The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act and Underlying Issues in U.S. Policy
CRS Report for Congress
The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act and
Underlying Issues in U.S. Policy
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Taiwan has become an increasingly controversial issue in U.S.-China relations, and
has attracted more attention from Congress. Some Members believe that China poses
more of a threat now to Taiwan than in the past, while they see Taiwan’s ability to
defend itself as having eroded over time. Questions have also been raised about U.S.
policy toward Taiwan, and particularly about the consistency and credibility of U.S.
defense commitments as spelled out in P.L. 96-8, the Taiwan Relations Act. In responseth
to these growing concerns, Members of the 106 Congress have introduced the Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act (S. 693, H.R. 1838), legislation to enhance U.S.-Taiwan
military communication and cooperation, and strengthen Taiwan’s security. The
Administration says it shares the desire to bolster Taiwan, but sees the legislation as
unnecessarily provocative and potentially harmful to U.S. security interests. This report
reviews what the legislation does, discusses its political implications and its status, and
assesses how the measure compares with current U.S. policy.
Since 1979, when the United States ended official relations with Taiwan and
established official relations with the People’s Republic of China, U.S. policy toward
Taiwan, including arms sales policy, has been governed by P.L. 96-8, the Taiwan
Relations Act (TRA), and by other U.S. policy statements about Taiwan contained in
three communiques the United States has signed with China since 1972. The TRA set
forth a comprehensive prescription for how unofficial U.S. relations were to be conducted
with Taiwan after official relations were severed. The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act
(TSEA) is an attempt to expand upon and make more explicit the provisions of one
particular section of the TRA — Section 3, which deals with U.S. defense commitments.
Section 3 of the TRA is non-specific about the defense articles and services the United
States will provide to Taiwan, merely calling for “such defense articles and services...as
may be necessary.” It reads as follows:
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Sec. 3.1 (a) In furtherance of the policy set forth in section 2 of this Act, the
United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense
services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a2
sufficient self-defense capability.
(b) The President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of
such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of
Taiwan, in accordance with procedures established by law. Such determination of
Taiwan’s defense needs shall include review by United States military authorities in
connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress.
(c) The President is directed to inform the Congress promptly of any threat to the
security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan and any danger to
the interests of the United States arising therefrom. The President and the Congress
shall determine, in accordance with constitutional processes, appropriate action by the3
United States in response to any such danger.
Some Members maintain that in the two decades since the TRA was enacted, several
trends have helped erode Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, and U.S. policy should be
adjusted accordingly. In 1995, for instance, after the Clinton Administration yielded to
heavy congressional pressure and issued a visa for Taiwan’s president to make a private
visit to the United States, an irate China responded by conducting an unprecedented series
of live-fire missile exercises in the Taiwan Strait. The United States responded to the
provocation in 1996 by sending two carrier battle groups to the area. In June 1998,
President Clinton sparked renewed controversy during his summit trip to China when he
made a public statement that has come to be known as the “Three Noes,” raising questions
about whether long-standing U.S. policy toward Taiwan had changed.4 In February 1999,
the U.S. Department of Defense issued a congressionally-mandated report assessing the
military balance between Taiwan and China. The report concluded that in light of
improvements in offensive military capabilities, by the year 2005, China will have
acquired the ability “to attack Taiwan with air and missile strikes which would degrade
key military facilities and damage the island’s economic infrastructure.”5
Along with these developments since 1995, concerned observers are disturbed that
China continues to insist publicly on its right to use force against Taiwan — most
1 22 U.S.C. 3302.
2 Sec. 23 of the International Security Assistance Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-92; 93 Stat. 710) provided
authorization for the President to transfer to Taiwan war reserve material and other property
during calendar years 1980 and 1981. For text of sec. 23, see Legislation on Foreign Relations
Through 1994, vol. I-A, page 504.
