The NT$610.8 billion (US$18 billion) arms procurement plan has polarized public opinion to an extent reminiscent of the runup to the presidential election. An alarming development is the anti-procurement protest by more than 150 retired generals. This reveals the extent of the divisions in this country. It also shows that some consider politics more important than national security. If this situation continues, the international community may well question why they should support Taiwan.
Every sovereign nation requires a robust defense system that can deal with any immediate or potential threat from outside. This is true of any country, regardless of the system of government. Even pacifist groups, when faced with a threat from a global or regional power, would not expect their own country to dispense with their military capability and just sit still, waiting for the enemy to do what it will.
These military officials were cultivated by past governments, and they enjoy generous retirement pensions to this day. They should certainly see the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as Taiwan's biggest enemy.
During their tenure under the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) rule, they upheld the government's plan to regain China by force, and implemented a decade-long arms purchase plan of NT$450 billion to strengthen naval and air defense capabilities. In fact, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government's 15-year purchase plan of NT$610.8 billion was organized between 1995 and 1998 by some of these now-retired generals.
After these men retired, some moved to China, while others frequently travel between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Surprisingly, they now speak for their long-time enemy. They say that Taiwan cannot defeat China no matter how many weapons are bought, so it's better for us to save money and try to resolve cross-strait issues through political means. Such statements prove that they not only deceived the people in the past, but are also willing to give up the nation's sovereignty in order to unify with China.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Taiwan's annual military budget of 3 percent of GDP does not have a negative impact on its spending in areas such as education and social welfare. China's military spending has, meanwhile, seen double digit growth for years. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has said that the number of Chinese missiles targeting Taiwan has now increased to 600. The US has predicted that the balance between Taiwan's and China's military power will tilt in Beijing's favor by 2006.
Against this backdrop, 150 generals now not only refuse to sign a petition demanding that China drop its threat to use force against Taiwan, but are also asking Taiwan to put down its defenses. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Many civic groups have come out against the arms purchase, out of concern that the that the huge expense will be a burden to future generations. They have called on the government to provide more guarantees that this allocation of funds will not affect other expenditures. This is the correct way for the people to monitor a government's activities. But the fact that these generals should so neglect the nation's safety is a sign of creeping defeatism and neglect of martial virtues.