I found this jaw-dropping on the radio. Israel is engaged in active armed occupation. Taiwan is not. Why would you expect to see similar militarization of society? npr.org/transcripts/11…
“I thought I was going to find a second Israel; I found a second Costa Rica.”
Whether Campell ever said such a thing is beyond the point—what mattered is that this retired Taiwanese nat/sec official believed he could have said it, and believed the description accurate.
When people make the comparison to Israel—be it now or two decades ago—they are telescoping all of Israeli history into one lens, the ‘67 war as much as the ‘06 one. The relevant metric is “has neighbors that don’t want it to exist.” Most countries do not have those. Israel does.
It is to meet that challenge the US provides Israel with $3 billion~ in military aid in Congressional budgets…. A number whose scale has few comparisons.
Taiwan is now one of them.
[incidentally, for context: since the Ukraine war started we have provided about $20bl to Ukraine in mil assistance—only double that earmarked for TW in that new bill linked to above crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF… ]
So it is entirely reasonable for the conflict reporter jetting into TW to ask if the people now gifted Israel sized defense packages are possessed with the same sense of existential threat that haunts the Israelis.
The same point can be made on less controversial ground by looking at Estonia or Latvia—two small nations that are not militarily occupying anything, but which have securitized much in their societies in response to the threat posed by a conquest minded neighbor.
Those who visit Taiwan—either temporarily, as Filkins has, or on the longer term—see that this simply has not happened.
Decades of Chinese armed posturing sans actual war have deadened the TW public to the threat.
We could talk about objective measures of this—my recent obsession is Taiwan’s tax rates—but is there really a point? The problem is well known: Taiwan’s amble towards a more secure defensive posture is probably the greatest sticking point in US-TW relations at this point.
Forget public opinion: upper brass at MND simply don’t see the urgency. Even the lower brass doubts. I recently had a discussion with a TW military officer on consignment in DC. His message: you all are crazy for thinking any war is possible before 2040!
And maybe Washington *is* crazy. Certainly possible.
But if so, there is no need for $10 billion in emergency military aid. Either the situation demands that sort of urgency, or it does not.
But if it does demand that sort of urgency… then it demands it from all players, not just congressional staff in DC.
And that is what this Israel comparison gestures to.
For better or worse, Americans will understand the problem in these terms. Taiwan/China hands frustrated that the New Yorker sent a conflict journalist for this dispatch instead of one their own here miss the mark:
Filkins’ reaction to what he saw in TW— Israel comparison included—is a synecdoche for the response of defense minded Americans generally.
Americans will part with their treasure by the billions and billions… but they expect the societies that receive this largesse to be behave as if their survival depends on it.
That is the standard. Whether that standard is fair or sensible, it *is* the standard.
“Survival above all” is a mentality we associate with the Israelis. No small number of Americans also associate that mentality with plucky Taiwan…. right until they go there in person.