The Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) government has launched a reform program in military affairs that is intended to rally Taiwanese to the defense of their nation, give the armed forces a clear message on fundamental changes, deter China from invading and persuade the US that Taiwan is prepared to do its part in defending itself.
Until now, analysts in the US, China and Taiwan have questioned the political will of Taiwanese to defend themselves. Taiwan’s armed forces have been seen as lethargic and not well organized. In contrast, China’s armed forces have made steady strides in arms, training and preparations to invade Taiwan, even as US leaders muttered that Taiwan was not doing enough for its own defense.
In response to a legislative directive, the Ministry of National Defense published its first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) said was a “roadmap for defense reform” and a guide to “a full-scale transformation.”
In his foreword to the QDR, Chen noted that Ma had opened a diplomatic dialogue with Beijing. In conjunction with this, Chen suggested that reforming the military would deter “reckless actions” by China and would serve “as a solid buttress for the government in cross-strait negotiations.”
One major reform will be setting up an elite, professional, volunteer force that will be slimmed down to 215,000 by 2014 from the present 275,000. Conscription, however, will continue for young men, who will receive four months of basic training, then be required to join the reserves. Women may volunteer but will not be drafted.
The defense review asserts that “volunteer soldiers with longer service periods can achieve greater professionalism” than conscripts who leave after a year’s service. Forging a volunteer force “is not only a revolution in military affairs but also an important plan for the nation’s human resources,” the QDR says.
Pay and other incentives will be increased to attract volunteers.
The QDR calls for the legislature to appropriate a minimum of 3 percent of GDP annually for defense. Taiwan’s defense spending has been steadily decreasing for 10 years to about 2 percent of GDP, even though Taiwan’s economy, like South Korea’s, has been expanding for several decades.
By comparison, the US spends about 4 percent of GDP on defense, while Japan spends 1 percent.
The QDR instructs the armed forces to adopt principles of “not provoking incidents, not escalating conflicts and avoiding hostile actions” when confronted by Chinese forces. Officers said, for instance, that this would require fighter pilots to break off contact if they encountered Chinese fighters over the Taiwan Strait.
On the other hand, the QDR directs the military, mainly the air force and navy, to prepare to attack China’s centers of gravity in the event of hostilities. That means attacking critical targets such as Chinese ports loading invasion troops, missile launch sites preparing to fire and airfields loading paratroopers into transports.
In seeking to balance what might appear to be contradictory orders, the QDR says the principle is “preventing war but not fearing war and preparing for but not provoking war.”
In a passage that could have been written by Sun Tzu (孫子), the QDR calls on Taiwanese to “solidify national identity, cultivate patriotic integrity and nurture honorable virtues.”
It also directs the armed forces to “clarify military discipline, harness force solidarity and consolidate a winning determination.”
Richard Halloran is a freelance writer based in Hawaii.
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
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