Passing twelve appropriations bills is essential for avoiding a government shutdown and a dangerous return of sequestration, which did so much damage to America’s military over the last decade. And as recent legislative action reveals, these bills are also critical for bolstering deterrence in the Taiwan Strait.
After two years of debate, both House and Senate appropriators have for the first time approved legislation that would fund Foreign Military Financing grants, specifically for Taiwan. This funding would provide the U.S. government another important tool for quickly delivering asymmetric capabilities Taiwan needs to add complexity and risk to Beijing’s military calculus.
The fate of appropriations legislation remains uncertain amid ongoing budget battles on Capitol Hill, which may culminate in another government shutdown this weekend. As negotiations continue, lawmakers should build on recent progress by providing additional resources for Taiwan to preserve peace in the Indo-Pacific.
At minimum, Congress should provide $500 million in FMF for Taiwan in fiscal year 2024, which starts Oct. 1, as House appropriators recommended. The Senate version’s $113 million represents a paltry sum that does not reflect American or Taiwanese security needs.
For perspective, that’s less than ten percent than what Egypt has received in FMF each year for the last three decades—aid that is due for additional scrutiny given alleged connections to bribery charges against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Of the $1.3 billion set aside for Egypt for next year, Senate appropriators withheld $225 million yet again due to persistent concerns related to democracy, rule of law, and human rights.
In other words, under the Senate bill, Egypt could lose twice as much money as Taiwan would receive and still end up with nearly ten times the FMF funding. That is patently absurd given the stakes of defense cooperation with Taiwan and the U.S. commitment to prioritizing the Indo-Pacific.
The Biden administration has also asked for $1 billion in “global FMF” in its supplemental funding request, indicating—albeit somewhat apprehensively—these funds could be used to support Taiwan. Lawmakers should explicitly fence off $300 million of this funding for Taiwan.
Presidential Drawdown Authority is another tool whose value has been clearly demonstrated on the battlefield in Ukraine and can also assist Taiwan. Last year, Congress authorized the President to transfer up to $1 billion worth of equipment from the U.S. military’s inventory to Taiwan but provided no appropriations to replace that equipment.
In July, President Joe Biden used that authority to send the first $345 million tranche of fiscal year 2023 drawdown assistance to Taiwan. Now, Senate appropriators have included $1.1 billion in a draft defense funding bill for fiscal year 2024 to replace U.S. military stocks sent to Taiwan.
This is encouraging progress. But the U.S. military services, which are responsible for manning, training and equipping U.S. servicemembers, are unlikely to use the remaining $655 million in drawdown authority for fiscal year 2023 if they believe there is a risk that equipment transferred to Taiwan will not be replaced.
Echoing prior testimony by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, administration officials testified in the House this month that security assistance authorities for Taiwan, including drawdown, “should be met by full appropriations.”
Congress should include $1.5 billion in supplemental appropriations bill to cover the fiscal year 2023 Taiwan drawdowns and another $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill to ensure all drawdowns to Taiwan are backfilled. Replenishment funds should exceed drawdown authority because the cost of new equipment is often higher than the assessed value of the equipment it is meant to replace.
Congress should also direct the State and Defense Departments to prioritize security assistance tools and resources on building Taiwan’s munitions stockpiles as quickly as possible. In a potential conflict, Taiwan’s island geography and proximity to China will likely preclude weapons deliveries of the kind Ukraine received after the conflict commenced.
Credible deterrence requires that Taiwan has the munitions it needs to fight before—not after—a conflict ensues. Focusing Taiwan assistance on weapons and munitions will also enhance the Pentagon’s market demand signal for expanded munitions production to the U.S. defense industrial base.
To be clear, Taiwan must spend more and spend better on its own defense. To its credit, seven consecutive years of increases will make Taiwan’s 2024 defense budget its largest ever. And its latest “National Defense Report” contains encouraging emphasis on defense-in-depth, survivable command control, and AI-enabled weapons and UAVs.
As Xi Jinping’s 2027 timeline to be ready to invade Taiwan rapidly approaches, it’s in the U.S. national security interest to accelerate Taiwan’s procurement of the capabilities it needs to deter such an invasion.
That means not just selling weapons to Taiwan as in the past, but using the full suite of security cooperation tools, including FMF and drawdown authority, in a targeted fashion to deliver the most critical capabilities for credible deterrence.
This is a legislative breakthrough with strategic impact Congress can and must deliver this year.
Dustin Walker is a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on US defense policy and strategic affairs in the Indo-Pacific.
Eric Sayers is a nonresident fellow at AEI, where he focuses on Asia-Pacific defense policy and strategy and U.S.-China relations.