Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Taiwan’s all-volunteer military: vision or nightmare?

A soldier aims his rifle at Huadong
Taiwan is trying to shift to an all-volunteer force. Problems lie ahead 

As the young soldiers lined up along the coast at the crack of dawn, moments before rocket systems, main battle tanks and combat aircraft pulverized imaginary targets out at sea as part of the annual Han Kuang military exercises, it was impossible not to wonder how Taiwan’s military would fare in the advent of a real invasion by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Would they offer stiff resistance, fight bravely and efficiently, or would they surrender in the face of a much more powerful and zealous adversary?

According to the Taiwanese government, force modernization — a leaner, smaller, more professional and tech-savvy military — is the answer to the country’s future defense needs. The main pillar of this transformation is Taipei’s multi-year program to drop mandatory military service and shift to an all-volunteer force (AVF). Under current plans, by early 2015 the armed forces should be composed of 176,000 volunteers, from the 235,000 volunteers and conscripts at present, for a total active duty force of 215,000 (from 270,000).

The challenges Taiwan faces in making a successful transition – and in building a leaner and meaner military that can pose a credible deterrent to China – are many.

My feature, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

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