Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Compulsory service cuts questioned

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Military officers, lawmakers and US military consultants worry that the government's policy to shorten the duration of compulsory military service will impact the nation's defense capabilities.

The Ministry of National Defense remains optimistic.

Minister of National Defense Lee Tien-yu (李天羽) confirmed last Tuesday that effective July 1, compulsory military service will be reduced to 14 months. The ministry has been contemplating a further reduction in the duration of compulsory service to 12 months, starting on Jan. 1 next year.

In order to fill the vacancies engendered by these reductions, the ministry intends to recruit more career military personnel.

"Our policy for the next year is to decrease the duration of compulsory military service to 12 months. But, to make that happen, the bottom line is that at least 45,561 career soldiers need to be recruited to fill those positions," Vice Minister of National Defense Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨) said.

"This is simply a transition period. As for its [negative] impact on national defense, we will do our best to prevent that," he said.

Lawmakers, US military consultants and many local military officers, however, were apprehensive at the policy.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said he strongly suspected the policy was an attempt by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to gain votes in the elections.

"Everybody knows that it takes time to recruit and train a civilian to become a qualified soldier," Lin said.

"What the government has done makes me worry that the military may not have enough time to recruit and train qualified soldiers," he said.

"National defense is a serious matter. It should not be used for electioneering," Lin said.

More than 280,000 military personnel and 10,000 reserves participated in this year's Han Kuang military exercises, which were held two months ago.

Also present were former US Pacific Command commander-in-chief Admiral Dennis Blair and a group of US military consultants, who provided advice.

The Chinese-language China Times reported yesterday that US officials said that they had been surprised that the reserves had performed a lot better during the exercises than did service personnel.

They were also worried that the reduction in compulsory military service would further degrade performance, the newspaper said.

A high-ranking military official from the ministry who wished to remain anonymous confirmed the news. Echoing the concerns of US military consultants, he highlighted the difficulty of maintaining proper training amid cuts in service time.

"In all honesty, I was not surprised the reserve officers did a better job than service members," the official said.

He said that the majority of reserve personnel who participated in the exercise had done two years of compulsory service.

It was therefore natural, the official said, for those soldiers to have performed better than their counterparts.

Starting on July 1, the official said, military boot camps will only have 35 days to give basic training to new soldiers.

After that, at the request of their units the new soldiers will likely be sent on various advanced training courses for a period of six to eight weeks, he said.

Once all the training courses are completed, a soldier doing his compulsory service will only have about nine months left before he is dismissed from the military and becomes a reserve, he said.

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