Sunday, January 23, 2005

Taiwan's migration to a professional military

Lately, I have read two interesting books that provide a lot of background into the basic conflict within Taiwan which colors all the internal contentions. One is Formosa Betrayed by George Kerr which was published in the 1960’s and the other is Through Formosa by Owen Rutter. Through Formosa is the account of a British Naval Attaché stationed in New Guinea in the early 1930’s who was invited by the British Consul in Taipei (then Taihoku) to tour Taiwan. Rutter reported that Taiwan was a well organized, efficient and prosperous colony of Japan. Rutter’s book provides the background for Formosa Betrayed which picks up the story of Taiwan from the period from the point of view of an American Naval Attaché who lived here in the time immediately following Rutter’s visit, through WWII and on into the KMT takeover of Taiwan.

The most telling observation from the juxtaposition of the two books is that Taiwanese were resentful of the Japanese presence but appreciative of what the Japanese brought to Taiwan and of the generally humane treatment they received at the hands on the Japanese. On the other hand, the local Taiwanese originally welcomed the Mainland Chinese after the war, but were quickly disillusioned by the brutalities and corruption the Mainlanders brought down on the heads of the Taiwanese. And even generations after the first KMT arrivals from the Mainland, the stories of KMT atrocities are repeated and amplified to this day.
These accounts of the early conflict between KMT and local Taiwanese is especially interesting in light of the current contentious issues in Taiwan: selection of a national language, the transition to a professional vice conscripted military, a new willingness to discuss pre-emptive attacks on China and President Chen’s recent defiant statement that Taiwan would "walk our own road, our own Taiwan road." (Washington Post 6 October 2003)

I have been most interested lately in discussing the professional military issue.
Many politicians here are not impressed with the morale of the conscripted military but sadly also display a lack of imagination on how to solve the problem. I can report that there is universal disinclination towards serving in the military among the young men I encounter. I have noticed certain trends in the stories men near draft age tell me.

There seem to be three major areas of dissatisfaction with military service.
1) The Taiwan military is offensively oriented, when it should be defensive. I have heard many times that it is foolish for Taiwan to have such a large Air Force and Army when what Taiwan really needs is air defense, missile defense and a much stronger navy. One Army first lieutenant told me that his superiors advocated “striking first” if it looked like China was preparing for invasion. He did not tell me the ranks of these “superiors” but it seems this “offensive” mindset might extend to the top. The 9 October 2003 “China Times” newspaper reported that in testimony to the Legislature, Defense Minister Tang Yiau-ming stated that “The military would not rule out taking the offensive (prior to hostilities) if the president gave the order.” This is a change in the public position expressed 2 July 2000 during a news conference when then-Defense Minister Wu Shih-wen stated: “The armed forces will not adopt any offensive military action unless the Chinese communists launch an attack."
It is unclear whether this stated willingness to take the offensive is based on the new post-September 11 paradigm of “pre-emptive” attack, or is merely an acknowledgement of previously unstated ROC doctrine. There is no disputing in the recent past, the Republic of China’s stated goal was to re-take all of China. In fact, until the end of martial law in 1987, school children were required to write at the bottom of tests and school papers:”反攻大陆解救同胞“ (Fangong dalu, jiejiu tongbao) Counterattack the Mainland, Rescue our countrymen.

Additionally, there is a perception that the unsettled political situation makes it problematic to serve in the military, especially for officers, for two reasons:
1) Most have little stomach for serving as “targets” at the opening of a potential conflict, since there is a real likelihood that the civilian leadership in Taiwan is willing to quickly surrender in the face of PRC aggression. This is a rather complex argument that those against military service make. These young men believe that the current Taiwan leadership is prepared to provoke China into conflict (i.e., the “own road” comment), on the assumption that the US will come to the aid of Taiwan once the bombs start falling. However, those who hold this belief that the soldiers will only be targets do not believe that the US will aid Taiwan, but instead, they think that President Bush will insist that President Chen make peace on China’s terms. These young men believe that a large part of the Taiwan military will be sacrificed in the losing gamble that the US will save the island.
2) In a corollary to the first point, many men believe that if you are identified as a professional officer for Taiwan, and Taiwan reunifies with China in the near future under whatever scheme, there is a real danger that the Communists will segregate you and your family for “re-education.”
In an effort to improve morale and bring in more motivated officers, the Taiwan authorities have elected to implement an all-volunteer military. NMD has erected splashly billboards, has covered buses with big recruiting ads on the sides and placed commercials on the TV and radio looking for volunteer officers. However, since January, NMD has recruited 78 civilians to officer training, well short of the “three battalion” target. (139 Marines did elect to cross-deck to other services.)

The all-volunteer aspect of the military does not address the concerns of those young men who must serve. Most men here hope that some miracle will occur and there will no longer be a need for Taiwan to have a military or much less, conscription. Alternately, they would like President Bush to unambiguously support Taiwan independence and make them, frankly, superfluous to the US military effort to defend Taiwan. Absent these dorm-room-discussion fantasies, the draft age men will only be drawn to cheerfully serve when they think there is actually something to fight for or something tangible to defend in Taiwan. As it is now, the most that Taiwan can offer its officer recruits is the opportunity to defend an ambiguous status quo that most hope will last, but who no one really thinks is long to endure. Bottom line, Taiwan just has not yet offered a compelling reason for college graduates to head to OCS.