The debate over the transition to an all-volunteer military shows no signs of abating. As the Taipei Times reported on Monday, the Ministry of National Defense is 14,000 short of the “absolute minimum” of 175,000 troops required to defend the nation.
Many countries which are not under military threat have compulsory military service. It is absolutely crucial for Taiwan — which is under threat from China every single day — to maintain strong defenses even if war never breaks out.
The problem is that the nation’s compulsory military service system had become broken to the point that nobody seemed to be getting anything out of it.
Most people saw it as a colossal waste of time, while the conscripts did not receive adequate training to defend the nation anyway. Something had to change, but is an all-volunteer force a realistic solution?
The US’ volunteer military force is working out because, benefits and job opportunities aside, military personnel and veterans are highly respected in US society and it is seen as an honor to serve the country.
Not all Americans agree with the wars their government has waged or continues to wage, but few would openly disrespect individual soldiers or veterans.
There is none of that in Taiwan. A military career is probably very low on a typical teenager’s wish list for their future, and most parents would surely discourage their child from pursuing such a path — especially in light of the abuse and bullying cases that have made headlines in recent years.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) did a good job with its patriotic propaganda efforts during the Martial Law era, albeit toward the party and China, but these would not work in today’s political atmosphere.
It seems people are more concerned about their political affiliation than the nation as a whole.
How many young people think it is their duty to protect the nation from external threats, and how many would just pack their bags and flee abroad? How many people even ponder such matters?
A Control Yuan report said that in one particular unit, 12 volunteer officers and enlisted personnel quit just two weeks after reporting for duty.
This is a problem with the job market in general, as a recent survey by 1111 Job Bank found that 88 percent of office workers think they are treated badly, and that 60 percent of people who feel that way intend to quit, while 34 percent are considering such a move.
However, military service is more than an office job. It is about protecting the nation from foreign threats and in times of natural disasters.
If we are to treat military service as a job, not a duty, it is important not only to change the general perception of a military career — be it as an officer or enlisted personnel — and the mindset of the volunteers, but it is crucial to change the conditions so that people do not want to quit.
The government needs to spend significant resources on recruitment, training, promotion, improving work and living conditions and addressing a slew of other problems, including a dearth of experienced commanding officers and loss of institutional knowledge due to slow replacement rates.
There is a lot that needs to be done at a time when there are tons of pressing issues facing the government — but if this issue is not handled properly, it could be devastating for the nation’s defense and for the public’s safety.
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