Although Taiwan’s armed forces have been reduced to about 0.93 percent of the nation’s total population under government streamlining efforts, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) remains confident that the military is large enough to protect the nation.
Ma said on Thursday that the “moderate cutting down” has left the military still relatively large from a global perspective and has not diminished its ability to maintain “strategic objectives” of strong defense and effective deterrence.
The military is working toward becoming “small and elite, small and skilled and small and strong,” Ma said at a Lunar New Year party for defense officials and military officers.
He added that the push to end conscription in favor of an all-volunteer military system was aimed at enhancing combat abilities by building an elite armed force with fewer soldiers than would be necessary under the current system.
An all-volunteer force will also encourage people to consider military service as a career path rather than an obligation, he said.
Ma said that when the Republic of China government relocated to Taiwan in 1949, it had 600,000 men in its army, accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s population at the time.
The government started to streamline the military in 1998, cutting armed forces personnel to 450,000, or 2 percent of the population, and plans to cut it further to under 200,000, less than 1 percent of Taiwan’s 23 million people.
To bolster its volunteer forces, the military aims to recruit 10,000 troops annually next year and in 2016 before lowering recruitment goals to about 7,000 beginning in 2017, he said.
Ma said that the implementation of an all-volunteer system has been pushed back.
The government originally planned to transition to an all-volunteer force by next year, but has pushed back the date to 2017 because of lower-than-expected recruitment figures.
Minister of National Defense Yen Ming (嚴明) said on Monday that the government is planning to cut military personnel to less than 200,000 by the end of 2019 as it moves forward with streamlining.
“We plan to cut the number of troops to between 170,000 and 190,000,” from the 215,000 target for the end of this year, Yen said.