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Sun, Jan 16, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Status of military finally settled

ARMED FORCES REFORM The passage of the Defense Law gives the military a more clearly defined legal status and clarifies its relationship to the government

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The legislature appears almost deserted during its marathon meeting yesterday, the last day of the current session. Most lawmakers stayed away from work as more important laws had been passed during the previous few days.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Passage by the legislature of the Defense Law (國防法) finally con-fers on the military both legal status and governmental accountability.

This replaces decades of existence under organizational laws and executive orders without legislative basis.

Significantly, this and other laws and amendments passed will for the first time place the military structure under civilian control and, as a result, make it more accountable to the government.

Lawmakers also passed major revisions to the Defense Ministry Organizational Law (國防部組織法), which is expected to help achieve the long-expected goal of unifying the military's administrative and executive structures. Up to now, these have been under the control of the defense minister and the chief of the general staff respectively.

Also passed were five laws mandating the establishment of a Coast Guard Administration (海岸巡防署), incorporating the existing coast guard command -- currently under the military, the marine police and elements of the customs authority.

The Defense Law features a clear description, in Article 8, of the relationship between the minister of national defense and the chief of the general staff: "The president passes orders down (責成) to the defense minister, who then orders (命令) the chief of the general staff to execute them."

In the original version of the law, the president did not "pass down" but "gave" orders to the defense minister, who was then to pass them down to the chief of the general staff.

This change in wording is expected to ensure that the defense minister has the power to order the chief of the general staff to act as ordered by the president. It also indicates the possibility that the defense minister may choose to reject orders from the president under certain circumstances.

The Defense Law also establishes the main framework for the country's defense system, which will comprise the president, the National Security Council, the Executive Yuan and the Ministry of National Defense in a top-down model.

In Article 12 of the law, the defense minister is described as a "civilian," which is generally considered to mean future ministers will not be drawn from the military hierarchy.

The passage of revisions to the Defense Ministry Organization Law also marks a revolution in military organization, whose administrative and executive arms have long operated separately, as there was no clear legal formulation of their respective functions or status.

In the revised law, the current executive arm as represented by the chief of the general staff and his staff offices is placed directly under the control of the defense minister.

Until now, the chief of the general staff has always been higher in status than the minister, and has been more powerful, holding the power to command troops under orders directly from the president.

This imbalance in the military power structure, however, has effectively been removed with the chief of the general staff being clearly designated as a member of the defense minister's staff.

In practice, however, the chief of the general staff will have command of the troops, since the defense minister is expected to delegate such powers, freeing himself to concentrate on administrative affairs, a defense official said yesterday.

In like manner, the chief of the general staff will also delegate certain portions of his command to the heads of the army, air force, navy and other services, the official said.

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