Tue, Mar 05, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Military reforms bring confusion

ROUGH TRANSITION While the defense minister asserts that the authority to retaliate for an attack rests with him, neither defense laws nor all of the military's top brass agree


Confusion is the order of the day in the military after its command structure began a new mode of operation on March 1.

Leading the issues that have become muddled since the changes took effect is the question of which leader has the responsibility to order a retaliatory strike in case of attack.

Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) said last week at the Legislative Yuan that the authority to order a retaliatory response rests exclusively with the defense minister.

But not all military leaders agree with Tang, since there is no description of such a power either in the Defense Law or the amended Organizational Law of the Ministry of National Defense, which provides the legal basis for the new military command structure.

Major General Lu Hsiao-lung (陸小榮), assistant deputy chief of the general-staff for planning, said he personally thinks it should be the chief of the general-staff who retains the power to order a retaliatory strike.

Lu failed to provide an explanation for his views.

Under the old system, the chief of the general-staff had the undisputed power to order a response, as he was the most powerful person in the military and reported directly to the president.

But after the new system became operational, this was no longer the case and the presumption was that the responsibility for deciding the time and place to respond to aggression would fall on the armed forces' civilian leader -- the minister of national defense.

After the restructuring, the defense minister was supposed to be -- in name and in fact -- the leader of the military.

But there remain quite a number of military leaders -- like Major General Lu -- who fail to grasp the new military command system.

Trouble at the top

* Although recent reforms in the military elevate the nation's defense minister to the top of the command structure, the failure of defense-related legislation to explicitly spell out who decides to respond in case of attack has left some in the military under the impression that it is the chief of the general-staff who has that power.

* The failure of the new legislation to spell out who would take over in case the defense minister is absent from office or incapacitated, is another unanswered question.

Another part of the new command system which remains puzzling is who would exercise the powers of defense minister if the minister is absent from office or incapacitated.

Today, the defense minister has one chief of staff and two deputy ministers. The two defense laws do not mention, however, which one of the three is to exercise power on behalf of an absent minister.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that while the chief of the general-staff militarily outranks the two deputy ministers, under the new command structure he is on an equal footing with them.

One of the deputy ministers is former air force chief General Chen Chao-ming (陳肇敏), while the other has yet to be appointed by the president since his original choice -- senior Control Yuan member Kang Nin-hsiang (康寧祥) -- has declined to accept the offer.

Chen is the deputy minister for armament affairs, while the other deputy minister is to handle administrative affairs.

Chief of the general-staff Admiral Li Chieh (李傑) is to deal with purely military affairs, such as combat training.

Under the arrangement, the three deputies to the minister are on the same level in the command structure.

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