Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Boosting national defense spending

By Su Tzu-yun 蘇紫雲

There is a glaring problem with the Ministry of National Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review. With a target annual budget set at only 2.05 percent of GDP, the ministry simply does not have the funds to carry out the plans stated in the review.

Is it any wonder that the nation’s allies frequently question its resolve to defend itself?

Taiwan faces a clear and immediate threat from China, with the military balance on the Taiwan Strait skewed heavily in Beijing’s favor. If the government fails to take the threat seriously, choosing to rely solely on appeals to respect democracy and human rights, while hoping that other nations will come to its rescue, then Taiwan will lose the ability to set the agenda for its own future.

In the 20 years since the 1996 Taiwan Strait missile crisis, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has completely reversed. The telltale signs of this reversal can be seen in Taiwan’s spending on national defense.

Using 1998 — before the Asian financial crisis — as the basis for comparison, spending on national defense that year totaled NT$257.48 billion (US$8.53 billion at the current exchange rate), while last year’s reached NT$321.7 billion.

On the surface, this appears to be a significant increase. However, if last year’s figure is adjusted for inflation, it would only come to NT$265.4 billion.

That means since 1998, the national defense budget increased by a mere 3 percent. Given that the regional security picture has significantly deteriorated in the past two decades, this is utterly inadequate.

By way of comparison, during the same period, the education budget rose from NT$187.1 billion to NT$387.9 billion, while spending on social security and welfare increased from NT$157.7 billion to NT$460.6 billion.

These budgetary allocations show that since the first direct presidential elections were held in 1996, the political strategies of each successive government have converged on the same electoral tactic, namely currying favor with voters, while neglecting the most basic function of government — to protect its citizens.

When discussing this problem, politicians often respond matter-of-factly that “there are no votes in defense.”

Important decisions on issues such as whether to abolish military conscription or increase defense spending are mainly driven by political considerations, rather than the formation of a viable, long-term national security strategy.

The current situation is akin to watching a suicide in slow-motion.

Although Taiwanese make a lot of noise about democracy and human rights and cling to the ideals of “love and peace,” without matching this “soft power” with a credible defense force as an insurance policy, these values are nothing more than a castle built on sand. When a big wave comes, all will be swept away.

One can only look on with jealousy at Sweden, which has reinstated military conscription and increased spending on defense.

Then there is Belgium, a chocolate superpower, but whose government has decided to increase military spending annually by 10 percent to build a missile defense system.

At a recent NATO leaders’ summit, members reiterated their target to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense and reaffirmed their commitment to the alliance’s ethos of collective self-defense, that is, “an attack on one is an attack on all.”

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