Commentary Magazine


Will Treaty Force U.S. to Abandon Taiwan?

President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

At any rate, as Bromund and Cheng explain, U.S. accession to the ATT would have devastating implications on the U.S. ability to sell arms to Taiwan which are needed to keep the peace and keep an increasingly aggressive China at bay:

One reason for the State Department’s concern is that the ATT is likely to recognize—in the words of the current Chairman’s Draft Paper, the closest equivalent to a draft treaty currently available—“the inherent right of all States to individual or collective self-defense,” and thus their right to buy, sell, and transfer arms. But Taiwan is not a U.N. member state, nor is it recognized as sovereign by a majority of U.N. member states. It thus appears that the ATT will not recognize Taiwan’s right to buy or import arms.

Moreover, the ATT will require signatories to control their imports and exports of arms. It will be incumbent on treaty signatories not to circumvent the import control systems of other signatories. The PRC claims—correctly—that it operates the import control system for China, and, much more controversially, that Taiwan also constitutes part of its territory. By the same token, the Chairman’s Draft Paper uses terminology from the U.N. Charter to reaffirm “the right of all States to territorial integrity.” The ATT thus provides the basis for a Chinese argument that U.S. sales or transfers of arms to Taiwan would circumvent the PRC’s import control system, violate China’s territorial integrity, and thus violate the treaty.

The United Nations likes to cloak itself in the mantle of peace but, alas, its actions can instigate war. No administration should subordinate U.S. national security to an international body that cares little for freedom and liberty, nor should well-meaning academics in the Obama administration trade the freedom and right of self-defense of 23 million Taiwanese for a philosophical embrace of internationalism that might win applause in a university seminar, but which would be a disaster if ever implemented.