WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) -- The latest Patriot missile purchases and upgrade deals by Taiwan and South Korea point to a widespread expectation of growing tensions and expectations of eventual war on Asia's Pacific Rim.
Last week alone, Raytheon announced more than $320 million in combined sales of Patriot support and upgrade systems to both countries.
Raytheon said April 23 that it had won a $79 million Foreign Military Sales award from the U.S. Army to make Patriot Configuration-3 radar upgrade kits for Taiwan and to also make available engineering and technical services for the systems.
The Taiwan Patriot upgrade kits order came only two days after Raytheon announced a $241 million deal with South Korea to manufacture command and control, communications, and maintenance support and training equipment for Seoul's Patriot air and missile defense system.
As we have tracked in many previous columns over the past five years, Taiwan's investment in ballistic missile defense has been longstanding. But South Korea's BMD policy is currently being dramatically accelerated. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was elected late last year, is a hard-charging conservative dedicated to reinvigorating and upgrading the venerable defense ties between his country and the United States.
Lee's policies of beefing up South Korea's defenses, especially in the ballistic missile defense area, contrast strikingly with the emphasis on defusing tensions with North Korea under the Sunshine Policy that was pushed so energetically by his two predecessors.
In his combination of a return to old, strongly pro-American policies, his emphasis on building up the military, especially BMD programs, and on forging ever-closer ties with the United States, Lee appears to be a South Korean version of Junichiro Koizumi, who successfully pushed through exactly the same policies during his full five-year term as prime minister of Japan.
Many analysts believed when Shinzo Abe, Koizumi's chosen heir, fell after only a year in power, that the old cautious moderation and centralism of the "gray men" who traditionally controlled Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party would reassert itself. But instead -- current Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the choice of and embodiment of "gray men" thinking, has been running into a wave of political failures, criticism and plummeting approval ratings.
Fukuda's mishaps have coincided with Lee's election victory and confident, aggressive new defense policies in neighboring South Korea. These developments suggest that the pro-Western democracies of Asia's Pacific Rim are going through a "neo-Thatcherite" surge of confidence in responding to the military, especially nuclear-capable ballistic missile threats that they face.
Taiwan certainly appears to have reason for concern in its dealings with the Mainland. No-one expected any increased Mainland Chinese political, economic or diplomatic pressure on Taiwan before the Olympic Games this August.
But China's ballistic missile buildup and deployment over the past 13 years has been overwhelmingly directed against Taiwan, and the main thrust of Chinese naval warship and missile procurement has been focused on building up a conventional naval capability to prevent U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups from operating freely within the Taiwan Strait or close to the island to protect it against any military threat from China.
These trends suggest that the current Asian Pacific Rim "bull market" in purchasing U.S. developed and manufactured ballistic missile defense systems is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.