Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s defense at a crossroads

By Eric Chiou 邱奕宏

Meanwhile, it has ordered 10 coast guard ships from Japan and three more vessels from France. Needless to say, Manila has revived military relations with the US, while strengthening military cooperation with Japan, ostensibly in the name of counter-piracy operations.

In comparison with neighboring states that have become more aware of Beijing’s military intentions and taken various measures to counter China’s rising power, Taiwan seems to have moved in completely the opposite direction. By adopting a conciliatory policy, Taiwan has strived to make peace with Beijing and make money from closer bilateral ties. As a result, people in Taiwan see that the government is eager to facilitate a closer economic relationship with China by concluding various economic treaties, which are likely to make Taiwan’s disproportionately unilateral economic dependence on China even worse.

Predictably, as cross-strait economic exchanges intensify, the importance of national security is expected to fall further down the list of national priorities. Hence, one should not be surprised to see lax discipline and falling morale in the military in the years to come.

Taiwan’s national defense faces several critical challenges. The first is an insufficient defense budget and unbalanced expenditure structure. For years, the defense budget has not reached a reasonable level, which holds up the purchase of new weapons and the development of advanced technologies. Furthermore, a disproportionate portion of the budget is used to pay military personnel, which crowds out important military programs and modernization efforts.

Second, a shortage of military personnel may emerge in the near future, which will further weaken capabilities. Despite the impending deadline for implementing an all-volunteer military, it remains difficult for the defense ministry to attract sufficient numbers of young recruits. If this situation cannot be improved, we may see more and more private security guards hired by the military to carry out patrolling duties in the future.

Moreover, existing military management seems problematic and desperately needs to be revamped. Certain old-school and inappropriate military cultures appear to nurture and rationalize unhealthy practices among troops. Corruption, cheating, bullying, and inappropriate training seem to be rampant and out of control. If the military cannot undertake comprehensive reforms to eradicate such practices and restore its reputation, the embarrassing situation of the defense ministry being besieged by protesters will be repeated.

Finally, the most critical challenge facing the military is the crisis of national identity. A significant number of middle to high-ranking military officers are perplexed about the new role of the military and have a hard time adjusting to the reality of Taiwan’s pluralistic democracy.

Undeniably, the military has been the most conservative and closest group in Taiwanese society. Although the majority of service personnel have great pride in their duty to defend Taiwan, others have serious issues about national identity and question the cause they may have to fight for and defend.

Coupled with recent downsizing of military personnel numbers and a trimmed-down pension program, many officers feel frustrated and aggrieved about their years of sacrifice. Hence, some have taken early retirement and embarked on other careers, which may significantly undermine the foundation of military and, even worse, could lead to more military secrets being leaked to China.

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