When the international situation was unfavorable to Taiwan, any attempt to fight for its sovereignty was seen as “causing trouble.” This discouraged the government and Taiwanese, and is one of the reasons the three previous presidents shortened mandatory military service and moved toward an all-volunteer military.
The international environment has completely changed. The US’ efforts to build alliances against China have put Taiwan in a central strategic position.
In June last year, several members of the US Senate and House of Representatives reintroduced a “Taiwan defense act.” In November, US Senator Josh Hawley introduced an “arm Taiwan act,” and on Friday last week US Representative Mike Gallagher proposed the same bill in the House. Last month, the US Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes numerous provisions for boosting Taiwan’s defenses.
It is not just the US showing support. Australia, the EU, India, Japan and the UK have all started resisting China. Whenever China makes military threats, Taiwan’s friends around the world ask how they can help. In May last year, the Economist called Taiwan the “most dangerous place on Earth,” but most Taiwanese are blissfully unaware of it.
In an interview with CommonWealth Magazine earlier this month, US political scientist Francis Fukuyama said: “I do not believe Taiwan has taken its own self-defense seriously enough,” adding that the “biggest mistake Taiwan has made was to abolish mandatory military service.”
Fukuyama’s comments echo the US political, military and intelligence communities’ repeated calls for Taiwan to demonstrate its will to defend itself.
Taiwanese hope that as soon as they face a threat of war, someone will come to their rescue, but for someone to save them, the nation must first be willing to save itself. Having military conscription would be a clear way to show its determination. Otherwise, why would other countries get involved?
Taiwan’s low birthrate makes it impossible to enroll enough soldiers through voluntary recruitment. It is also impossible to develop a national defense strategy if people have never served in the military, or if the length of their service was as short as a summer camp, leaving trainees without basic military knowledge.
To secure enough soldiers for Taiwan’s military needs, men and women should do military service, which would uphold equal rights for men and women, while encouraging female empowerment.
The length of compulsory service should also be reconsidered. It is only four months, which is not enough for conscripts to even master basic skills, let alone prepare for combat.
More specialized kinds of soldiers, from artillery gunners on up, need at least one year of training to gain basic combat skills. The length of service should therefore revert to two years, and three years for more specialized personnel.
Many opponents of conscription say that military training is so poor these days that being a soldier is a waste of time. To say so is like refusing to eat because you once had an upset stomach. If the food tastes a bit off, clean up the kitchen, do not go on a hunger strike.
Yes, Taiwan’s armed forces are in need of reform, but the government should strive to innovate, not look for excuses to do nothing.
Taiwan should heed Fukuyama’s advice. The only way to ensure peace is to be prepared for war, so the nation must bring back conscription.
Tommy Lin is a physician and president of the Formosa Republican Association.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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