After World War II and the Cold War, many countries decided to transform their compulsory military systems into all-volunteer forces. Once a national emergency has passed, it makes perfect sense to professionalize the military and avoid relocating manpower from other sectors.
Despite President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) insistence that it has always been his goal to have a professional military, the move toward an all-volunteer army began during the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration. The DPP soon realized, however, that if it were to achieve this objective, it would have to make the military as attractive and competitive an employer as the private sector. Without substantially higher salaries, opportunities for advancement and a defense university network, the dream of having a professional military of the size the government wants — up to 200,000 — will be hard to achieve.
The implication is that the military could find itself with the worst of both worlds — manpower and budget cutbacks without the dividends of a professional force. Acknowledging this, the DPP revised its plans for a purely professional military and settled instead for the more modest goal of a semi-volunteer force. In the process, it kept the necessary balance and force level to ensure that defenses did not suffer in the face of the Chinese military’s doctrine of taking Taiwan by force if necessary.
Drunk with illusions of peace or naive in its assessment of Beijing’s intentions, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government does not seem to understand the implications of military cutbacks. While Ma has said he wants a professional military within four to six years, we have yet to see what his government intends to do to attract young Taiwanese who stand to make much more money with far less risk in the private sector. A sense of national duty and pride can serve as an alternative to a high salary, but with the series of cutbacks the KMT government has announced in recent months, it is difficult to imagine how morale within the ranks cannot have been undermined, which will have an impact on the military’s ability to recruit. No one will seek a career in a sector that seems headed for the dustbin.
Estimates show that it would cost billions of NT dollars to professionalize the Taiwanese military. The defense cuts announced by the government make it difficult to imagine that it fully understands the challenges of creating an all-volunteer force.
Another worrying development is the KMT’s announcement over the weekend that it wants to dispose of the Combined Logistics Command, whose role, among other things, is to increase the use of automated information systems, improve the management and production of inventory throughout the military and conduct armament appraisal and testing. It also has a long history of cooperation with the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology in developing various weapons systems, including artillery, small arms and night-vision monitoring systems.
Ditching the command would send yet another message that Taiwan is unwilling to do what it needs to ensure its defense, or that it is on its way to capitulation. Without the proper domestic institutions to develop military equipment, Taiwan’s military would become even more dependent on other countries, but would have less money to acquire those systems.