Ever since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected to a second term in office, there has been a minority that rarely gets heard who have their own grievances to air about his performance: the armed forces.
Two days before Christmas 2011, during the third televised presidential election debate for the polls in January last year, Ma cited figures concerning weapons procurements as evidence that during his first term, the US had sold more than US$18 billion worth of weapons to the Republic of China, and that this was more than twice the US$8.6 billion that the Democratic Progressive Party had spent in the eight years it was in power.
Subsequently I wrote an article criticizing him for misrepresenting the statistics: The lion’s share of the US$18 billion had been planned eight years previously and much of it had been vehemently boycotted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) when it was in opposition.
After the article was published, Taiwan’s former representative to the US Jason Yuan (袁健生) wrote a letter explaining that Ma’s figures were sound. He provided supporting data, but his figures were from the same source that I had used: The Taiwan Major US Arms Sales Since 1990 report for US Congress, written by Asian security affairs specialist Shirley Kan. Another letter was published after I pointed this out saying that, because of the unpredictable length of time it takes to plan weapons procurements, it is impossible to attribute them to the policy of any particular party or administration.
Ma continued to cite these same figures in his second term, including during a promotion ceremony for senior military officers that he presided over on June 26 last year, and more recently when he received US senator James Inhofe, co-chair of the Taiwan Caucus, on Jan 8. On both occasions he emphasized his US$18 billion in weapons purchases.
One could ask how the same statistics could yield different interpretations –– it is the difference between a superficial reading of the numbers and an in-depth analysis of them.
Any commissioned officer who has been involved in military planning in Taiwan will be familiar with the process and procedures for weapons procurements. They involve a 10-year plan for the structure of the armed forces and a five-year plan for the size of the military in terms of troop numbers and an annual joint audit of the army, navy and air force to ascertain what needs to be prioritized before an official letter of request can be submitted to the US.
The whole process for major weapons purchases is measured in years, not months, and comprehensive, pragmatic planning is a crucial part of the process.
If Ma really wants to talk about the success of weapons procurements, he needs to break it down into three items: existing plans inherited when he took office and executed during his term, plans instigated and executed within his term and plans instigated within his term that have yet to be carried out.
If he is going to take credit for the cumulative planning he inherited when he took office, he should also account for the new weapons procurement plans initiated from 2008 to 2012 — his first term as president — and when they are expected to be implemented, as well as what he expects to purchase during his second term and beyond.
The plans initiated from 2008 onwards and what they mean for future weapons purchases are the most interesting in determining whether Ma has overseen the smallest weapons procurement of any president in the nation’s history.