The Biden administration continues to argue that spending more than $110 billion in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not weakened America’s ability to prioritize the rising China threat in the Indo-Pacific. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has notoriously said the United States is “walking and chewing gum." In other words, the argument is that the Biden team can manage two major national security efforts simultaneously.
But the administration’s actions tell a different story. While lavishing aid on Ukraine, it has sorely neglected the urgent need to bolster the defenses of Taiwan against the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression.
Not only is this dangerous—it’s illegal. Simply put, the Biden administration is not complying with Congress’s new Taiwan defense law. It’s past time for the administration to prioritize the Indo-Pacific in our foreign and defense policy.
Last December, Congress passed the bipartisan Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act, the first major legal reform of the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship since 1979. That year, to establish diplomatic relations with communist China, the U.S. broke relations with Taiwan, withdrew the thousands of U.S. troops stationed there, and canceled our mutual defense treaty. As a result, Taiwan went from being a defense partner to being a defense customer, and our bilateral defense relationship has been mostly limited to Taiwan’s purchases of U.S. arms ever since.
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The U.S. executive branch has always had the power to do more with Taiwan than just sell Taiwan weapons. By passing TERA, Congress required the administration to move the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship back to something more like a partnership.
Congress’s reforms recognized Beijing’s massive military buildup and increased aggression have changed the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait and that Taiwan’s autonomy must be an apex priority for the U.S. With TERA, Congress gave the administration new tools, and new responsibilities, to harden Taiwan’s defense.
One of these new tools provided was presidential drawdown authority for Taiwan. This authorizes the immediate transfer of weapons from U.S. stockpiles. President Joe Biden has used this authority dozens of times for Ukraine, and the Pentagon has said it will begin using it to help Taiwan.
That help can’t come soon enough. About $19 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan are years delayed due to the unacceptably slow production of U.S. munitions. While there is now a renewed sense of urgency about increasing production, those shortcomings will not be resolved within the next several years. Until that happens, the use of drawdown for Taiwan is our only option to equip Taiwan’s forces more rapidly with sorely needed deterrent capabilities.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration is ignoring or outright refusing to comply with most of the rest of the TERA. Most concerningly, the bill’s core element, a Foreign Military Financing grant program, remains in limbo—due in large part to a lack of political will from the administration. Although the White House was closely involved in drafting the bill’s authorities, it's been far less interested in paying the tab.
Congress has been asking the administration to provide a spending plan to aid Taiwan since well before TERA became law. With TERA, it made the request a legal requirement. The bill required the administration to submit a spending plan by March 1, 2023. More than two months later, Congress’s defense and foreign policy committees still haven’t received it.
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Moreover, despite repeated congressional requests, the administration has refused even to ask for funds to pay for TERA programs in either its last Ukraine emergency request or its routine budget for fiscal 2024.
The administration also remains noncompliant with several other reporting requirements and directives from the TERA—from standing up a joint military planning mechanism with Taiwan to thoroughly examining the deterrent capabilities most important for Taiwan’s armed forces.
These provisions are not a congressionally mandated exercise in busywork. They were designed to provide a road map for modernizing U.S.-Taiwan defense relations in a way that ensures that U.S. interests in Taiwan’s defense are being appropriately prioritized and coordinated among senior leaders. They are also required to make sure Congress gets the information necessary to make wise appropriations decisions.
If the administration wants to prove that it can actually “walk and chew gum” at the same time, it must start by complying with the TERA.
This piece originally appeared in Restoring America by the Washington Examiner