Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Obama Taiwan Team Starting to Shape Up

For those interested in U.S.-Taiwan relations, get ready for a breath of fresh air. The Nelson Report and other publications have been offering glimpses into who could be directing U.S. policy towards Taiwan and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. If some of the key names being floated turn out to be true, then the Obama administration’s Taiwan policy team could be almost as strong as the one that opened the Bush administration.

Kurt Campbell. The stars center on Dr. Kurt Campbell as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Kurt has been one of the strongest supporters of U.S.-Taiwan relations, and is the father of the transformation in bilateral defense relations in the late 1990s. He’s traveled to Taiwan on numerous occasions, and understands the issues and the people. He was an occasional contributor to the Taipei Times. During his four year tenure in the Pentagon’s top Asia job, Kurt often was viewed as the strongest Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense since the legendary Richard Armitage served in the position in the 1980s. After having to coordinate the U.S. response during the 1996 Taiwan Strait missile crisis, Kurt made it his mission to deepen and broaden U.S.-Taiwan defense relations, including opening new avenues of dialogue between the two defense establishments.

Brilliant, passionate, and creative, Kurt knows how to heal an organization from the ills of bureaucratic inertia. And since the departure of Deputy Secretary Armitage, Assistant Secretary James Kelly, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Randy Schriver in 2005, the Department of State (and Taiwan) has needed someone like Dr. Campbell. As an aside, his spousal unit is Lael Brainard, who is rumored to be a candidate for a senior economic position at State or the Office of the US Trade Representative.

After leaving the Pentagon in 2000, Kurt assumed a senior position at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In February 2007, he and Michele Flournoy, who has been announced as the Obama administration’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, started up the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). The all-star cast making up the CNAS board of directors and advisory board includes Bill Perry, Madeleine Albright, Rich Armitage, Bill Lynn (Deputy SecDef designate), Richard Danzig (see below), ADM (ret) Denny Blair (Director, National Intelligence designate), LTG (ret) Chip Gregson (see below), John Podesta, Randy Schriver, Jim Steinberg (see below), Ash Carter, Jim Thomas, and Michael Green among others. With so many CNASers heading back into government, it’s unclear what form the organization will take in the future.

Jim Steinberg. Kurt will be working for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg. While Hillary doesn’t have much experience in Taiwan, Steinberg was involved in a number of Taiwan-related policy issues during his time as Deputy National Security Advisor from 1996 to 2000, and has maintained channels of communications with interlocutors from Taiwan since leaving government. Since 2006, Steinberg has headed Texas University’s LBJ School of Public Policy and seems to have a soft spot for the underdogs. The other key position will be the Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for China/Taiwan affairs, which likely would go to a career State Department foreign service officer.

Chip Gregson. At Department of Defense (DoD), the State Department bureaucracy has been in charge of managing defense policy toward China and Taiwan since the departure of Richard Lawless in 2006.
As a result, Taiwan has been relegated to the back benches over the last couple of years. However, the appointment of LTG (ret) Wallace “Chip” Gregson as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian & Pacific Affairs would be almost certain to restore dignity in the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship. In overseeing the defense component of the bilateral relationship that has traditionally figured prominently, a Campbell-Gregson combo would be powerful. LTG Gregson served as Kurt Campbell’s director for Asia-Pacific Affairs between 1998 and 2000. In that position, he cleared the path for a number of Taiwan-related Pentagon initiatives.

Marine Commandant Jim Jones (designated as Obama’s National Security Advisor) brought LTG Gregson back to the Marines to serve as a division commander then III MEF Commander in Okinawa, and finally as Marine Forces Pacific Commander. Since retirement, he is said to have maintained links with Taiwan’s defense establishment as an informal advisor, along with ADM (ret) Denny Blair. A Naval Academy grad (class of ’68), Gregson did a brief stint with the U.S. Olympic Committee after retirement from the Marine Corps in 2005.

