On Oct. 8, the Ministry of National Defense released the 2013 Republic of China (ROC) National Defense Report. Slightly shorter than the report two years ago, the format was essentially the same. It was comprehensive, if a little uninspiring.
Minister of National Defense Yen Ming (嚴明) wrote in his opening remarks in the document that the report was “one of the most important windows of transparency in the way national defense governance is conducted,” and then quoted Transparency International’s report released earlier this year on its Government Defence Anti-corruption Index (GDAI).
Based on the index, Taiwan was classified as having low defense corruption risk, together with countries such as the US, the UK, Australia and Germany, out of the 82 countries included in the report.
However, this does not mean that the ministry can rest on its laurels: The ROC military system and the way it conducts itself has much to learn from the US military’s way of doing things.
According to figures listed in the News Channel section of the ministry’s official Web site, there have been 21 major national defense-related accidents since 2008 — predominantly major air, sea and land accidents, and deaths of military personnel — with 17 people dying in the line of duty. These figures do not include incidents involving corruption, espionage, military discipline, sexual harassment, embezzlement, suicide or narcotics use.
To date, the ministry has only held press conferences on a number of these 21 accidents, and the public has yet to see any aspect — investigative procedure or methodology, or the results — of a single investigation report made public. Neither has there been clear access to allow a review of the ministry’s reports from this period.
When there is a serious accident in the US military, it sets up a joint military/civilian task force to conduct an independent and timely investigation, consulting civilian experts on many aspects involving the military and delivering a report to the US Congress, in the majority of cases, within six months of the accident.
After Congress has reviewed the report and there are no more concerns about its findings, it is made public on the official US military Web site.
If the report includes major military secrets, it will be subjected to intense scrutiny and redacted accordingly, but this does not compromise the value of the report in providing a clear account of the investigation, its thoroughness and its findings.
This in itself complies with the public’s due access to accountability and the right to know, and shows the military’s willingness to let US citizens inspect the report.
There is a huge difference between the way the US military operates and the ROC military’s attempts at transparency.
There are five areas that the ROC military should consider and improve upon.
First, the need for confidentiality is no reason for concealing the facts of any major military accident. Second, military expertise is not the exclusive reserve of the military; this kind of skill and knowledge also exists in civilian sectors, which allows for the development of a virtuous circle. Third, openness and transparency regarding an investigation and its findings will enhance the public’s perception of the armed forces. Fourth, in the absence of a mechanism to make public announcements, the military should give some thought into establishing one. And fifth, the Legislative Yuan and the Control Yuan should make more use of civilian experts and think tanks for consultation.
Wang Jyh-perng is a research fellow at the Society for Strategic Studies, Republic of China.
Translated by Paul Cooper