Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 6 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Critical need for trained military

The accidental firing of a missile into the Taiwan Strait earlier this month killed one fisherman and injured three. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) described the accident as a result of the military’s lax management and discipline, and called it a systemic failure.

The missile blunder is evidence of deeper, longstanding problems in the military. While the government must push for military reform, the key will be finding the cause of the failure and dealing with it.

It is beyond doubt that former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) left his successor a lot of problems. Tsai is clearly not to be blamed, as these problems existed before she took office.

However, if they have always been there, why did they only make themselves felt a little over a month after she took office? Was she simply unlucky, or could it be that the transfer of government created more problems, bringing things to a head? Luck is likely a factor, but the latter is also worth considering.

When addressing systemic problems in the military, it is necessary to start with the obvious, which includes, as Tsai said, improving precision weaponry controls and providing better training standards for officers.

However, such measures alone are not enough. To solve the problem, the government must also address the many issues that have risen from two rushed policies: former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) policy to shorten mandatory military service terms, and the voluntary military service program implemented by the Ma administration.

Since leading figures from the two main parties participated in the process that led to both programs, both are responsible.

The strongest public proponent of reducing the compulsory military service was former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) during his 2004 presidential bid, when he proposed that the 20-month conscription period be cut to three months.

Following this suggestion, the Chen administration began making annual cuts to the conscription terms and by 2008, it had been reduced to one year. It is already questionable if one year is sufficient to acquire the necessary battle preparedness, but when Ma took office in 2008, he announced that a voluntary military service would be implemented in five to six years’ time and that the proportion made up by that service would be gradually expanded each year.

Eight years later, a lack of concern for national defense needs and disregard for Taiwan’s rapidly changing demographics has seen this negative policy consolidated and now harder to change.

The Ministry of National Defense last year discovered that by the end of this year the estimated number of voluntary force members would be about 150,000, well short of the required minimum — 170,000 to 175,000. The ministry then announced that it would draft men born in 1993 or earlier to make up for the shortfall, and that the policy according to which men born in 1994 or later would do only four months of military training would remain unchanged.

With a voluntary military, the number of soldiers cannot be controlled, and as the birthrate declines, maintaining a certain strike force organization will become increasingly difficult.

In addition, conscripts only get four months of training, which means they are likely to have serious shortcomings in their technical skills and expertise. After demobilization, they will be called in for a five-day training session within two years.

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