Legislators from both major political parties have voiced strong opposition to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) plan to trim military personnel down to about 170,000 over the next three years by shifting from a conscripted to a volunteer force.
Ma has been pushing for the program, known as Yong Ku (勇固), to achieve the goal of all-volunteer armed forces by the end of 2018 by offering increased pay and other incentives aimed at attracting Taiwanese to enlist and become career soldiers.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chen Chen-hsiang (陳鎮湘) said the government has halved Taiwan’s armed forces over the past decade, from about 450,000 in the latter part of the 1990s to a total of about 210,500 last year.
“Numerous military units were downsized, and jobs were cut. This is very worrying, because many officers were forced to retire. This dealt severe blows to morale,” Chen said at an event organized by the Taipei-based Society for Strategic Studies on Saturday, adding that there is resistance and dissent in the armed forces toward the downsizing project.
“These problems will worsen if Ma goes ahead with the plan. We might see the disintegration of our military’s operational and combat capabilities,” Chen said.
“I’m not trying to frighten our citizens, but it is a possibility that tanks are unable to move from army bases and warships are unable to sail from docks,” Chen added.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) had similar concerns.
“If Ma rams through the downsizing program, the military will be unable to adjust and integrate staff work assignments and postings. It will lead to deficiencies, and many units of the armed forces might even lack the personnel to manage and operate military hardware,” he said.
He said the plan had already had a negative impact on the military’s chain of command, and officer training programs had been severely compromised.
“Our procurement and upgrading of weapons in recent years has been insufficient and not meeting our national defense needs,” Tsai said.
Tsai and Chen, along with other legislators, proposed the postponement of the implementation of an all-volunteer military at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee meeting last week.
Responding to the concerns of legislators and other officials, Ma said he still intends to realize the goal of an all-volunteer force, ordering the military to make necessary adjustments.
“I look forward to seeing the Ministry of National Defense coordinating and carrying out upcoming military drills. These will enable the evaluation of the structure of our armed forces, and to check and see if there are sufficient soldiers and officers. Then adjustments can be made as necessary,” Ma said at the event on Saturday.
“The Yong Ku plan is within the overall framework of reforming Taiwan’s military. We aim to streamline and modernized our armed forces, reduced in scale, but improved in quality, while retaining their strong combat capabilities,” he said.
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