Sat, Jul 09, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Neglect is hurting military morale

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

One recent example is an article by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on June 28 (subsequently picked up by a number of publications) about a failed test firing of the Hsiung Feng III (“Brave Wind”) anti-ship missile developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST). Headlined “Taiwan supersonic missile test flops,” the article’s opening paragraph explained that the failed test was “the latest in a series of setbacks,” while the China Times gratuitously opined that this was particularly “embarrassing” because it coincided with naval exercises by the PLA Navy.

Those setbacks, AFP wrote, were two “failed” missile tests earlier this year, including the much-publicized United Air Defense Fire exercise at the CSIST’s Jiupeng missile testing base in Pingtung County in January. What the article failed to mention was that the so-called “failure” in January was within the range of the 70 percent success rate adopted by military forces the world over (it did not help that Ma himself, who attended the drill, expressed “strong displeasure” afterwards.)

The AFP piece also omitted to mention that no matter how advanced a military may be, missile tests will inevitably fail at some point. Given the number of missiles under development by the PLA, it is a certainty that China has had its share of missile failures over the years. However, an authoritarian country with tight controls on information, China ensures that those failures receive as little exposure as possible, while the successes are overemphasized — and at times fabricated.

How often, though, do Taiwanese and foreign media report on Taiwan’s successes?

The CSIST, constrained though it might be under the ministry, is for the most part a success story and over the years it has developed a variety of missiles that some defense analysts say constitute a key component in Taiwan’s ability to ward off a Chinese invasion. It is a principal target of Chinese intelligence for a reason.

By unduly focusing on setbacks, while ignoring positive developments, the media, legislators and government officials are undermining the morale of the armed forces by creating an environment suffused with pessimism.

The last impediment to good morale is the current political leadership, which has failed to provide a clear mandate for the military, mostly as a result of its efforts to engineer closer relations with Beijing after more than six decades of conflict. This situation has reached such an extreme that a military configured to counter a specific opponent or to conduct specific missions is unable to perform its task when the situation calls for it.

One recent example is the decision by Taipei to send coast guard officials to defend the Republic of China’s (ROC) claims over a series of small islands under dispute in the South China Sea, prompting disgust within the Taiwanese navy.

While Ma, playing to a domestic audience, underscored the significance of the ROC’s claims over the islets, his government’s decision to send the lightly armed coast guard rather than the better-equipped navy was a lose-lose move. Not only did it expose an unprepared coast guard to unnecessary dangers by deploying it to a potential flashpoint where it would be outgunned, it snubbed a navy that has spent decades preparing for such a contingency. Little wonder that some navy officers are reported to have scoffed at the ability of the coast guard to defend the nation’s sovereignty over the islets, armed as they are with “pellet” and “plastic” guns.

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