Richard Bush. Another leading figure should be (hopefully) Richard Bush. As one of the few true American Taiwan academic specialists, Richard would be ideal to serve as AIT Director. No word yet if this is the case or not. But if the post in Taipei needs to be filled, Richard’s the man. Quiet and thoughtful, he previously served as AIT Chairman in Washington (actually Rossyln, VA) from 1997 until 2002, a position in which he worked with Dr. Campbell, Jeff Bader, LTG Gregson, and Derek Mitchell, and performed with distinction and finesse. Before his AIT service, he was National Intelligence Officer for East Asia. He also supported Rep Steve Solarz' campaign for Taiwan democracy in the 1980s. Richard’s Untying the Knot is one of the best books ever written on Taiwan’s political environment, cross-Strait relations, and U.S. interests in Taiwan. He’s currently senior fellow and director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Having said all this, hats are off to Steve Young for his outstanding work at AIT Taipei. He’s been a saving grace in a Bush administration that seemed inclined toward throwing Taiwan under the bus. Steve has been an advocate for fairness, and a promoter of U.S. interests in Taiwan’s democratic consolidation.

Derek Mitchell. Rounding out the Obama Taiwan team could – should – be Derek Mitchell. Shaped by his experience as a Ted Kennedy staffer, Mr. Mitchell was active in Taiwan democracy issues as a young man, and worked for Dr. Campbell and LTG Gregson as a strategic planner and senior country director for China/Taiwan. At CSIS for the last eight years, he traveled to Taiwan on a frequent basis, and managed a highly successful annual seminar for Taiwan military officers, similar in nature to the general officer CAPSTONE course. Before joining the Campbell team in the Pentagon in 1997, he promoted democracy programs for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington, D.C. Derek spent 1989 working in Taiwan as an editor of a local English-language newspaper, and is married to the beautiful Min Lee, who grew up in Taiwan.

Jeff Bader. Senior coordinator for Taiwan-related interagency policy development is said to be Jeff Bader. He’s been named to replace Dennis Wilder as the Senior Director for Asian Affairs on the NSC Staff. A career State Department officer and former NSC Asia Director under Sandra Kristoff and Ken Lieberthal in the 1998-2000 timeframe, Bader has been the Obama campaign’s Asia coordinator. He’s been strong on Tibetan issues, and presumably should be a proponent of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation. Regardless, he should bring stability and consistency to the table. Bader also has served as ambassador to Namibia and as a senior USTR official, he led the negotiations with China and Taiwan for WTO membership. He’s been Brookings’ China Initiative director over the last few years. He holds a PhD from Columbia in European history.

Others who played a role in the Obama campaign and thus possible candidates for Asia positions could Richard Danzig, Frank Januzzi, Mike Lampton, Evan Medeiros, Frank Levine, Bob Kapp, and Kevin Nealer. At one time, Danzig was touted as a candidate for Deputy Secretary of Defense. After stepping down as Secretary of the Navy, Danzig made a beeline for Taiwan, where he was given a intensive week-long course. Another potential candidate for a senior political-military position in the future, and one well known and respected in China/Taiwan circles, is LTG Karl Eikenberry. Senior country director for China/Taiwan under Kurt Campbell until 1997, Defense Attaché in Beijing, PACOM J-5, and Commander, Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan, LTG Eikenberry is currently Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee.

In short, there’s reason for optimism with the new Taiwan policy team. One should not expect moves toward revival of the U.S.-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty, a push for U.N. recognition, or sudden jump in arms sales. On the former, officials in the Obama administration will find that programs they started eight years ago – such as the large phased array UHF radar (Surveillance Radar Program) and Link-16 (aka “Posheng”) – are still on-going after eight years. Congressional notifications for two major multi-billion dollar programs – UH-60 BLACKHAWK utility helicopters and initial design study for a diesel electric submarine program – are still frozen and unresolved. Letters of offer and acceptance (LOAs) on systems that were notified last year – PAC-3 in particular – are held up due to unexpected and sudden rise in the U.S. price, and the US Navy has yet to get the ball rolling with the refurbishment of Taiwan’s P-3C maritime patrol aircraft So with so many unresolved issues connected with on-going programs, one shouldn't expect a lot of enthusiasm for approving a follow-on buy of F-16s. Now working with Taiwan on the transfer of a very short take off and landing (VSTOL) design for a cooperative industrial project or examination of release of a VSTOL variant of the F-35 down the road? May be a different story…More on this another time.

Regardless, the new team will bring stability and respect to a U.S.-Taiwan relationship that has suffered from neglect over the last four years. The results may not manifest themselves easily to the outside world, and are likely to be nuanced. And the inner workings of the machinery are likely to run much smoother than has been the case over the last four years.


Anonymous said...

This is a great roundup of this group, with lots of useful info. Thanks.

Taiwan Linked said...

My pleasure! And thank you for the kind words.

Julie said...

great round-up. i couldnt find more of derek mitchell's info. Any suggestion? what's his title in the DoD now?