Equally unconvincing is how a military whose main purpose is now to save lives through humanitarian intervention would be able to man and use the weapons systems he recommends be modernized or added to Taiwan’s arsenal. Any military officer who has served on a humanitarian mission (and Bates’ bio shows he has seen more than his share of those) will tell you that the training required to be able to accomplish such tasks differs markedly from that which is needed to prepare for war.
And yet, Taiwanese soldiers are expected to do both, as humanitarian workers and soldiers capable of withstanding an unrestricted assault by China. (Bates’ proposal is oddly reminiscent of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) redirecting of the armed forces toward relief operations, but surely this is nothing more than a coincidence.)
Taiwan needs the army to defend itself against a Chinese invasion; conversely, both the air force and navy would play major roles in any humanitarian mission abroad. With its finite capabilities, Taiwan cannot do both.
Taiwan already has the moral high ground in the Taiwan Strait, and its inability to provide humanitarian assistance is not because of a lack of resolution or intent. In almost every instance, Chinese obstruction has prevented it from providing its expertise to countries in need. Taiwan’s role as a promoter of human rights has faced the exact same obstructionism from Beijing.
Pulverizing the ability of the Taiwanese military to defend the nation — the ultimate outcome of Bates’ series of outlandish recommendations — will not convince China to abandon its claims on Taiwan. In fact, it will likely produce the opposite results and embolden it in its efforts to annex Taiwan, by force if necessary.
J. Michael Cole is a deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.