Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Premier calls for gradual shift to volunteer military

CNA , TAIPEI

Premier Yu Shyi-kun said yesterday the government will promote a volunteer military to replace the current conscription system insofar as the nation's financial resources will accommodate.

Yu was responding to questions from opposition lawmakers about his views on President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) recent call for further constitutional reforms to pave the way for government restructuring, including an overhaul of the military service system.

Because of the development of electronic warfare and other advanced defense strategies, Yu said, an all-volunteer military has become a trend.

Yu said a conscription system under which draftees usually leave the military after a relatively short period of service could hinder accumulation of manpower training results.

"As modern warfare technology requires long-term training, we need more career soldiers. Therefore, an all-volunteer military is the wave of future," Yu told lawmakers.

The Ministry of National Defense has begun trying to attract individuals to join the services voluntarily, he said.

"We'll promote the all-volunteer military in a gradual manner according to the nation's financial condition," he said.

People First Party (PFP) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) questioned the appropriateness of trying to introduce a volunteer military, which he said would invariably be costly.

Lin said the government cannot afford to adopt such a system, under which 80 percent of the military budget would be spent on personnel.

According to the ministry's restructuring plan, the total number of military personnel will be cut from 380,000 to 340,000 by the end of 2006 and cut to 300,000 by 2011.

"If we adopt a volunteer military system in 2006, the annual personnel maintenance cost will increase by an estimated NT$95.4 billion. Even when the number of service personnel is trimmed to 300,000, the personnel cost will still increase by NT$89 billion annually," Lin said.

The increased personnel cost would hinder the upgrading of weapons systems and manpower training and eventually undermine the nation's overall combat capability, Lin said.

Worse still, Lin said, the social environment is not yet ripe for a volunteer military.

According to Lin, the ministry originally planned to receive three battalions of volunteer, non-commissioned officers this year. But so far, it has only managed to recruit 217 volunteers, Lin said, adding that 139 of them are marines who opted to change to the new units.

"Only 78 were civilians who volunteered to join the military. The small number points to local youths' reluctance to pursue a military career," Lin said.

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