- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Military Modernization in Taiwan

Michael D. Swaine and Roy Kamphausen


This chapter discusses the security environment of the Republic of China (ROC, also known as Taiwan) and Taipei’s qualitative and quantitative efforts to modernize its military in the face of growing threats from China.

Main Arguments

  • Taiwan’s military is clearly modernizing (and will improve in the near- to mid-term). A reorientation away from an army-centric focus has led to such improvements as joint warfighting capability among branches of the military and improvements in missile defense systems, front-line military units, and naval defense capabilities.
  • Progress has been slow, however, and characterized by a number of deficiencies, including inadequate funding levels, an absence of strategic clarity, often misplaced priorities, and unaddressed vulnerabilities.
  • Deficiencies in Taiwan’s military modernization in large part reflect the influence of Taiwan’s highly dynamic and divisive domestic political, bureaucratic, and social environment; a historical legacy of military-oriented rule; and the vagaries of U.S. political and military assistance.

Policy Implications

  • Glaring shortcomings in Taiwan’s military modernization efforts could lead to miscalculations both in China and on Taiwan regarding the cross-Strait military balance, resulting in either side undertaking dangerous or destabilizing actions.
  • Taipei and Washington must balance a mutual desire to modernize Taiwan’s military for deterrence purposes against the need to avoid an escalation of tension with the mainland.
  • Washington could benefit by further improving Taiwan’s ability to “hold on” in the initial stage of a cross-Strait conflict, the period of greatest military and political risk for Taiwan.