April 23, 2001
Spy Plane Incident Shows a Need for New Policies
The recent incident involving our spy plane in China is not without precedent. In fact, the U.S. has flown spy missions in the region for 50 years. 16 Americans died in 1956 when their Navy reconnaissance plane crashed into the China Sea under remarkably similar circumstances. When told of the tragedy, then-President Dwight Eisenhower remarked that "We seem to be conducting something that we cannot control very well. If planes were flying 20 to 50 miles from our shores we would be very likely to shoot them down if they came in closer, whether through error or not." Eisenhower knew that if the situation was reversed, the U.S. would have reacted even more forcefully than the Chinese. He understood that our spy flights provoked military conflict. To understand this, simply imagine the outcry for a military response today if Chinese spy planes were flying off the gulf Coast of Texas. When our intelligence gathering actually weakens national security by provoking conflict, we must rethink our policies. It is time to accept that the risk of starting a war with China outweighs the marginal benefits obtained from flying spy missions off its coasts.
Thankfully, our airmen and women were returned safely. I applaud President Bush for his sober approach to the crisis. Certainly he felt strong pressure from both the media and many in his own administration to take military action against the Chinese. Yet he remained focused on the safe return of the crew, which had to be his first priority. I commend him for not further risking their lives to bolster his own political stature.
Still, it is difficult to understand the policy that put the crew in harm's way. Militarily we seem to regard China as an enemy, as evidenced by our need to spy on it. We also sell arms to its enemies, particularly Taiwan. Despite Chinese warnings that such arms sales would be viewed as an act of hostility, the Pentagon appears ready to go forward with plans to sell Taiwan very advanced weapons systems. These weapons include submarines, Apache attack helicopters, and 4 destroyer ships fitted with state of the art Aegis missile-hunting radar systems. Equipping Taiwan with such sophisticated weapons can only mean that the U.S. intends to use it as a frontline military player against China. Taiwan is perhaps a mere pawn in our foreign policy, but to China it is a hostile breakaway nation. We must understand that the Chinese view our military support for Taiwan in the same way we once viewed Soviet arming of Cuba.
The irony is that we also subsidize the Chinese government and people through the United Nations and our own Export-Import Bank. Americans should be very concerned when their tax dollars are sent to the same regime portrayed as an enemy by our own government. We should not subsidize trade or provide foreign aid to any country, and it is folly to believe those dollars will not be used against us. We just witnessed a terrible example of the danger of foreign aid: the Chinese fighter threatening the lives of our crew carried Israeli missiles built with American aid dollars. Perhaps this incident will make more Americans aware of the perils of arming both our "friends" and our enemies."
The best route to a lasting peace with China is true free trade, meaning trade without government barriers, subsidies, or multinational bodies like the WTO. Mao's China, closed from trade with the world, would have had little incentive to return our captured crew, and every incentive to use them as hostages. Today's China, while still authoritarian, depends on America to buy billions in goods. The Chinese government thus faced political and economic pressure to settle the dispute peacefully, rather than alienate millions of American consumers. Politics aside, few countries want to go to war with their customers or their suppliers.