3 Taiwan Relations Act (P.L. 96-8), Sec. 3. 22 USC 3302.
4 According to a White House transcript of his remarks during a roundtable discussion in
Shanghai on June 30, 1998, the President responded to a question about Taiwan saying: “I had
a chance to reiterate our Taiwan policy, which is that we don’t support independence for Taiwan,
or two China’s, or one Taiwan-one China. And we don’t believe that Taiwan should be a member
in any organization for which statehood is a requirement. So I think we have a consistent policy.”
Some Members believe that the President’s statement went beyond earlier U.S. statements
regarding Taiwan. See CRS Report RL30341, China/Taiwan: Evolution of the “One-China”
Policy, by Shirley Kan.
5 The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait, Report to Congress pursuant to the FY1999
Appropriations Bill. The text of the report can be found at [http://www.usia.gov/regional/ea/
recently, in a “white paper” the Chinese government issued on February 21, 2000. They
further believe that China has demonstrated increasing hostility to Taiwan — not only in
the 1995-96 missile exercises, but in a subsequent large military build-up on the Chinese
mainland opposite Taiwan. They claim that U.S. administrations have been too cautious
over the years in making decisions concerning arms sales to Taiwan, and that the current
Administration prefers to “curry favor with Beijing,” as the Chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee put it, at Taiwan’s expense.6 Finally, some are concerned
that Taiwan’s military is increasingly anemic, out of step with international standards, and
disadvantaged by its inability to conduct joint military exercises or participate in military
exchanges with other countries because of Beijing’s objections. H.R. 1838 and S. 693
address these perceived shortcomings and obstacles.
Overview of H.R. 1838 and S. 693, and Comparison with Current
As introduced, H.R. 1838 (introduced by Representatives Delay, Gilman, and others)
and S. 693 (introduced by Senators Helms and Torricelli) were almost identical. But on
October 26, 1999, the full House International Relations Committee marked up H.R. 1838
and, by a vote of 32-6, ordered it reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute
(H. Rept. 106-423, Pt. 1). The full House passed this amended version on February 1,
2000, by a vote of 341 - 70. The substitute, a compromise version which Chairman
Gilman referred to as the result of lengthy negotiations between himself and
Representatives Bereuter, Gejdenson, and Cox, made some important changes in the7
original House version. The Senate bill, S. 693, was the subject of Senate Foreign
Relations Committee hearings on August 4, 1999. No markup has been scheduled yet,
and reports are that the bill is being held for a range of concerns.
Sections 1 and 2. Both bills are called the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act
(Section 1) and contain a number of findings about Taiwan and China (Section 2). S. 693
provides details about China’s military build-up, taken from a 1999 Pentagon report on
the military balance in the Taiwan Strait.8 The House International Relations Committee
toned down these findings in the substitute to H.R. 1838, removing details about China’s
military build-up and substituting a series of statements about current U.S. obligations
under the Taiwan Relations Act. Also, the substitute declared that “it is in the national
interested of the United States to eliminate ambiguity” in U.S. policy toward Taiwan.9
Section 3. S. 693 makes several “sense of Congress” pronouncements concerning
Taiwan’s special status, including statements that Taiwan should receive additional slots
at the U.S. National Defense University and other senior service schools, and should have
6 Statement by Senator Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and
a sponsor of S. 693, in opening an August 4, 1998 Committee hearing on the legislation.
7 Representative Bereuter is Chairman of the Committee’s Asia/Pacific Subcommittee;
Representative Gejdenson is the Committee’s ranking minority Member; Representative Cox, not
a Committee Member, is Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.
8 See The Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait, February, 1999.
9 Some on the Committee objected to making U.S. policy more express. Representative Tom
Lantos, for instance, stated that in the case of the U.S. policy on Taiwan, “ambiguity is a virtue.”
“full and timely access to price and availability data” for defense goods and services.
Section 3 of the substitute version of H.R. 1838 mandates these things.
Section 4 and 5(a). Sections 4 and 5(a) of S. 693 contain several mandates that
go beyond current U.S. policy toward Taiwan. Although the substitute version of H.R.
!an increase in technical staff for the AIT office in Taiwan, with the
caveat that this be upon a request from the Defense Security Cooperation
!an annual report to Congress detailing Taiwan’s defense requests, needs,
and justifications for U.S. decisions on sale of defense articles to Taiwan;
!a finding that Taiwan’s defense needs(and not the 1982 Communique on
arms sales to Taiwan or other U.S. policy documents) are to be the sole
basis of determining the defense articles and services to be offered to
Section 5(b) - (h). It is from Section 5(b) and afterward that the substitute version
of H.R. 1838 differs most from the original version and from S. 693.
Training/Military Exchanges. Section 5(b) of both measures requires the
Secretary of Defense to develop and/or implement a plan for enhanced military exchanges
and operational training with senior military officers in Taiwan within 210 days of
enactment, and to submit that plan to Congress within 180 days of enactment. (S. 693
requires the submission of either a classified or unclassified version; the House substitute
requires the submission of both.) Although the United States has contact with and
provides some training for Taiwan military personnel, this appears to be limited to
training on weapons doctrine, site visits, and other military contacts related to weapons
sales. The United States does not now conduct joint exercises with Taiwan or joint
Reporting Requirements. The House substitute contains additional reporting
language, not found in S. 693, requiring the Secretary of Defense to submit an annual
report on the security situation in the Taiwan Strait. The first such report, in both
classified and unclassified form, is to be submitted not later than 45 days after enactment
of the Act. The report is to include specific assessments of military threats to Taiwan, and
an assessment of the steps Taiwan has taken.
Direct Military Communications. S. 693 and the original text of H.R. 1838
require the United States to establish secure direct communications between the U.S.
Pacific Command and Taiwan’s military command. The House substitute changed this
language to direct the Secretary of Defense to “certify” to relevant congressional
committees that such communications exist between U.S. and Taiwan armed forces.
Weapons Sales and Military Assistance. Both bills originally established
general guidelines for U.S. defense cooperation with Taiwan, and provided specific
authorization President for specific weapons systems for the United States to transfer to
Taiwan. The House substitute deleted all this language (Section 5(d) - (g)). There are no
weapons systems mentioned now in H.R. 1838.
S. 693 still contains this language, much of which is general — mentioning ground-
based and sea-based systems, reconnaissance and communications systems, and anti-
submarine warfare (ASW) systems, for instance, without giving further specifics. In a
number of cases, the United States already has sold to Taiwan systems that fall under
these general rubrics. For instance, the United States has sold the Patriot (modified PAC-
missile capabilities, and also Taiwan S-70 Sikorsky helicopters and S2E Grumman
maritime patrol aircraft, both of which are airborne ASW systems. (The United States has
not been willing to sell Taiwan the P-3 Orion, a longer-range airborne ASW system,
although some recent reports suggest that the United States may be rethinking that
position. Although Taiwan has sought these planes in the past, one recent report is that
Taiwan has decided to use helicopters for its fixed-wing ASW mission.)10 In four
instances, S. 693 is more specific, mentioning diesel-powered submarines, AIM-120
AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, AWACS airborne warning systems, and Aegis destroyers.
The United States has not been willing to sell Taiwan these systems to date, and a
decision to do so could be considered a significant upgrade of U.S. military assistance to
Section 6. Found only in the House substitute as reported by the Committee,
Section 6 of H.R. 1838, amended, requires the Secretary of Defense to submit, within 180
days of enactment of the Act, an additional report (classified and unclassified versions)
on the U.S. ability to respond to a major military contingency “where U.S. interests on
Taiwan are at risk.” The report, to be “updated as appropriate,” specifies “description of
[U.S.] planning on the national, operational and tactical levels.”
