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DEFENSE/Taiwan's increased defense budget key for int'l support: Ex-U.S. official

11/08/2023 05:42 PM
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President Tsai Ing-wen (front center) and former acting U.S. secretary of the Army John Whitley (front, third right) pose for a group photo at a forum in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo Nov. 8, 2023
President Tsai Ing-wen (front center) and former acting U.S. secretary of the Army John Whitley (front, third right) pose for a group photo at a forum in Taipei Wednesday. CNA photo Nov. 8, 2023

Taipei, Nov. 8 (CNA) Although the boost to Taiwan's defense spending is vital in garnering support from the United States and the rest of the world amid security threats, the budget still falls short, a former acting U.S. secretary of the Army said Wednesday.

Taiwan's increase in defense spending is an important signal to the world and the U.S.," John Whitley said at a Taipei forum themed "The Ukraine war and its impact on cross-strait relations."

However, Taiwan's defense spending, which now constitutes 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), remains significantly lower than the levels the U.S. allocated during the Cold War and also lags behind present-day U.S. defense expenditure (3.5 percent in 2022), Whitley noted.

Ministry of National Defense data shows that Taiwan's annual defense spending has been on the rise since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in 2016, with the government proposing a national defense budget of NT$606.8 billion (US$18.8 billion) next year.

Citing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's quote "I need ammunition, not a ride," Whitley asked: Is Taiwan prepared to engage in the type of advocacy Zelenskyy did in his bid to garner support for Ukraine?

To achieve this level of support, the ex-official highlighted the need for extensive education to enhance awareness of Taiwan's significance among the U.S. public.

Taiwan should work to ensure the U.S. population understands, from a U.S. security perspective, the impact of the loss of Taiwan on the Pacific and global trade, according to Whitley.

"It would be devastating for our national security," he added.

Meanwhile, Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the United Kingdom's Royal United Services Institute, said Ukraine's resistance depended on its allies mobilizing, which was enabled by a judgment that it was necessary to defend Ukraine's territorial integrity.

The mobilization also happened because Ukraine was seen to be a credible investment, he said.

According to Watling, Ukraine looked like it could resist and the Ukrainians "made very clear that they were determined to fight and the optics of that mattered."

"A crucial aspect of Taiwan's strategy should be mobilizing the international community to ensure an early and decisive response, while also recognizing the challenges of being resupplied in a timely manner," Watling said.

Another vital takeaway from the war in Ukraine is that the Ukrainian training system failed to produce an adequate number of troops capable of operating at a certain level, which resulted in the counteroffensive falling short of its objectives, he said.

The ability to resist will come down to the determination and skill of military personnel and it is vital that these people are empowered to operate effectively, Watling added.

While many seek technological solutions to address threats, the importance of military personnel should not be underestimated, Watling said.

Similarly, former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger said that Taiwan could find inspiration and learn lessons from "other underdogs," for example Ukraine and Israel.

These nations, he noted in a pre-recorded video, exemplify courage, unity, and effectiveness in the face of challenges.

Despite difficult odds -- Israel has less than half of Taiwan's population and lacks the mountains that protect Taiwan -- Israel has, without any formal alliances, won every war it has fought in since the 1940s, Pottinger said.

The Middle Eastern country has a relatively small reserve force, but one that trains frequently and realistically, he added.

"Over the last four weeks, we've seen the benefits of Israel's warrior ethos through how its entire society has become unified despite bitter domestic political disputes," Pottinger said.

(By Chung Yu-chen)


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