Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves through Europe and caused the global community to turn its attention toward Taiwan.
As the government seeks to push through further reform of the military, Taiwan needs to exhibit its resolve on an “all-out defense,” for reform should not be strictly limited to the military, but is to be borne by every civilian.
As retired air force lieutenant general Chang Yen-ting (張延廷) has said, the first step is military reform, the second is intensive reservist training and third is an all-out national defense. Building upon Chang’s argument, I would like to suggest the following:
First, increase the percentage of GDP spent on defense to more than 3 percent. Following Russia’s invasion, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Germany would raise its military spending, channeling 100 billion euros (US$110 billion) — which equates to more than 2 percent of GDP — toward modernizing its military.
The British and Polish parliaments have passed bills to beef up their defense budgets and double troop strength.
Taiwan spends 2.36 percent of its GDP on defense, which is lower than Singapore’s 3.2 percent and South Korea’s 2.8 percent.
Despite having a US military presence in their countries, Singapore and South Korea consider military strength to be a crucial benchmark of defense resolve.
Second, reinstate mandatory military service of one year. When former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was in office, the duration of compulsory basic training was reduced from one year to four months, which the global community interpreted as Taiwan having lost the resolve to defend itself.
To date, Singapore and South Korea have retained two years of compulsory service. Military service in Taiwan should be at least one year. It would be best to also require women to complete the mandatory military service and to use part of the increased defense budget to pay conscripts the minimum wage. In this way, conscripts could be assured of having enough money to meet their basic needs.
Third, refine military training. Former US secretary of state Colin Powell — who was chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War — wrote in his memoir that in order not to repeat the costly mistakes of the Vietnam War, the US military went through tremendous reform and rejuvenation. Only then could it achieve the success of the Gulf War.
However, from bayonet drills, helping farmers with harvesting and advanced equipment inspections — where a military unit must line up all of its gear and equipment, from tanks on down to screwdrivers, in an open area for inspection — Taiwan’s military has largely been engaged in boilerplate activities or fruitless duties.
When a US army observation delegation visited Taiwan a few decades ago, its members were crestfallen with what they saw: They were expecting that Taiwan’s military prowess would be similar to that of the mighty Israeli Defense Forces, but they instead found a deplorable force comparable to that of the Panama Defense Forces. This assessment by the US unveiled problems with Taiwan’s military training method, tasking and duties, and is the reason that much of the public considers a career in the military “a waste of time.”
Perhaps the government could learn a thing or two from the training program provided by Singapore’s Basic Military Training Centre, such as close-quarters battle, tactical combat casualty care and kickboxing. Only with proper training can Taiwan’s military turn over a new leaf.
Fourth, revise military management. The military should change its thinking, because the approach of confining soldiers within their barracks all day for reasons of security and safety, places soldiers inside a “bubble.”
This might be one of the reasons military service has been a hard sell, and why the percentage of enlisted personnel within many of the military’s combat units does not exceed 80 percent. This is important, as it is a key international metric used to judge the quality of a nation’s armed forces.
As the general level of education in Taiwan has risen over many decades, volunteer military personnel should be able to manage themselves. Those who live within 50km of their barracks should be allowed to return home after work if they are not on duty or on a mission.
Their officers should refrain from holding meetings or conducting preliminary exams in the evenings, or urgently recalling personnel to the barracks. Time management is a leadership skill and should be included as a criterion of performance evaluation.
Given the shift in the international picture and with morale in Taiwan at a high, the government could implement such suggestions to rejuvenate the military and rectify many of its problems, such as a shortage of recruits, short-term military service and outdated training programs.
While demonstrating Taiwan’s defense resolve to the international community, the armed forces would also win recognition and support from Taiwanese.
Chu-Ke Feng-yun is director of a medical management department at a hospital.
Translated by Rita Wang
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