Sun, Nov 14, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Military development direction clear

INDICATIONS Chen Shui-bian's comments to the National Security Council on Wednesday show how he wants the military to develop in his second term

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Of the 10 points raised by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) at the National Security Council (NSC) meeting on Wednesday, two of them concerned weapons purchases, giving insight into the direction Chen intends to take with regard to both military reform and national strategic planning.

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) tried for a long time to change Taiwan's military strategy and the armed forces structure that supported it from repelling a ground offensive to an air and sea-based strategy intended to keep the enemy away from Taiwan's shores.

Although both the government and the opposition parties reached consensus on this, the actual implementation has met with obstacles and interference, especially from officers who still believe that Taiwan should keep a large land army for the long-discredited and abandoned purpose of reconquering China.

"Up to now the military still likes to procrastinate. It likes to dodge pressure from the legislature and the government," said World United Formosans for Independence Chairman Ng Chiau-tong (黃昭堂).

Ng said that when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was the opposition party, it always advocated reduction of the size of the armed forces and in particular the army.

But when Chen took power in 2000, he had to spend more time and effort on personnel issues than the military structure. Inheriting armed forces that often saw themselves as simply a tool of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Chen had to spend time selecting and promoting an officer corps that was more in line with his own vision of a professional, non-political military dedicated to the defense of Taiwan.

Only when this was complete was he free to start on questions of force structure.

Former NSC deputy secretary-general Antonio Chiang (江春男) said: "the Chen administration in its first term met enormous oppositions, even rows, whenever there was any personnel reshuffle in central government or state-operated businesses. But in the promotion of military officers, it was always quite smooth. The key to this was the deputy secretary-general of the NSC, Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨)."

Chiang says that even in former president Lee had to go through six years of very careful personnel planning in order to gain control of the military, and thereby actualize his national defense goals. When Chen assumed office in 2000, there was an air of instability among the middle-ranking military officers.

Chen sought to prioritize stability, emphasize both principles of morality and professionalism, and slow down personnel reshuffling. This was a fundamental step in military reform, Chiang said.

Military specialist and former NSC senior advisor Su Chin-chiang (蘇進強) said that for Chen now the priority is reducing the armed forces' size by 100,000 by 2008.

This means that Chen is determined to reduce the size of the army to 250,000 before the end of his term. This is a far greater speed of reduction than was anticipated and is taken as a sign of determination to have a smaller but better quality military.

"The organization of the military in the last few years has been through various phases of trimming and streamlining. But in fact only positions left empty or unfilled were really removed. From now on trimming really does mean the actual reduction in the number of serving soldiers, especially officers. Combined with reducing the term of compulsory military service to one year, the goal of trimming 100,000 military positions can definitely be reached," Su said.

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