285. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Arms Sales to Taiwan

Issue for Decision

What arms should we agree to sell Taiwan beginning in 1980 and how we should handle announcement of our decision.

[Page 1022]


We have a dual problem in determining our position on the resumption of arms sales to Taiwan. On the one hand, our action should be taken in such a way as to reassure Congress and Taiwan that we continue to have an interest in Taiwan’s legitimate defense requirements. On the other hand, we wish to avoid provoking the PRC to react in a manner harmful to our developing bilateral relationship.

Arms sales was the most sensitive issue involved in our normalization discussions with Beijing. The Chinese took issue with our announcement that we would continue sales of “selected defense weapons” to Taiwan but agreed nonetheless to proceed with normalization. We did agree not to make new arms commitments to Taiwan during 1979 until the Mutual Defense Treaty terminated on January 1, 1980.

In comments this year to visiting US officials and Congressional groups, top PRC leaders appear to have accepted that we will continue to sell arms to Taiwan, while cautioning us to be careful in selection. During the Vice President’s trip the Chinese also noted their understanding that we would continue sales. We have accordingly put together a package of arms transfers which we believe demonstrates our restraint and which should elicit no more than a pro forma objection from Beijing.

Taiwan views our arms sales commitment as the keystone of their security policy and will be anxious for reconfirmation of our pledges early in the new year. On November 8, a high-level military delegation met with State and DOD representatives in Washington to outline their desired arms purchases. As expected, high-performance fighter aircraft topped the list, with most other requests focused on air and sea defense weapons.

With respect to fighter aircraft, we see no reason at this point to change our position of denying sales to Taiwan of F–4, F–16 or F–18 aircraft, all of which have offensive capability as well as violate the arms transfer policy. In the past, Taiwan has expressed interest in acquiring 60–100 F–104Gs coming out of European inventories to replace its own aging F–104s. We previously offered to assist Taiwan in purchasing F–104s from third parties and plan to reiterate this offer. Further, in November 1978 we announced we would have no objection to Israel’s selling its indigenous fighter—the Kfir—to Taiwan.2 We would plan to maintain this position of non-objection. Last, no decision has yet been made to authorize development of an FX as the follow-on aircraft to the F–5E/F series. Taiwan will predictably be interested in such purchases, [Page 1023] and at such time as a decision is taken we may expect them to be in touch with us.

There follows a list of arms sales recommended for approval for Taiwan early in 1980. In this connection, you should note that we previously informed Congress that we would make no decision on new commitments until the Mutual Defense Treaty terminates on January 1, 1980. In view of your heavy present schedule, this recommended list is being forwarded for your consideration now. In addition to these cases, there are other pending Taiwan requests which we plan to consider later in 1980.


An early announcement of the sales is important, both to reassure Taiwan and its friends in Congress and to make clear our intentions to Beijing. We have already offered to brief members of the SFRC and HFAC during the week of December 17 in a general way regarding the kinds of sales that will be under consideration and are likely to receive favorable decision once the moratorium ends. Secretary Brown is travelling to the PRC January 5–13. A prior announcement of the recommended sales would enable us to discuss them with Chinese leaders while avoiding the impression that we cleared the sales in advance through Beijing. To this end, we wish to inform Congress of our intended arms sales as soon as possible after January 1, 1980, but no later than January 4 (the day Secretary Brown departs for his PRC visit).


I recommend that you approve the six new FMS cases attached for notification to Congress. Their total value will be about $287.7 million. All fall within existing policy guidelines and the conventional arms transfer ceiling. None would result in excessive economic burden or stimulate arms races or regional imbalances. They are consistent with human rights criteria and with PD–13,3 and would contribute to US foreign policy and national security interests. Attached is a description of each case with a place to record your decision. The Department of Defense and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency join me in recommending their approval.

[Page 1024]



Value ($M) Description
34.2 284 Improved Sea Chaparral Missiles

We have previously supplied Taiwan with basic Sea Chaparral, which is a low altitude, point defense anti-aircraft system for ships. The Improved Sea Chaparral provides the additional, needed capability of engaging a target head-on. This missile system is defensive in nature and due to its short range (2–3 miles) does not constitute a threat to the PRC.4

Value ($M) Description
25 5 Honeywell H930 Weapons Fire Control System

The Honeywell fire control systems are to be installed in obsolescent ex-US Navy destroyers to provide integrated control of all sensors and weapons systems and thereby upgrade the ship’s capability to defend against high performance aircraft, missiles, and fast patrol boats, all of which the PRC has in its inventory. We have previously supplied ten of these systems.

Value ($M) Description
63.3 14 MK–75 76mm Gun Mounts and 19,500 rounds Ammunition

These 76 mm rapid firing guns are to be installed in obsolescent ex-US destroyers to upgrade their air defense capability against high speed aircraft and missiles. We have previously supplied two of these mounts, and the Honeywell system described in preceding paragraph will provide fire control.

Value ($M) Description
144.4 Improved-Hawk Battalion (5 batteries, 280 missiles)

The I-Hawk is an anti-aircraft missile system which provides a medium range defense against missile and plane attack. We have previously sold Taiwan three I-Hawk battalions (14 batteries), and this addi[Page 1025]tional battalion (5 batteries) will enhance their overall air defense posture, while posing no threat to the PRC.

Value ($M) Description
12.2 753 MK 12 IFF Sets

The Mark 12 IFF, used in conjunction with radar to distinguish friend from foe, represents an evolutionary improvement to a system previously supplied and is required to upgrade Taiwan’s air defense posture and to ensure positive identification of Taiwan aircraft. It is completely defensive in nature.

Value ($M) Description
8.6 49 TOW missile launchers, 1,008 missiles, and ancillary equipment

The TOW guided missile launchers and missiles will be used to provide additional anti-tank capability for Taiwan ground forces. The TOW system is already operationally deployed in Taiwan.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Sullivan Subject File, Box 69, Chron: 1/80. Secret.
  2. See Document 147 and its attachment.
  3. PD–13, “Conventional Arms Transfer Policy,” May 13, 1977, aimed to restrain the transfer of conventional weapons.
  4. Carter checked the Approve option and initialed “J” below all of the proposed arms transfers.