Both the original and substitute versions of the TSEA have opponents. The Clinton
Administration opposes both versions, saying that the bill “could have serious, unintended
negative consequences that would weaken Taiwan’s security and impinge on [U.S.]
security interests in the region.”11 The Administration also maintains that the TSEA’s
specificity on military matters constitutes congressional interference in the President’s
constitutional authority to make military decisions as Commander-in-Chief. The
Pentagon doubtless finds the reporting requirements of the House substitute onerous. The
Administration has expressed particular concern about the TSEA’s plan for “operational
training and exchanges of [U.S.-Taiwan military] personnel” (sec. 5(b), H.R. 1838 and
S. 683), and the establishment of “secure direct communications” (sec. 5(c), S. 693)
between the two militaries. These portions of the bill, the Administration maintains, are
more suggestive of a military alliance than is compatible with U.S.-Taiwan unofficial
relations.12 The Administration also objects to S. 693’s specific mention of ballistic
10 World Military and Civil Aircraft Briefing, Teal Group Corporation, March 1999, p. 12.
11 Testimony of Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 4, 1999.
12 As part of the decision to establish official relations with China and break official relations
with Taiwan, the United States had to terminate its defense alliance with Taiwan, the U.S. Mutual
Defense Treaty. In 1979, the United States gave Taiwan the one-year notification of termination
required by the Treaty; the Treaty was officially terminated on January 1, 1980.
missile defense and early warning radar (sec. 5(d)) as items that the President should
consider selling to Taiwan, saying that sale of these systems is premature at this time.
The Administration’s concerns are shared by some Members who believe that
current U.S. arms sale policies are sufficient to meet Taiwan’s needs, and that additional
weapons sales and other measures are both unnecessary and needlessly provocative to
U.S.-China relations. Representative Bereuter, Chairman of the House International
Relations Committee’s Asia/Pacific Subcommittee, maintains that the most recent U.S.
arms sales approved for Taiwan already provide for early-warning radar for missile launch
detection, upgraded Patriot 3 anti-missile batteries, and new equipment intended to
ensure the technological superiority of the Taiwanese air force over its Chinese
counterpart.13 The Administration also reportedly is discussing with Taiwan the possible
sale of P-3 Orion aircraft and advanced Aegis radar for battleships.14 During mark-up,
Representatives Lantos and Salmon both argued against the bill’s specificity, and said that
the Taiwan Relations Act was a sufficient directive for U.S. policy. Representative
Lantos stated his belief that the motivations behind introduction of the legislation were
purely political, designed to put the President in a difficult position.
Implications and Prospects
More important than the TSEA’s practical implications are its political implications.
The Administration’s objections notwithstanding, the current language of S. 693 places
no requirements on the President to sell specific weapons to Taiwan, merely authorizing
him to make the specified sales. But under the TRA, the President already has broad
authority to make available to Taiwan any type of U.S. defense equipment he deems
necessary; in other words, current U.S. law places no exclusions on the types of defense
articles and services that can be made available to Taiwan.
Congressional and other advocates of the new legislation argue, however, that no
U.S. President yet has chosen to make available to Taiwan the specific kinds of defense
articles and services that S. 693 and H.R. 1838 describe. The reason no President has
done so, they contend, has far more to do with political considerations than with practical
calculations about Taiwan’s defense needs. Among these political considerations are:
China’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan and its objections to U.S. arms sales; U.S.
commitments in the 1982 Joint Communique on arms sales to Taiwan; the fact that the
United States has neither an official relationship nor a defense treaty with Taiwan; and the
potential implications of U.S. arms sales for independence sentiments in Taiwan. These
same political considerations are operative in considering those portions of the TSEA that
do mandate Executive Branch action, particularly where those provisions imply an
operational linkage to weapons sales decisions and military contacts with Taiwan that
goes beyond the character of current U.S. sales (sec. 4(b) and 5(c)). In essence, the TSEA
places increased congressional pressure on the President to be more pro-active and
aggressive in decisions about Taiwan’s defense, but may not change the prevailing
political dynamic surrounding arms sales to Taiwan.
13 “White House Opposes Bill on Taiwan; Business Lobbyists Join Bid to Stop Security Measure
That Could Anger China,” in Washington Post, October 3, 1999, p. A26.