In many modern countries, the commander-in-chief is a civilian, rather than a soldier. Since they fall far behind a professional soldier when it comes to military knowledge and training, how should they lead the armed forces?
They do not direct military operations, of course, but set the country’s general direction, determine goals and lead the military and the general public in a cooperative effort toward national development. Looking at the issue from this perspective, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is clearly unqualified to be commander-in-chief.
After Ma came to power, he started to reduce the size of the military. Not only did the number of soldiers drop drastically, but the army’s overall combat capability also took a sharp turn for the worse. There are a lot of redundant staff in the military, and streamlining — a process that was started by the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — is a necessary reform.
However, by last year, the Ma administration had cut the number of soldiers to 210,000, from the 450,000 soldiers prior to the beginning of the streamlining in the late 1990s. In addition to the continued streamlining and reform during his terms in office, Ma has also initiated a volunteer military system and is planning to continue to push for a consolidation program to further cut the number of soldiers. This program is scheduled to be completed in 2019, by which time there is expected to be between 170,000 and 190,000 soldiers. These reductions also include high ranking officials at the Ministry of National Defense and the armed forces command.
The modern military focuses more on firepower than on manpower, and there is a trend toward replacing numbers with advanced weaponry. Reducing the number of soldiers and focusing on disarmament is the trend among countries at peace, but Ma’s reductions not only harm the army’s combat capabilities, but have resulted in the forced retirement of middle-aged officers, and made it more difficult for young officers to be hired.
Furthermore, the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) has damaged the volunteer system because no one is showing any interest in becoming a soldier. In particular, new training units are being reduced as training has been distorted as a result of Hung’s death. This has resulted in a shortage of new trainees and a discrepancy between combat capability and reorganization, which has had several negative consequences.
Worse still, Ma has been leaning heavily toward China since he came to power, and this has created confusion in the armed forces and a feeling that they do not know who and what they are fighting for. China still has thousands of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and in military training, it is still treated as an enemy that might launch an armed attack against Taiwan. However, officials in the Ma administration openly flirt with China and former officers that trained the army to fight the Chinese Communist Party are falling over each other to travel to China and participate in banquets and sing People’s Liberation Army songs. At the same time, Chinese tourists are swarming all over the place.
Who is our friend and who is our enemy?
The armed forces are deviating from the targets set by the commander-in-chief. No one should be surprised when preposterous events such as the one that is now being called “the Apache group tour” occur. If there is to be a thorough review of the turmoil in the armed forces, beginning from the bottom up is not going to do any good — the commander-in-chief himself is going to have to shoulder responsibility.
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