College students are calling for conscription reform in light of the war in Ukraine, although views diverge on length of service.
Observing the Russian invasion of Ukraine has underlined the need for Taiwan to review its compulsory military service system, which requires men born after Jan. 1, 1994, to serve for four months, National Taiwan University student council president Chang Cheng-yu (張承宇) said yesterday.
However, service length is not as key as providing all citizens with general defense training, he said.
Photo: Ritchie B. Tongo, EPA-EFE
Everyone should be trained in basic response measures such as first aid, transportation and coordination, as well as up-to-date combat technologies and tactics, Chang added.
Former National Students’ Union of Taiwan (NSUT) president Chen Ku-hsiung (陳估熊) supports conscription, but said that four months is not long enough.
Conscripts spend all day “pulling weeds” and would find it difficult to serve as a reserve combat force, Chen said.
Yeh Pei-yan (葉裴晏), who serves on the union’s board, said that it is difficult to become familiar with military equipment in four months.
Others such as National Kaohsiung Normal University (NKNU) student council president Tsai Fan-wei (蔡凡葦) do not agree that lengthening service is the answer.
Military service severely affects the life plans of young conscripts, Tsai said, adding that whatever skills are learned during service could be taught another way.
On the other hand, National Taipei University student union president Chang Shao-lun (張紹倫) said that four months is long enough to train good soldiers.
Shih Hsin University student Peng Cheng (彭宬) raised the example of Switzerland, which also requires four months of military service.
“If you are not well trained, not even 10 years would be long enough to protect your country,” Peng said.
NSUT president Huang Ting-wei (黃亭偉) dismissed the focus on length in favor of quality.
Military service as it stands emphasizes traditional physical conditioning with relatively little combat training, he said.
A comprehensive overhaul is needed, “or else sweeping the ground for a year is the same as for four months,” he said. “Either way it would not help with resisting foreign enemies.”
Female students also weighed in, with NKNU student Liu Ting-yan (劉庭妍) saying that gender discrimination discourages women from military activity.
As an example, she cited a high school in central Taiwan that canceled a target shooting course on the grounds that “female students are easily frightened.”
As for changes to service content, former National Tsinghua University Student Association election committee chairman Jheng Yu-jhih (鄭宇智) advocated for more diversified and substantive roles in areas such as information and technological warfare.
Former NSUT president Chen suggested other essential skills, such as those related to logistics and evacuations.
Aside from combat training, some students also emphasized the importance of understanding what constitutes the nation’s forces and who they are protecting.
University of Taipei student council member Huang Ting-wei (黃廷瑋) said that military service does not necessarily need to be physical, as technology is also core to the nation’s defense.
To Chao Wen-chih (趙文志), a professor at the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs at National Chung Cheng University, the greatest problem with conscription is that four months is too short to build the strength required for real combat.
In such a short time frame, it is difficult to meet the necessary level of familiarity with weapons and combat skills, not to mention prepare psychologically for battle, he said.
Chao said that service should last at least one year to build this familiarity, as well as teamwork and other cooperative skills.
Soong Hseik-wen (宋學文), an adjunct professor at the institute, suggested that the Ministry of National Defense conduct a professional assessment to determine service length based on future combat needs.
Such an assessment should include public input, he said, adding that young people should be allowed to combine their service with related professional pursuits, such as scientific research.
According to Fan Shih-ping (范世平), a professor in National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of East Asian Studies, four months is not enough and units are lax in training because of a fear of accidents.
He suggested that the military incorporate a “civil defense system” with peacetime militias spread across the country.
These militias could cooperate with survival game organizers or schools to reach anyone interested in military training and effectively create a national reserve force, he said.
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