National Security System Failure More Serious Than Missile Launch Incident
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 6, 2016
Executive Summary: President Tsai said the missile launch "simply should not have happened". What is that, except empty rhetoric? What really should not have happened was the National Security Council's inaction during a crisis, leaving no one minding the store. Military personnel abused dogs, and the public responded with outrage. But a guided missile was accidentally launched, and led to a national security crisis. Meanwhile, national leaders were literally out to lunch. That situation was one hundred times more serious than some nameless sergeant accidentally pushing the wrong button.
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Several days ago the Jin Jiang, an ROC Navy warship mistakenly launched a Hsiung Feng III missile. So far the government has been preoccupied with assigning blame for the missile launch, and harping over matters of procedure. Worse, Lin Chuan is more concerned with hunting down who leaked information, and has strayed far from the real issue. Most worrisome of all, the two sides came closer to a shooting war than they have in a long time. The national security system responsible for security in the Taiwan Strait was slow to react, and ineffective when it did. This aspect of the incident must not be swept under the rug.
Let us review the Tsai government's reaction to the most outrageous missile fiasco in history. On July 1, at 8:15 AM, the Chin Chiang patrol vessel mistakenly launched a Hsiung Feng III missile toward the midline of the Taiwan Strait. Ten minutes later, President Tsai, who was visiting Los Angeles, and National Security Council Secretary-General Joseph Wu, who was at her side, were notified of the incident. Yet the two lingered at a “Standing Room Only” banquet for “Overseas Taiwanese”. More than four hours later, Tsai Ing-wen notified the US. Only then did she finally convene a "high-level national security meeting" via secure communications, and take in a briefing by Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Council Chen Jun-lin.
During this same time, President Tsai's "stand in”, Vice President Chen Chien-jen, was attending the opening ceremony of the High-Speed Rail System's Nangang Station. Defense Minister Feng Shi-kuan was greeting Tony Li, Chairman of the Friends of the ROC Military. All these were ceremonial activities. The cross-Strait hotline was no longer working. Yet that afternoon the MAC claimed it "initiated a variety of communication and liaison mechanisms" that allowed the other side to receive relevant information, in the hope that it would not misinterpret this incident. What were these channels? How effective were they? The government said what it wanted to, then ignored what anyone else had to say.
The incident had a direct bearing on national security. Yet Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Yan Tak, was kept completely out of the loop. Instead, Cabinet Chief Lin Chun, who is not directly responsible for national defense, national security, or cross-Strait relations, ran around like a headless chicken. Clearly the new government is not on track, and the national security system is in chaos.
Live missile launches are admittedly part of normal military exercises and training programs. But they are also major national events. Otherwise, why have all past presidents gone to Pingtung Jiu-Peng Military Base to review the exercises? Today cross-Strait relations have reverted to what they were eight years ago, during the Chen regime's “Cold Peace”. Worse still, the military went so far as to launch missiles with active warheads in the Taiwan Strait. This is of course a matter that the President and Commander in Chief ought to handle personally. President Tsai and her national security aides failed to hold a timely emergency meeting to study the situation and adopt countermeasures. Instead they chose to linger at a banquet for “Overseas Taiwanese”. Clearly, they misjudged the situation.
Heads of State, without exception, are obligated to attend to major domestic and international incidents. In March 2010, North Korea sank the Cheonan, a South Korean ship. Tensions were high in Northeast Asia. Then President Ma Ying-jeou, was attending a tea party with journalists in Palau. He immediately left and conferred with Secretary-General of the National Security System Hu Wei-chen and other officials back home, to learn more about the situation and to issue instructions. In 2013, while visiting Central and South America, the Tam Mei typhoon struck Taiwan. Ma immediately canceled his transit diplomacy through Los Angeles and returned to Taiwan. The Cheonan incident and the Tam Mei typhoons posed far less danger to national security than the launching of a guided missile in the Taiwan Strait. This is especially true now that the Tsai government has undermined cross-Strait trust and killed communication channels. The launching of the guided missile even coincided with the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. With all of these negative factors piling up upon one other, can one really expect the other side not to misjudge the situation, and respond with military action?
Ma Ying-jeou's response was ridiculed by the green camp as an "overreaction". But a head of state must keep tabs on the big picture. Tsai Ing-wen, on the other hand, when confronted with a major national security incident, failed to send a timely message to the other side. Instead, she notified the United States first, then lingered at a banquet for “Overseas Taiwanese”. Her actions left people flabbergasted.
President Tsai was abroad at the time. Obviously she could not convene a formal National Security Council meeting. But National Security Council Secretary-General Joseph Wu was by her side. Immediately convening an interim National Security Council meeting and issuing an emergency directive, would not have been difficult. Instead, President Tsai and her entourage dallied for four hours. Tsai's response was tardy, and her reaction was not commensurate with the seriousness of the situation. The Tsai government is now harping on domestic military discipline, assignment of blame, and conspiracy theories. It is refusing to take into account the reaction of the Mainland side, and the implications for Taiwan Strait security. The national security staff is clearly guilty of dereliction of duty.
Furthermore, even assuming the president could not break free, she could have authorized the Vice-President and the Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Council to evaluate the situation, convene an emergency meeting, and recommend appropriate measures for presidential approval. Instead, the itinerary for Chen Chien-jen and Feng Shi-kuan that day left the nation a ship without a rudder.
President Tsai said the missile launch "simply should not have happened". What is that, except empty rhetoric? What really should not have happened was the National Security Council's inaction during a crisis, leaving no one minding the store. Military personnel abused dogs, and the public responded with outrage. But a guided missile was accidentally launched, and led to a national security crisis. Meanwhile, national leaders were literally out to lunch. That situation was one hundred times more serious than some nameless sergeant accidentally pushing the wrong button.