"Max" Yu Tsung-chi, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, published an editorial in today's Taipei Times entitled "Taking National Defense Seriously."
The full text is presented below as a courtesy to Council members.
A recent article [PDF] by William Murray, a professor at the US Naval War College, has sparked heated debate about which strategies Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense should adopt in the face of the military threat from China.
Some defense specialists have highlighted major shortcomings in Murray’s “Revisiting Taiwan’s defense strategy,” including the oversimplification of the missile threats from China, a passive-defensive position on defense and a constrictive interpretation of the Taiwan Relations Act that would be detrimental to Taiwan’s long-term interests.
Recent developments have further undermined the logic of his arguments. Murray, for example, argues that the US should provide only defensive weapons to Taiwan and reduce the flow of weapons over time. However, both Republican Senator John McCain and president-elect Barack Obama have endorsed the US$6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan.
In other words, the policy of US arms sales to Taiwan will likely remain unchanged in the foreseeable future.
In addition, Taipei was not influenced by Murray’s strategic thinking and announced that its defense budget for next year would include funds for the production of the Hsiung Feng IIE land attack cruise missile, which Murray said was “offensive counterstrike weapons [that are] potentially destabilizing, since China would have difficulty determining if such strikes originated from US or Taiwanese platforms” and should therefore be canceled.
Having criticized the article as well-meaning but shortsighted, defense specialists can not fault Murray for his overall effort to contribute to Taiwan’s security. He writes with frankness and knowledge, and is obviously well acquainted with the history of the Taiwanese military. As such, his strategic recommendations should be taken seriously by anyone who cares about Taiwan’s national security.
Among his observations, low morale of conscript ground forces and weak reserve forces, however, are the most ironic. As ground forces, both active and reserve, are the two major pillars of Taiwan’s “porcupine strategy,” their defects — specifically in the will to counter an attack and the likelihood of total collapse at the beginning of hostilities — should make us pause.
Taiwan’s ground forces policy is based on the principle of the “separation of active and reserve forces” — the former is in charge of launching strikes while the latter is responsible for homeland defense.
Furthermore, because of defense budget constraints, it makes sense to put more, not less, structure into the reserve components in line with the principle of “minimization of active forces and maximization of reserve forces in store.”
Taiwan has about 2 million reserve forces ready to defend their country at a moment’s notice. Murray argues that numerous informed observers harbor doubts about the responsiveness of the reserve forces and their will to fight if called upon.
But responsiveness to a call to arms is only the first step. Just as important is the ability to fight.
In recent years, Taiwan’s military has built up a well-honed combination of defense volunteers and constabulary forces to ensure the flow of reservists for training and annual maneuvers. This mechanism has ensured high participation by reserve forces, as demonstrated by the Han Kuang series of military exercises. The average attendance rate for training exercises is about 98.5 percent, higher than the 93.8 percent among US troops during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Evaluating combat readiness, on the other hand, is an imperfect science, which means that the best benchmarks at our disposal are ensuring that one’s rifle is close at hand, that forces are well-organized, well-equipped, well-trained and mentally prepared to fight.
Taiwan’s military has made impressive progress in training its reserve forces. For instance, training courses were reconfigured to meet defensive mission needs. Cooperative training with local military branch schools was authorized. Greater use of battlefield simulators and interactive video systems was made at every training brigade. Regional training centers were set up so that units from different cities and counties could pool training resources.
Having said this, some prophylactic measures to boost troop morale should be seriously considered. Reserve forces must have the proper equipment to perform their missions. Active and reserve forces fighting at the same time should have equal claim on modern equipment inventories.
In case of war, reserve forces would mainly be in charge of littoral, civil and critical infrastructure defense. However, at present reserve forces are mainly equipped with weapons that are being phased out by active forces. Weapons such as rifles, machine guns and mortars are ill-suited for the high-technology combat that would characterize an invasion by China.
Murray argues that reserve forces should be equipped with mobile coastal-defense cruise missiles such as the truck-mounted Harpoon because “a fairly small number of these missiles would likely devastate China’s armor-carrying amphibious ships or hovercrafts.” In addition, short-range man-portable and truck-mounted air-defense systems such as the Stinger, Avenger and Chaparral should be added to the inventory to secure critical infrastructure and conduct urban warfare.
Ensuring that reserve forces receive the kind of training and weapons they need will make them capable of defending the homeland. In addition, as much as possible, reserve components should train with the active military. When reserve forces become a synchronized part of the larger active forces, their potential combat effectiveness and readiness will be greatly increased.
Only if we are wise in our reliance on well-organized, well-equipped and well-trained ground forces can we be assured that a Chinese invasion would be met with the proper force.