The Ministry of National Defense released recently its 2009 National Defense Report (國防報告書). Compared with last year’s report, it placed more emphasis on nontraditional security. It listed disaster relief and rescue as one of the military’s central missions, and stated that the structure of military forces will be adjusted according to strategy, tactics and equipment procurement.
However, with the number of forces being reduced as a result of plans to streamline the military and as the country faces more serious natural disasters because of a deteriorating global environment, a lack of effective planning will leave the military open to criticism.
In its assessment of the Chinese military, the report overemphasizes the hard power of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and overlooks its soft power. Speaking at the National University of Defense Technology in April, China’s Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Guo Boxiong (郭伯雄) underlined the importance of establishing information-based troops, adding that to win an information war, China must train large numbers of highly skilled military personnel with new skills.
In July, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) announced a program to further reform the officer system. Thus, not only are there imbalances in hard military power between Taiwan and China, but the gap between the countries’ soft power is also gradually expanding.
The report shows a clear shift in warfare strategy. The focus now is not to allow the enemy to set foot on Taiwan and to concentrate limited national defense resources on the main troops. Developing asymmetric warfare capabilities and continuing the independent development of Tactical Shore-based Missiles for Fire Suppression or counteroffensive weapons are also cited as good strategies.
However, the report avoids most discussions on the US position on arms sales to Taiwan, although US policy seems to have moved from being “proactive” or “hopeful” to gradual conservatism. Faced with a new strategic triangular relationship, the ministry should consider new national defense strategies and policies to come up with feasible alternative plans to develop the necessary miltiary capabilities.
Enlisting, as opposed to compulsory service, is also a key issue. The ministry said this is the most pressing and complicated change in the military. Based on the concept of maintaining a lower number of soldiers in times of peace and more in times of war, reservists must still train young men for four months. This means that in the future, there may be fewer soldiers on active duty and more soldiers in the reserve. After this change, training mechanisms and methods may see great changes.
As for civil servants leading the military, the report expounded on the promotion and training of civil servants and released some data to support these comments. However, nothing was said about turnover, transfer or promotion rates among civil servants since the National Defense Act (國防法) and the Organization Act of the Ministry of National Defense (國防部組織法) came into effect in 2002, or why they still do not make up one-third of ministry appointments as stipulated in Article 15 of the organization act.
Surprisingly, asymmetric warfare was listed as a tactic that China may adopt in an attack on Taiwan. Asymmetric warfare is an action taken by a weaker side against a stronger side. When China denies or refuses access to the US, these are examples of asymmetric warfare. However, in any Chinese action against Taiwan, Beijing can make use of its economic and technological advantages — and this is not asymmetric warfare.
On the whole, the report seems to lack a concrete vision. Unlike the Quadrennial Strategy Review, the National Defense Report failed to provide a vision for national defense in the next 10 or even 20 years.
The ministry made some changes this year and this should be supported and encouraged, but there is still much room for improvement. Hopefully, in the future, it will be more open-minded and use more diversified modes of thinking and take a pragmatic view of new challenges.
Wang Jyh-perng is a reserve navy captain and a research assistant at the Graduate Institute of Strategy and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON