Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter. The following is his First Take, reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
By James M. Lindsay, CFR.org
The Palestinian statehood bid is not the only issue the Obama administration has been struggling with this week. On Wednesday, the White House announced that it had approved a $5 billion arms deal to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of 145 F-16 fighter planes. That might sound like a hum-drum decision, but it’s one fraught with domestic and diplomatic peril. Taiwanese officials had wanted the administration to sell them sixty-six new F-16 C/D’s – they are faster and have better long-range radar capabilities – rather than retrofit the older F-16 A/B’s. (The Taiwanese also want diesel-electric submarines.) Many members of Congress lobbied the administration on Taiwan’s behalf. At the same time, China reiterated its view that arms sales to Taiwan, which it considers to be a renegade province, violate Chinese sovereignty. When the United States announced a smaller weapons deal with Taiwan last year, Beijing halted military-to-military cooperation.
So far reactions to the White House decision have been muted. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney did assail the decision as “yet another example of his [Obama’s] weak leadership in foreign policy,” and he accused the president of having “caved into the unreasonable demands of China.” But Taipei helped the White House out by formally thanking the administration for the decision. Under the terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which mandates that the United States provide Taiwan with sufficient weaponry to defend itself, Congress has thirty days to object. The press of other legislative business may help keep Congress on the sidelines. And no fireworks have erupted in Beijing. But stay tuned. This could just be the calm before the storm.