Defense experts called on the Ministry of Defense to create a standard code for maintaining discipline, after local media on Saturday reported that nine officers were reprimanded for administering inappropriate punishments to a conscript in Kinmen.
Earlier last week, a boot camp recruit surnamed Chung (鍾) was stripped of his shirt and had icepacks placed against his armpits and crotch as a punishment for napping during physical training, the Kinmen Defense Command confirmed on Saturday.
The command cadre of the battalion, including the battalion commander, the political warfare officer and the sergeant who ordered the drill have been transferred and could face criminal charges depending on the results of a military police investigation, it added.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) on Saturday questioned the proportionality of the punishment against the officials.
“The Ministry of National Defense should create a code of discipline and training that is standardized across the branches of the armed forces,” said retired army major general Richard Hu (胡瑞舟), a researcher at the Taiwan Center for Security Studies.
Forced standing, extra physical training, self-critique, and the cancelation of leave and other privileges are acceptable methods of punishment that should be codified into the guideline, while lawbreakers should face criminal charges, Hu said.
Creating a separate system of military justice is not necessary for maintaining discipline, he added.
“The Japan Self-Defense Forces have no military courts, and the French Armed Forces only convene these types of courts in extraordinary circumstances. These countries show us that it is possible to have well-disciplined troops without resorting to military courts,” Hu said.
National Chengchi University international affairs professor Chen Wen-chia (陳文甲) said that the culture of command responsibility and mutual aid must be improved in the armed forces.
A unit’s command personnel must understand that they are responsible for the actions taken by their subordinates and that the law is to be followed to the letter, he said, adding that the public must also appreciate the necessity of collective punishment in the military.
“Complete trust and flawless teamwork must exist for a military organization to function,” he said. “Knowing how to strike a balance between discipline and trust is the test of good leadership.”
Shu Hsiao-huang (舒孝煌), a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that the military should enhance recruit training, such as by putting more emphasis on field exercises and honing combat skills.
“Collective punishment is perhaps necessary for the military, but those in charge should do more to understand why such incidents occur before taking disciplinary measures,” he said.
If the top brass overreacts to perceived failures, they risk causing discontent in the junior and noncommissioned officers who form the backbone of the military, or making instructors too wary of disciplining troops at all, he said.
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