Thu, Jul 19, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Begrudging service

Apathetic toward the military and averse to service, young Taiwanese question the idea of national defense as duty, complicating plans for an all-volunteer force

By Philip Tsien  /  Contributing reporter

In 2011, Taiwan introduced regulations to end conscription and move toward an all-volunteer force. Under those rules, males born after Jan. 1, 1994 need to receive just four months of training. An ROC Marine Corps drill instructor surnamed Chiu (邱) points to this shortened time frame when describing why so many recruits find their experience unproductive.

Chiu says that four months is an insufficient amount of time to properly train a soldier, forcing him to “focus on basics” such as marching procedure or facing movements. Small wonder that conscripts complain of chronic boredom, he says. “Who wants to practice standing at attention for hours on end?” Chiu asks.

For another drill instructor surnamed Chen (陳), there is little motivation to produce qualified soldiers.

“Why should we give these young men the newest technology or in-depth training when they will leave so soon? They wouldn’t absorb it, and it would be a waste,” Chen says.

When asked for comment, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Defense declined to speak on the record.


Lauren Dickey, a researcher at King’s College London who focuses on cross-strait relations, says in an e-mail that a lack of respect for Taiwan’s armed forces will prove a major obstacle to the country’s ongoing transition to an all-volunteer force. If younger Taiwanese do not feel an urgency to fight for the freedoms they have, there is scant incentive to join the military, she says.

A report published early this year by the Control Yuan thrusts the problem into sharp relief. According to the report, by January of this year the military had enlisted 160,700 volunteers, 14,000 short of the estimated 175,000 troops required to adequately defend the country.

Dickey says that Taiwan’s defense strategy has focused largely on deterring adversaries by “increasing the costs of an attack.” A further decrease in the number of service members, however, would seriously curtail the country’s ability to do so.

Chen Kuo-ming (陳國銘), a military expert and editor-in-chief of Defence International magazine, says that maintaining the requisite number of soldiers has been a challenge since former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) introduced plans to shift to an all-volunteer force. Unfortunately, Chen says, the issue has continued to beset the government under President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), which has repeatedly postponed ending conscription due to poor recruitment figures.

“The present four-month training program makes it difficult to truly prepare conscripts for their duties,” Chen Kuo-ming says.

This makes completing the transition to an all-volunteer force ever more pressing, he says, adding that the government needs to demonstrate leadership in boosting public respect for the military and improving recruitment efforts.

Dickey agrees. Though the path to a sustainable all-volunteer force may not be straightforward, she says, one thing is clear:

“National defense has to matter to Taiwanese of all ages.”

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