Why Is Taiwan Only Spending 2.1 Percent of Its GDP on Its Defense?
Not looking very afraid?
As Afghanistan mercifully recedes in Washington’s foreign policy rear-view mirror, the United States remains busy defending much of the free and some of the not-so-free world. Yet many of these defense dependents do little to protect themselves. Washington should learn a lesson from domestic government assistance and apply “workfare” to military policy. If nations won’t work to defend themselves, then Washington shouldn’t do the job for them.
This is an especially important time to take a new approach. The deficit last year ran $2.8 trillion. That’s actually good news. The year before, red ink was $3.1 trillion, more than twice the previous record of $1.4 trillion set in 2009, as America emerged from the financial crisis. This year will be another big number, about $3 trillion according to the most recent estimate. Even as the COVID-19 economic crisis ends, the Congressional Budget Office expects huge deficits to persist, more than $12 trillion worth over the coming decade. Americans no longer can afford to pay for every deadbeat ally’s defense.
Yet it appears to be politics as usual in Washington. Chinese threats against Taiwan have spurred a debate in Washington over whether Washington should make an explicit promise to defend the island. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made the rounds of Europe, promoting NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine. Officials from South Korea and Japan visited Washington to discuss America’s continued commitment to their defense.
America should stop being a pushover for supposed allies seeking a cheap or free ride. U.S. personnel should not fight and die for nations whose people will not do likewise.
Consider Taiwan. George Mason University’s Michael Hunzeker recently told Congress that Taiwan’s military is not “optimally manned, trained, equipped and motivated to defend against an attack,” which is putting it mildly. Spending as a share of GDP has only slowly risen to 2.1 percent [Some $9bn, dwarfed by $150bn in China trade.], a risible amount given the island’s claimed fears of Chinese aggression.
Moreover, complained Daniel Davis of Defense Priorities: “So few Taiwanese are willing to sign up for military service, in fact, that earlier this year frontline combat units in the Taiwan military were assessed as being manned at a shockingly low 60%.” [Soldiering is seen as a low-class job in Asia, slightly above the garbageman.] One reason for the refusal of Taiwanese to defend their own society: the expectation that Americans will intervene in any case.
Yet Taipei does not even need to defeat the PRC. Rather, the Taiwanese need to convince China that they would exact a fearsome price in any invasion, and that the struggle would continue even if organized resistance was quelled. Today Taiwanese appear to prefer surrender to conflict, which almost guarantees Beijing’s success even if the United States is prepared to intervene.
Source: Responsible Statecraft