiwan’s request to request to buy F-16s has been denied by the Obama administration. The Bush administration, which first concocted this ridiculous formulation, set an unseemly precedent. To avoid making what it perceived to be a politically difficult decision, it avoided having to make any decision at all. No wonder the Obama administration, with its penchant for split-the-baby decision-making, has adopted this policy as its own.
The irony, of course, is that selling F-16s to Taiwan should not be a difficult call. This administration, like its predecessor, is so concerned about avoiding Chinese ire in the short term that it’s blind to doing what is necessary to avoid conflict in the long term. The current administration, like every U.S administration since Harry Truman’s presidency, sees an interest in preserving stability in the Taiwan Strait. What the National Security Council apparently fails to recognize is that at least a semblance of military balance across the Strait is necessary for keeping the peace.
A decision not to sell new fighters to Taiwan is, frankly, a decision that Taiwan doesn’t need an air force. A Taiwan that can’t control its skies is a Taiwan that can’t defend itself. And a Taiwan that can’t defend itself is a Taiwan that invites Chinese coercion, if not outright aggression. The outbreak of fighting in the Strait is not likely to be a conflict from which the United States can remain aloof. There will be no neutrality, no splendid isolation to enjoy when China starts loosing missiles on its neighbors.
And yet such considerations seem to receive little weight in the administration. Illusory though they continue to be, the short-term benefits of friendly ties to Beijing—China can supposedly help prevent Iran’s nuclearization, denuclearize North Korea, end climate change, maintain global economic stability, and, most importantly, perfect the president’s jump shot and cross-over move—dominate the administration’s decision-making. It may seem reasonable for the president to hesitate to cross what Beijing has declared to be a red line—but the fact is that the sale of F-16s to Taiwan has never been a red line before, China has not actually explained what it means by “red line,” and there is little reason to think that the United States would suffer by crossing it.
Sure, China would throw a temper tantrum. Our ambassador would probably receive a dressing down and Beijing would likely cut off military-to-military ties for a period. But so what? The long-term benefits of maintaining a favorable balance of power in the region far outweigh the short-term costs to the Sino-American relationship. When the price for peace in the coming decades is a spat today—well, that’s a trade worth making.