Sun, Jan 13, 2008 - Page 18 News List

[BOOK REVIEW] Taiwan's military prowess laid bare

'Taiwan's Security: History and Prospects' looks at how Taiwanese land, air and sea defenses and offensive strategies stack up against the competition

By J. Michael Cole  /  STAFF REPORTER

Where Cole's book really stands out from other publications is in its analysis of the impact democratization, civilianization of the military and the attempt to achieve an all-volunteer service have had on Taiwan's military preparedness and ability to defend itself. Likening the Democratic Progressive Party administration's commendable, albeit daunting, attempt to create a professional defense bureaucracy to the US implemention of the Defense Reorganization Act of 1947 and the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 simultaneously, Cole nevertheless identifies deficiencies in the process: a lack of funding and the failure, so far, to attract enough volunteers. Compulsory service, now at 12 months, is also far too short, in Cole's assessment, to provide soldiers with the training they need to operate in a 21st-century military. There is little doubt that democracy imposes an additional burden on national defense, as seen for example in the battle over the special arms acquisition budget and overall defense spending - something the authoritarian regime in Beijing does not have to contend with - versus other national concerns such as development and the environment.

Throughout his book, Cole also touches on a shift in Taiwan's posture from one of "passive defense" to "active defense," wherein Taipei's strategy would be to present Beijing with a credible deterrent and take the battle away from Taiwan and into China. Although this remains controversial, Taiwan's development of offensive weapons such as the Hsiung Feng III, the Hsiung Feng IIE and Tien Kung III, as well as "blackout" bombs, represents a step in that direction and recognition on Taiwan's part that purely defensive action against an overwhelming adversary might not be feasible. Aside from obvious military targets in the PRC identified by Cole, such as missile batteries and command centers, China's current fuel shortage and how this would affect its ability to sustain an attack on Taiwan should inspire Taipei to look at the possibility of targeting fuel depots there.

In the end, Cole argues, Taiwan must decide how much capital and human resources it is willing to invest in its defenses, which sends a message to its allies about how serious it is about protecting its hard-earned democracy. Although the US remains a committed ally, its responsibilities elsewhere mean that a speedy US intervention in the Taiwan Strait should not be taken for granted. Building a capability to hold the line for 15 days - Taipei's current strategy - therefore might not be enough.

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