Until the end of November, a little more than 30 percent of target voluntary enlistments for last year were met, according to the Ministry of National Defense’s report submitted before the Legislative Yuan on Dec. 11. The ministry remarked on Dec. 23 that the decision to continue or terminate the implementation of an all-volunteer military model for Taiwan is a “highly political issue” and should be decided by the senior authorities in government. The following day, members of the Control Yuan voiced their concern that enlisting a sufficient number of recruits is a grave issue affecting national survival that requires strategic formulation and oversight.
According to the Republic of China Constitution, it is the responsibility of the president to safeguard national security and ensure peace. However, based on current sluggish figures, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) 2008 campaign platform to repeal conscription to implement an all-volunteer force by this year – revised to 2017 – is proving structurally not viable to implement. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party which used to oppose conscription, has now abandoned that position. Most Taiwanese men, rather than viewing it as an honorable duty, see military service as an obstacle to establishing themselves in society. The failure to assume responsibility in security policy threatens national defense and to reduce Taiwan’s confidence in pursuing more meaningful dialogue and exchanges across the Taiwan Strait.
When executed competently, an all-volunteer force can advance the level of professionalism and modernization in the armed forces. Economically, it would reduce unnecessary public expenditure in human resources and add to a nation’s competitive advantage. When compulsory military service no longer disrupts adolescents’ career planning, it enhances a society’s human capital, nurturing innovation and economic growth. Furthermore, the profession of military service would also achieve greater equity in compensation in the labor market with more attractive pay incentives. In rebuilding a culture of discipline and trust, the military can increase its retention rate and garner greater respect and recognition.
Yet, the vast majority of political observers and military experts are pessimistic about the government-planned transition and the long-term outlook of enlisting sufficient volunteers. The transition to an all-volunteer force should reflect objective circumstances and be executed in a way that is both financially feasible and adaptive. The process should be guided with objective of defending national sovereignty and homeland security.
Regardless of improved cross-strait ties, Beijing has not ceased its campaign of aggressive military buildup for the past six decades. Taiwan’s young men have long taken an apathetic view of military service because they see it as an interference to their lives.
In addition, public frustration over the death of conscript army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) in July last year serves as an alarming indication of the necessity to combat elitism and corruption in the military establishment. The current reduction in the service term to four months of basic training for male citizens born after 1994 also presents a serious impediment to combat readiness in the event of invasion.