Taiwan ends conscription, will build an 'elite' army

China Featured - November 22nd, 2012

Taiwanese men born after 1994 will not be drafted to serve a full year starting next year as Taipei seeks to end conscription in a shift towards building a “stronger, smaller, smarter” army that could deter China’s 2.3 million-strong military.

Instead, they will be enlisted to four months of training until deciding on whether to pursue a military career and serve the country.

Taiwan’s force consists of 270,000 soldiers, with the shift aiming to cut the size down to 215,000 better trained and longer serving troops such as pilots and naval crews, reports the Financial Times.

“Getting smaller and getting higher quality improves Taiwan’s ability to deter, assuming it makes the right priorities in training,” says Roy Kamphausen, a former US army officer involved in Asian affairs.

There are challenges Taiwan still faces, such as persuading young men to enlist and finding the budget to pay them enough to make the military an attractive option.

Defense analysts said Taiwan is not fully prepared for the cost of transition as volunteers are paid higher salaries. With military spending plunging to $10 billion from $10.8 billion in 2008 and personnel costs already accounting for 49% of the 2012 defense budget, the financial pressure of professionalizing the military will be too much.

Another issue is whether the current generation would volunteer. Last year, military recruitment fell short of its target, only managing to get 4,300 soldiers, around half of the number it hoped for, Taiwan’s legislature said. Conscripted soldiers make up around 60% of Taiwan’s military.