Mon, Mar 04, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Command structure boosts minister's power

MILITARY REFORM Changes to the military's command structure reduce the influence of the chief of the general staff and give the defense minister greater control

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian holds a command flag during the inauguration ceremony on Thursday for Taiwan's new military command structure. The new structure gives the defense minister more power at the expense of the chief of the general staff.

PHOTO: CHU YU-PIN, TAIPEI TIMES

The new military command structure -- which places the defense minister higher than the chief of the general staff and has been in effect since Friday -- reverses the balance of power between the two major leaders of the nation's military over the past five decades.

The development was the result of efforts which began in 1990 to reform the military by a group of DPP lawmakers, including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

These lawmakers launched their reform efforts mainly because they could not understand why the military didn't want to solve the confusion caused by the imbalance of power between the defense minister and the chief of the general staff -- despite the fact that the problem had been around for decades.

The confusion was caused by the lack of a law to clearly describe the power relationship between the defense minister and the chief of the general staff.

Over the past five decades, the military only had an organizational law governing the office of chief of the general staff, which offered a rough explanation as to the relationship between the two major leaders of the military.

Under the law, the chief of the general staff had a confusing dual status -- he was at the same time chief of staff to the president and the defense minister.

Prior to the law's amendment late last year, the chief of the general staff acted as chief of staff not only to the president in the military command system, but also to the defense minister in the military's administrative system.

The arrangement, though confusing, did not appear to have experienced operational problems until the election of reform-minded lawmakers in 1989.

New lawmakers like Chen could not accept that the military command system led by the chief of the general staff was immune to supervision by lawmakers, while the military administrative system headed by the defense minister had to directly face inquiries from lawmakers about the command system over which it had no control.

Efforts were launched by Chen and other DPP lawmakers to solve the longstanding problem through legislation.

In 1991, Chen brought up a draft law for a new military command structure, which laid the foundation for the follow-up reform efforts.

Nine years later, the legislature passed the landmark defense law and the amended organizational law of the Ministry of National Defense, which were the types of laws President Chen had been requesting.

In the two legal changes, the defense minister is clearly described as having the authority to command the chief of the general staff under the authorization of the president.

As well, the chief of the general staff has become chief of staff to only the defense minister.

The two laws, formally put into effect on Friday, are expected to unify the originally divided military command and administrative systems by shifting power from the chief of the general staff to the defense minister.

The unified military command and administrative systems are to operate on the same standing under the defense minister as the armament procurement system -- the third operational system of the military introduced by the two defense laws.

The defense minister now has two deputy ministers to handle administrative and armament-procurement affairs for him, while the chief of the general staff is authorized to deal with command affairs such as combat training.

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