All eyes are understandably on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan this week as Beijing issues threats and rattles its saber. But those interested in supporting the free people of Taiwan and pushing back on increasingly aggressive behavior from Beijing should not miss an important legislative development unfolding simultaneously on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is meeting Aug. 3 to consider S.4428, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, a bill introduced by committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. In a joint press release, their offices describe the legislation as “the most comprehensive restructuring of U.S. policy towards Taiwan since the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.”
As Menendez and Graham rightly note in their bill, the “security of Taiwan and the ability for the people of Taiwan to determine their own future is fundamental to United States interests and values.”
The problem is Beijing believes that the relative ability of Taiwan and the United States to defend those interests and values has declined precipitously and is weaker than ever. Not surprisingly, as the People’s Liberation Army has become more powerful and the Chinese Communist Party’s confidence has grown, Beijing has employed its military forces more aggressively near Taiwan.
Chinese warplanes reportedly made 969 incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in 2021, more than double the previous year’s total. In one day alone last year, Beijing sent 56 aircraft into Taiwan’s ADIZ.
If Washington and Taipei permit the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait to continue to erode, Beijing may decide in the next few years that it can accomplish its political objectives on the island with military force. In fact, Adm. Philip Davidson, then the top U.S. military officer in the Indo-Pacific, warned in March 2021 that Beijing could conduct military aggression toward Taiwan “in the next six years.”
Even if Beijing backs down this week during Pelosi’s trip, Americans should not assume that things will turn out so well next time if the United States doesn’t act quickly to reverse dangerous trends.
The United States and Taiwan, therefore, should urgently build their combined military strength to change Beijing’s assessment of the relative combat power of the potential combatants, and thereby deter the Chinese Communist Party from initiating aggression.
Such an approach would support American interests and values, but it would also be consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, a long-standing pillar of U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Indeed, the law states that Washington shall “provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character” and maintain the American military capacity necessary to ensure “the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.”
Thankfully, there is growing appreciation in Congress regarding the need for urgent action, as demonstrated by the proliferation of Taiwan-related bills. In addition to the Menendez-Graham bill, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and others have introduced their own bills attempting to strengthen deterrence in the Taiwan Strait.
The Menendez-Graham bill, however, is particularly noteworthy because Menendez is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As the Aug. 3 markup may demonstrate, he enjoys disproportionate power to obtain committee approval and advance the bill to the full Senate for consideration.
The Menendez-Graham bill includes elements of the other Taiwan bills and some unique attributes of its own, with the most significant elements included in Title II of the legislation. Sections within that title would create, among other things, a Taiwan Security Assistance Initiative, a Comprehensive Training Program, Military Planning Mechanisms and multiple iterative assessment efforts.
The security assistance program would provide $4.5 billion over four years in much-needed appropriations. This will enhance Taiwan’s own growing contribution to its defense. Taiwan’s defense spending as a percentage of its gross domestic product has grown from less than 2% to about 2.3% over the past four years ($17.3 billion in defense spending on a projected GDP of $764.2 billion) and is expected to grow even more as Taipei pays to acquire the numerous U.S. systems approved for sale under the Trump and Biden administrations.
Importantly, the provision requires that Taiwan’s defense spending continues to grow to unlock U.S. funds. For those who think that Taiwan is a rich country and should handle Chinese aggression on its own, it’s good to remember China’s GDP is more than 20 times that of Taiwan.
The supporters of the bill, however, may want to make explicitly clear that the security assistance funding will be used to buy weapons from the United States, strengthening our own defense-industrial base and enabling better interoperability between the two forces.
Title II would also create a foreign military loan program for Taiwan as well as authorize and fund a “War Reserve Stockpile” for Taiwan, similar to the one that exists in Israel — another beleaguered democracy supported by the United States.
In addition, Title II would establish a much-needed program for U.S.-Taiwan training; it includes a detailed section on U.S.-Taiwan military planning. As we have argued before, combined training and planning that particularly emphasizes the coordination of U.S. and Taiwanese air and naval forces is the most cost-effective way to improve war-winning capabilities. American and Taiwanese forces can have the best weapons available, but they will both be much more effective in a crisis if they have trained, operated and planned together before the shooting starts.
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers the bill tomorrow, the title on sanctions may need to be amended or dropped. While the bill’s attempt to use sanctions to strengthen deterrence against Chinese aggression is laudable, the current draft lacks sufficient clarity on what would trigger the sanctions, and the bill’s sanctions may not be strong enough to achieve the desired effect.
If the bill is passed by the committee, Menendez will either seek to have it considered as a stand-alone bill on the floor or try to include it in the National Defense Authorization Act. Both approaches entail certain challenges, but the latter may be difficult if the bill passed by the committee includes the sanctions language, especially if it is not amended from its current formulation.
One hopes that Pelosi’s trip this week does not result in military conflict. If deterrence in the Taiwan Strait is not strengthened without delay, we may not be so lucky, or ready, next time.
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and senior director of its Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation. Bradley Bowman serves as senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the FDD think tank.