How Should Taiwan Fix Its Broken Conscription System?

How Should Taiwan Fix Its Broken Conscription System?
Photo Credit: CNA
What you need to know

Under China's increasing military threats, Taiwan's current conscription system only requires draftees to serve for 4 months without any substantial training. How would Taiwan respond to conflicts with an undertrained military?

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Reporting by Andrew Maxey and Allen Chen

Taiwan’s recent arms purchases from the United States once again drew attention to the island's self-defense capabilities. With China’s increasingly aggressive threats, Taiwan’s military not only needs to upgrade its weapons but also its organization.

However, Taiwan’s weak military training has left its draftees unprepared for war; and with the switch to an all-volunteer force impeded by budgetary and manpower issues, compulsory military service is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The question then is how to fix the system for draftees to be trained effectively instead of wasting their time and creating a weak point in Taiwan’s national defense. With the spectre of China always looming in the background, Taiwan ought to use its limited resources in the most effective way possible to provide a credible deterrent against a deep-pocketed China.

Taiwan's Mandatory Military Service Duration: 4 Months

Before 2000, male citizens of conscription age in Taiwan were required to serve two years, but the service time has been reduced to four months since 2013. A few exceptions would carry out their duty in alternative civilian services for six months.

Training is the first thing recruits go through and sets the tone for the entire period of service. For drill instructors, the foremost problem is the short time they have to train draftees. Some complain that they only have enough time to give draftees very basic instruction, which will soon be forgotten when their service period is up.

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Then how long should the service time be?

Taiwan can draw valuable insight from countries that also enforce mandatory military service, like Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. For these countries, the existence of aggressive neighboring states has been the impetus for their more robust national service schemes.

Singapore's Mandatory Military Service Duration: 2 Years

In the Republic of Singapore, all National Service (NS) draftees selected for the Army begin their two years of national service with nine weeks of basic training. After completing basic training, most recruits will be immediately assigned to an operational unit where they serve out the remainder of their NS time, performing basic duties such as cleaning and maintenance, along with combat training.

However, some high-performers will be selected for leadership training, undergoing a 22-week specialized Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) training, or a 38-week Officer Cadet Course.

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Compared with Taiwan and South Korea, Singapore National Service gives its draftees the most days off, pays them the highest relative to GDP per capita, and has the best safety record. Singapore's air force and navy in particular are praised as the strongest in Southeast Asia for its investment in technology and operational capability. These factors, coupled with the ability to integrate conscripts into regular units after their training, demonstrates that Singapore has found a schedule that works ⁠— the only thing lacking is combat-provenness.

Finland's Mandatory Military Service Duration: 155 Days - 347 Days

Finland employs a similar training timeframe as well, with Finnish draftees doing eight weeks of basic training, after which high-performing recruits are split off for specialty or officer training. Depending on what the position the draftees are assigned, their service time ranges between 155 days and 347 days.

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By the end of their one year of service, they are trained and ready to be reservists, activated in times of war.

South Korea's Mandatory Military Service Duration: 18 Months - 23 Months

Born out of the Korean War and the decades-long standoff on the peninsula, South Korea’s mandatory service system sees draftees undergoing four weeks of basic training and around two years of total service time for all branches.

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The decreased basic training time is the result of an interesting doctrinal difference from the countries mentioned above. South Korean draftees are integrated into regular units to fulfill manpower requirements for lower enlisted ranks and they don't receive the same specialized training and leadership opportunities as volunteer soldiers. During their compulsory service, draftees can only reach the rank of sergeant.

How Should Taiwan Fix Its Conscription System?

Based on Taiwan’s threat profile and the above-mentioned examples, conscription would be more productive if the required service time was extended to one year, with the inclusion of specialized training and provision for certain recruits to receive limited leadership responsibilities.

The current period of four months is insufficient to meet the Ministry of Defense’s stated purpose of bolstering manpower in times of conflict. With increasingly sophisticated weapon systems, draftees will need more time to master both their skills and equipment.

On the other hand, making compulsory service too long, say two years like Singapore and Korea, also has drawbacks.

Some complain that two years of military service would hinder their career prospects because their peers would already have two more years of experience by the time they reenter the workforce. Inferior pay in the military compared with the corporate world also makes conscription unpopular.

Longer service length benefits the military but has negative effects on civilians and lacks public support; therefore one year of service time would be a good compromise for Taiwan. It would give draftees enough time for adequate training and practical application, and not be too much of a roadblock in their lives, giving them more time to pursue their interests and fortunes.

The Taiwanese military should also take advantage of recruits’ skills and abilities by providing specialized training accordingly during their service time.

A computer science expert, for example, could be trained in the use of electronic warfare equipment or in other cyber support roles. Someone wanting to study engineering in university could train with military engineers and gain practical experience before his freshman year. Finally, limited leadership training can be given to qualifying recruits who can fill low-level non-commissioned officer roles, decreasing the leadership burden on regular forces and giving some draftees a chance to build leadership skills.

The steps outlined here have only referred to the Army; however, the same principles can be extended to the other branches to elevate the national service system, making it mutually beneficial for both the military and the public.

Taiwan's conscription is broken, but with a few well-guided changes, a solution is within grasp.

READ NEXT: Weak Military Training Leaves Taiwanese Draftees Unprepared for War

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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