Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) legislators yesterday questioned the readiness of the nation’s all-volunteer military, saying the Ministry of National Defense had failed to recruit sufficient service personnel and that increasing the military budget would likely prove difficult.
The scrapping of conscription, which is scheduled for implementation in 2015, has faced many different challenges, including inadequate funding and low recruitment rates, which could make it difficult to build a potent combat force, lawmakers told a press conference.
TSU Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) suspected the ministry has stubbornly insisted on implementing the plan, one of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign pledges, while turning a blind eye to concerns about manpower, budget and national security.
“The last thing we want is to have to hire a foreign legion to meet our defense needs someday,” Hsu said.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) said implementation of the all-volunteer system would not be straightforward as it requires the collaboration of several agencies.
He said that low birth rates and shortened military service periods both contributed to concerns about a possible reduction in armed forces manpower from the current figure of 210,000.
The ministry recruited 8,684 voluntary members of the armed forces as of the end of October, 57 percent of the goal of 15,311, said Pai Chieh-lung (白捷隆) of the ministry’s Department of Manpower.
Under the current conscription system, the ministry was able to draft around 100,000 soldiers annually, Pai added, but the number would drop to 75,000 in 2025, which was why the ministry has loosened height restrictions from the current 158cm-196cm to 152cm-200cm.
While the ministry hoped increased incentives would lead to improved recruitment rates, TSU caucus whip Huang Wen-ling (黃文玲) said she doubted whether Taiwan could maintain a military force of 200,000, as the defense budget was unlikely to be raised to more than 3 percent of GDP under the current fiscal situation.
Unexpectedly, Huang said, 890 — more than the ministry’s goal of 799 — women had voluntarily joined the armed forces this year and female soldiers account for more than 10 percent of the total voluntary force .
The ministry may have to adjust military facilities and planning to deal with a different military makeup, she said.
The ministry may consider reducing compensation for veterans and increasing benefits for serving military personnel, TSU Legislator Lin Shih-chia (林世嘉) said.