Sat, Feb 17, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Defense policy needs direction

By Damon Bristow

Others have asked whether or not the military is actually capable of carrying out those roles and missions suggested in his statement. In a reflection of this, Major General Chen Shih-yu (陳士瑜), the Assistant Deputy Chief of the General Staff, recently remarked that "we recognize that the armed forces do not yet have the capability to stage a decisive battle with the enemy outside our territory."

Additionally, the president has stumbled into something of a political minefield back home -- although it is certainly not as serious as the furor surrounding the cancellation of the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四). His Army Day speech, for example, provoked a rather public and acrimonious debate with his tormentors in the KMT, some of whom described the idea as "unreachable" and "misleading."

There is also rumored to be some disquiet within the military, which, largely for historical reasons is close to the KMT, about his views. True, even before the results of the March 18 presidential elections had been announced it took the unprecedented step of swearing allegiance to the new president. In private, however, some members of the armed forces remain uncomfortable with Chen's links to a party that has pro-independence views.

Last but not least, the notion of "fighting a decisive battle outside the territory" has raised some eyebrows abroad, particularly in the US, which is Taiwan's main military backer. Impor-tantly, although Washington may look more favorably on Taiwan under President George W. Bush than was the case with former president Bill Clinton, the simple fact is that it will not support any proposal which openly advocates a policy of pre-emptive strike at targets in China.

Such a move is also unlikely to go down well over in China either. If he is really serious about development of the nation's defense policy Chen will therefore have to find a way to overcome these challenges and differences of opinion. Bearing in mind the range of political and institutional interests involved, and the complex nature of the international situation in which the country finds itself, this will not be easy.

A good place to start would probably be for the president -- and his advisers -- to make it crystal clear that they are not talking about pre-emptive strikes against China. Such a move would help to blunt criticism at home and calm concerns abroad. Next, he should stress the point that, while "fighting a decisive battle outside the territory" is a long-term objective, pressing ahead with the reform of the military -- such as the reduction in the number of troops and the reorganization of the Ministry of National Defense -- remains his number-one priority. Indeed, until this crucial objective is achieved, Chen's vision of the country's future defense policy will remain little more than a topic for conversation and debate.

This story has been viewed 3482 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top