Taiwan’s 2013 Quadrennial Defense Review

qdr2013The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of the Republic of China is a major defence policy document that has to be updated every four years and prepared by the Ministry of National Defence (MND) within 10 months of the Presidential inauguration. The first QDR was published in 2009, and its revised 2013 edition became available on 12 March. Unsurprisingly, yet not always in line with the current stable cross-Strait relations mantra, China (PRC) is identified as Taiwan’s major security threat.

The days when military planners in Taipei were preparing to “retake the Mainland” are naturally long gone. Plans that were quietly scrapped in mid-1960s were replaced by territorial defence of Taiwan-proper and adjacent islands under the Republic of China’s (hereafter Taiwan) control. Subsequently, Taiwan has moved from strategic requirement to impose crushing defeat of the People’s Liberation Army to the concept of the “Hard ROC” promoted by President Ma Ying-jeou and incorporated into relevant defence policy documents. At the centre of the “Hard ROC” idea is the transformation of a conscript army to an all-volunteer professional military force. Rather than defeating the PLA, the primary mission of Taiwan’s armed forces is now to prevent it from winning, forestalling any form of attack from PRC forces and holding out long enough to allow U.S. intervention in the worst case scenario. A Taiwan-centric defence posture is a natural reflection of political developments in Taiwan, including the popularization of Taiwanese identities and the marginal position of that part of population that identifies itself as Chinese-only.

Although “Hard ROC” might imply a more inward-looking or passive defence posture, it does not differ that significantly from the “active deterrence” promoted by previous DPP administrations as some analysts have pointed out. The KMT government may evince a more positive view towards the PRC, yet it continues to develop weapon systems that push the defence line away from Taiwan’s coastline. One example is Taiwan’s indigenous cruise missile program that plans to introduce Cloud Peak missiles with a range of 1200-2000 km, another is the development and introduction of Kuang Hua VI-class fast missile boats and a new 500-ton corvette with stealth capabilities expected to enter service in 2014.

Differences aside, any policy document that realistically reflects the growing military imbalance between Taiwan and China is an important step forward. Taiwan’s defence planning has suffered from domestic political bickering for the most of the previous decade, and is partly responsible for substantial difficulties with arms sales from the U.S.

The current QDR correctly prioritizes key areas of focus and improvement, including a whole range of joint warfare capabilities and natural disaster relief operations. The latter has been given greater priority in the overall scheme of things, especially after typhoon Morakot  devastated large areas of  Taiwan in August 2009. The QDR also notes other disturbing developments in the region, e.g. the DPRK’s nuclear program, the East and South China Sea territorial disputes and frictions associated with the U.S.  ”pivot” towards…[cont.]

My article for China Policy Institute continues here.

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