Many people have stereotypical views of mandatory service based on their own experience, but the training regimen has undergone drastic changes, Tsai added. To ensure conscripts undergo appropriate training and do not waste time during the longer service period, they would undergo more intense and longer boot camp training to boost their combat preparedness, the president said. Boot camp training is to be extended to eight weeks from five, and is to include physical fitness and exercise, as well as weapons and combat training. Standard courses would focus on discipline, equipment maintenance, basic training and stress training, while physical training would include basic fitness, grenade throwing and a 500m obstacle course. Physical training is to incorporate science-based learning for health management and muscle-building. The arms training section would increase the number of shots fired from 104 to 160 to ensure that recruits know the differences between weapons and how firing position affects accuracy. Combat training is to focus on combat techniques, field medicine and what to do in the event of a biological or nuclear disaster, while the training regimen for recruits is to include marches, camp setting and other skills. The Ministry of Education is in talks with local universities and colleges to develop ways to make the higher-education curriculum more flexible so that conscripts can complete their required one year of service while studying, Tsai said. That would allow them to avoid postponing plans to enter the job market due to the longer military service requirement, she said.
Depending on what ‘altitude’ you fly over news items, for most international news outlets Taiwan reinstating year-long conscription feeds into the “rising tensions-most dangerous place on earth” storyline. And for domestic Taiwan news, arguments about which party made this move necessary, whether American pressure is behind this change if this means the youth vote will shift for 2024, etc etc.
To me, this is classic President Tsai and why I am a supporter. Smart policymaking, aggravatingly careful and slow and boring, good for Taiwan’s democracy, not likely to win her praise or many votes. Kind of like her green energy policy. Legalizing gay marriage. Pension reforms. Pandemic abatement. The opposite of the kind of quick, easy-to-understand modern storytelling to rile up populist emotions.
I have no faith in the ability and resolve of the China KMT dictatorship-dominated Taiwan national security establishment, though I know if they are good at one thing, it is to use their bureaucratic skills to kill reform efforts pushed by civilian, democratically elected leaders. So we will see.
It is politically smart to give the mostly superficial domestic Taiwan press the massively raised salary of the conscripts as their headlines. Once you listen to the press conference and read the details the most encouraging facet of this new policy is the recognition that the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense requires revolutionary change and improvements – a breakthrough for the democratically elected president of Taiwan to acknowledge that former draftees felt their time and talent were not fully respected and utilized by the military, to be smart about using this year-long conscription wisely, to import training regimes (and important, doctrines and concepts) from the US and other leading democracies, to think about how the volunteer military and conscripts enhance one another. This is a difficult and important first step – future elections will determine whether the momentum to democratize and reform the Taiwan military will continue.
An additional breakthrough is in how rapidly and directly the praise came from the American embassy in Taipei – without regard for the thin skin-ness of the Chinese communists and their allies inside Taiwan and in the west. This gets me back to my earlier point that folks generally focus on the headline numbers of the NDAA and aid to Taiwan, I have been fascinated by the detailed plans on interoperability and the “software” of national security – personnel, advisors, new mentality. California and Florida National Guards heroically trained Ukrainian officers – Hawaii National Guard has been paired with the Taiwanese military, is this the model we will see with new, modern training for the conscripts and volunteers alike? And again, having seen too many bright-eyed Taiwanese patriots graduate from West Point, Annapolis, and US Air Force Academy only to file for early retirement due to a reactionary and hyper-bureaucratic Taiwan military leadership. We will see, and we hope for the best. No shortage of talent and vitality from the bottom up in a democracy such as Taiwan – the bottleneck is within Taiwan’s military leadership.
An additional thing to ponder is this paradox of Taiwan. A medium small-ish nation. An oceanic, island democracy with a history of heterodoxy and not following imperial rules. Taiwanese businesspeople are notoriously creative and flexible. Taiwanese cuisine and music and literature are hybrid and ever-changing. The parts of Taiwan dominated by the China KMT dictatorship are reactionary, uncreative, haughty, stuck in trench warfare mentality – hyper-bureaucratic, better to get fifteen stamps than five, hurry up and wait – these facets of Taiwan public life exist in a parallel universe with the vibrant, democratic, can-do democracy that grew up around this China KMT dictatorship.
So I have been wondering about creatively deconstructing how the Taiwan public health – less dominated by the China KMT dictatorship because during the martial law era this was a safe harbor for educated Taiwanese – could serve as a model for how a reformed Taiwanese military could democratize and harness the creativity and energy of this democratic nation. Taiwanese public health and healthcare were not flawless during this pandemic – yet compared to the Taiwan military, it has been far more flexible and responsive to criticism and suggestions from citizens, civilian authorities, and foreign experts. Pandemic management had features and characteristics that are warfare-like – the “enemy” was not just the virus, but foreign and domestic bad actors, fear, rumors, anxiety, and fake news. What is it about the Taiwanese public health leadership, bureaucracy and regulation, institutional culture, and how it relates to the rest of this democracy, that enabled it to successfully meet these challenges? And what lessons might the democratically elected civilian leaders of Taiwan seeking to democratize and reform the Taiwan national security establishment draw from this model? 28.12.2022
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