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End of military conscription

China Post, 13 March 2009

On Monday Minister of National Defense, Chen Chao-ming, announced that Taiwan's military will become an all-volunteer force within five years. Speaking to a military committee under the Legislative Yuan, Minster Chen explained that the process would commence on 2011 and by 2014 all divisions of the R.O.C. Armed Forces will be filled with career soldiers instead of conscripts. In the future, local men will only be required to serve four months of basic military training.

A decade or two ago many men could look forward to a military term of at least two years. The inductees were first separated into “A” and “B” groups depending on physical strength and other factors. Then lots were drawn to determine the length and location of military service. Some unlucky conscripts drew terms as long as three years in places such as the front-line island of Matsu. Over the years the length of conscription has been reduced to where today, a young man will generally only have to serve a one-year term. We salute the sacrifice of veterans — conscripts and volunteers — who have kept Taiwan safe over the decades. These brave men and women suffered immense physical and mental pressures so that their fellow citizens could remain free. Truly, without their heroism, Taiwan could have long ago been assimilated into communist China.

But we must also agree with Minister Chen that the time has come to repeal conscription. Quite simply, unless a threat is direct and imminent, conscription during peacetime is not a viable economic policy. Even with a full two years of service, most conscripts lack the training to be effective wartime soldiers.

Aside from economic considerations there is also a humanitarian issue. The mostly young men who are conscripted have generally just finished high school or college and instead of continuing the momentum of youth, are forced to delay their careers, segregated from society and subjected to the rigors of military life. Some of these young people do not adapt well and almost every year there are stories of suicides due to depression over military service. Filling the ranks of the Armed Forces with professionals can only improve the R.O.C's capacity to respond effectively to any threat. President Ma's policies have brought a degree of detente with arch-nemesis China and are certainly a factor in the military's decision. The time has come for Taiwan to move into a new, 21st century military posture and ending conscription is a great first step.