PARTIAL VOLUNTEER MILITARY TO BE GRADUALLY IMPLEMENTED: MND
Taipei, Feb. 24 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense will adjust the nation's military service system in a gradual manner, with a goal of enlisting 60 percent of volunteers for military service by 2012, a senior official said Tuesday.
Vice Minister of National Defense Chen Ti-tuan made the remarks in a report to the legislative caucus of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on the feasibility of implementing an all-volunteer military service system in Taiwan.
Noting that the military now has 385,000 regular service members, Chen said a new troop reduction plan will be implemented from this year to cut the number of troops by 15,000 annually.
Under this plan, Chen said, the number of regular military servicemen and women will be lowered to 270,000 by 2012. "By then, our weaponry systems will also have been renovated and upgraded. Against this backdrop, we can consider adjusting our military service system from conscription to a volunteer-dominated one," Chen explained.
According to the defense ministry's plan, Chen said, the volunteers-conscripts ratio in the military will be adjusted to 60 percent versus 40 percent by 2012.
In addition to weapons upgrades, Chen said several other factors must also be evaluated before a volunteer-dominated service system can be put into practice, including whether retired service men and women have been properly settled, whether the military has groomed an elite deterrent force and whether relations across the Taiwan Strait are stable.
The nation's military service system became a hot topic after the opposition "pan-blue alliance" presidential candidate, Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan, said in a televised debate with President Chen Shui-bian last weekend that if he is elected, he will replace the current conscription-dominated service system to an enlistment one. According to Lien's idea, the compulsory military service period for conscripts at peacetime should last for three months instead of the current one year and eight months.
Speaking at a regular news conference, defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Huang Suey-sheng said the ministry has traditionally refrained from making comments on candidates' visions or policy initiatives.
Nevertheless, Huang said four critical elements must be gauged in formulating a nation's military service system, namely, the threat from the enemy, financial resources, supply of regular forces at peacetime and the supply of reservists at wartime, and young people's interest in pursuing a military career.
Huang said the defense ministry has conducted an extensive study on the pros and cons of conscription and enlistment systems.
In the future, Huang said the military will adopt a two-pronged approach in recruiting service members, under which regular forces will adopt an enlistment-dominated system and reservists will implement a conscription-dominated one.
While both the defense ministry and the ruling DPP don't think introduction of an all-volunteer enlistment service system is feasible for now, the "pan-blue alliance" -- the KMT and the People First Party (PFP) -- said it will come up with a draft bill in two weeks to pave the way for implementing an all-volunteer enlistment system.
PFP legislators Lin Yu-fang and Chou Hsi-wei said an all-volunteer enlistment system is a prevailing world trend. "We must tread down this road which can help us meet the demand of a possible asymmetric, high-tech war across the Taiwan Strait," Lin said.
He said implementing an all-volunteer enlistment system doesn't require constitutional amendments. "We need only to enact a new law for the voluntary military system and retain conscription for wartime."
According to the "pan-blue alliance's" estimate, it will require an additional budget of NT$60 billion annually to implement the voluntary military service system. Under its plan, a private will be given a monthly salary of NT$30,000 to NT$40,000 and a non-commissioned officer will be offered a monthly salary of NT$40,000 to NT$60,000.
(By Sofia Wu)
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