Despite efforts to streamline the armed forces, the nation’s 215,000-strong military is still too large at 0.9 percent of the total population, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said.
Meeting yesterday with Robert Willard, former head of US Pacific Command from 2009 to 2012, Ma said that a ratio of 0.6 percent to 0.7 percent of the population was enough to ensure sufficient defensive capabilities.
The figures, which translate into a force of between 143,000 and 167,000 servicepeople, are lower than those announced by the Ministry of National Defense earlier this year.
The ministry has said its goal is to trim down the military from 2015 to 2019 to eventually produce a professional fighting force of between 170,000 and 190,000 personnel.
Ma explained Taiwan’s efforts to adjust the organization of its defense apparatus and restructure the military to Willard, who is in Taiwan as head of a delegation, the Seattle-based think tank National Bureau of Asian Research.
The Republic of China had a force of 600,000 when the government moved from China to Taiwan in 1949, Ma said. Recent streamlining efforts reduced armed forces personnel to 450,000 in 1998 before the number eventually dropped to the current 215,000, he said.
Ma also reiterated the government’s determination to shift to an all-volunteer force.
He listed incentives like higher pay for volunteer soldiers and non-commissioned officers and opportunities to learn skills that are transferable to the civilian workplace.
However, the shift has been marked with hiccups, as disappointing recruitment numbers have forced the military to push back the implementation of an all-volunteer force from 2015 to 2017.
To hit the 2017 goal, the armed forces will need to recruit more than 10,000 servicepeople annually in 2015 and 2016, and about 7,000 in 2017, Minister of National Defense Yen Ming (嚴明) said.