STRATEGIC VISION Volume 3, Issue 18
for Taiwan Security
Taking On ISIS Moh’d Ali Khawaldeh
Breaking the Balance in the South China Sea Edward Hsieh
Sweden’s Gripen Fighter Flying for Taiwan?
Brian Benedictus & Michal Thim
Taiwan’s Military and the Transition to an All Volunteer Force by James Yuan and Michal Thim
Volume 3, Issue 18
for Taiwan Security w
Contents Gripen fighter could be ideal for ROCAF......................................4
Michal Thim & Brian Benedictus
The Islamic State not without vulnerabilities...............................10
Mohâ€™d Ali Khawaldeh
Making army life a viable career choice........................................ 16
Force transition requires government commitment....................22
The changing balance in the South China Sea..............................28
Submissions: Essays submitted for publication are not to exceed 2,000 words in length, and should conform to the following basic format for each 1200-1600 word essay: 1. Synopsis, 100-200 words; 2. Background description, 100-200 words; 3. Analysis, 800-1,000 words; 4. Policy Recommendations, 200-300 words. Book reviews should not exceed 1,200 words in length. Notes should be formatted as endnotes and should be kept to a minimum. Authors are encouraged to submit essays and reviews as attachments to emails; Microsoft Word documents are preferred. For questions of style and usage, writers should consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Authors of unsolicited manuscripts are encouraged to consult with the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org before formal submission via email. The views expressed in the articles are the personal views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of their affiliate institutions or of Strategic Vision. Manuscripts are subject to copyediting, both mechanical and substantive, as required and according to editorial guidelines. No major alterations may be made by an author once the type has been set. Arrangements for reprints should be made with the editor. Cover photograph of a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter courtesy of Jim Gordon.
Editor Fu-Kuo Liu Executive Editor Dean Karalekas Editorial Board Tiehlin Yen Raviprasad Narayanan Richard Hu James Yuan Laurence Lin Aaron Jensen STRATEGIC VISION For Taiwan Security (ISSN 2227-3646) Volume 3, Number 18, December, 2014, published under the auspices of the Center for Security Studies and National Defense University. All editorial correspondence should be mailed to the editor at STRATEGIC VISION, Center for Security Studies in Taiwan. No. 64, Wan Shou Road, Taipei City 11666, Taiwan, ROC. The editors are responsible for the selection and acceptance of articles; responsibility for opinions expressed and accuracy of facts in articles published rests solely with individual authors. The editors are not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts; unaccepted manuscripts will be returned if accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. Photographs used in this publication are used courtesy of the photographers, or through a creative commons licence. All are attributed appropriately. Any inquiries please contact the Executive Editor directly via email at: email@example.com. Or by telephone at: +866 (02) 8237-7228 Online issues and archives can be viewed at our website: www.mcsstw.org. © Copyright 2014 by the Center for Security Studies. Articles in this periodical do not necessarily represent the views of either the MCSS, NDU, or the editors.
From The Editor
nce again, we come to the close of another year—this, our third year in publication—and we at Strategic Vision want to thank our regular readers and fine contributors for their support in helping us reach this important milestone. It has been our sincere honor to provide our readers with the finest analysis and reporting on issues of importance to crossstrait and Asia-Pacific security. Thank you. This issue, too, boasts an excellent line-up. We begin with a look at the ROC Air Force’s air-defense and acquisition problems and a rather creative proposal: that of purchasing the Swedish-made Gripen fighter. It is co-authored by regular contributor Michal Thim and Brian Benedictus, a Washington-based foreign policy analyst who specializes in East Asian security. We are extremely pleased to have a contribution from Brigadier General Moh’d Ali Khawaldeh of the Jordanian Armed Forces, currently in Taiwan studying at the ROC National Defense University, who offers his take on the strategies employed by, as well as the potential vulnerabilities of, the Islamic State extremist group. This being the end of 2014 and the original deadline for the ROC military’s transition to an all-volunteer force (AVF) before its postponement by two years, we are taking an in-depth look at what progress has been made on this important issue from two different perspectives. Dr. Li-Chung Yuan of the Graduate Institute of Strategic Studies at National Defense University—and a member of our editorial board—looks at efforts to make the military a desirable career option for young people in Taiwan. Michal Thim of the University of Nottingham examines how the professionalization of the ROC military demands a greater commitment from the government level. Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hsieh, currently conducting research at the British think tank RUSI, returns this month with an eye-opening look at the growing militarization in the South China Sea, and how Taipei must adopt security policies to keep abreast of this new balance. We hope you enjoy this final issue of 2014. We look forward to continuing our efforts certainly for another three years, and wish you all a very merry Christmas and best wishes for 2015. Dr. Fu-Kuo Liu Editor Strategic Vision
Strategic Vision vol. 3, no. 18 (December, 2014)
The Gripen Solution Swedish-made fighter could solve ROCAF’s air-defense, acquisition problems Brian Benedictus & Michal Thim
photo: Tomas Öhberg Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets lined up on the runway. Taiwan would do well to look to the Gripen as an answer to its jet fighter acquisition woes.
he Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) appears to be a formidable force on paper, wielding 300-plus fighter jets (excluding the obsolete F-5E/F used for training), but its most recent purchase was 150 F-16A/Bs and 60 Mirage 2000s, both approved in 1992. Earlier this month, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated the need to procure advanced fighters from the United States in order to fulfill the pending shortage of Taiwan’s air power projection capabilities. The shortage will come due to the retirement of older F-5 jets by 2019,
as well as the government’s desire to retire its current batch of Mirage 2000-5Di/Ei. The sale of American F-16 C/D fighters has been in limbo for years; with Republic of China (ROC) officials recently stating that they no longer wish to pursue such a purchase. While there have been statements issued by the ROC government expressing an interest in acquiring the F-35 5th generation fighter currently in development by the United States, the likelihood of such a sale is unrealistic at the moment due to reasons that range from the high per-unit cost
Brian Benedictus is a Washington D.C.-based foreign policy analyst specializing in East Asian security, and an Asia-Pacific Desk analyst for Wikistrat. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michal Thim is a doctoral candidate in the Taiwan Studies Program at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, a contributing analyst for Wikistrat, and a research fellow at the Prague-based think-tank Association for International Affairs. Michal tweets @michalthimnet.
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and American concerns of a harsh Chinese reaction to the sale, to Taiwan’s position at the bottom of a long waiting list of other countries which have already completed agreements with the United States for the F-35. One option would be for the ROCAF to look elsewhere. Although the Russian market produces impressive fighter jets with competitive price tags, it is closed to Taipei due to Moscow’s close relationship with Beijing, as well as its rather rigid interpretation of the One China policy. Moreover, the introduction of Russian weaponry would create another logistical headache because, under current conditions, Taiwanese jets already need to use a range of US, French, and Taiwan-made missiles on their planes, and the availability of spare parts and general service requirements would be another issue complicating their use. Other options are no less complex. The Eurofighter Typhoon is expensive, and France most certainly would not risk angering China by offering to sell Taiwan its Rafale fighters. Taiwan, however, could
choose to think outside the box in terms of seeking to acquire new jets by looking at Sweden’s JAS39 Gripen. Granted, the political ramifications that make sales difficult are not insignificant, and in many ways are not too different from the cases outlined above. Nevertheless, the Gripen would fit well with
“European manufacturers offer licensed production to keep their products competitive against US companies that are usually unwilling to offer such deals.” Taiwan’s defense needs, and pursuing the bid would be a worthwhile effort, even if it ultimately is destined to fail. A sale, however unlikely, would make sense for both sides for a number of reasons. For Taiwan, adding the Gripen into its air-power portfolio would be a major upgrade in terms of overall capabilities. The newest model, the JAS 39E, would come packed
photo: Oleg Belyakov The latest Gripen boasts a multispectral sensor suite that allows the aircraft to engage stealth targets, and a speed of Mach 1.25 without afterburners.
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with improvements over previous models. Such upgrades include a multispectral sensor suite—a system that allows the aircraft to engage stealth targets—and the ability to fly at Mach 1.25 without the use of afterburners. Moreover, the Gripen comes equipped with the Meteor ramjet-powered air-to-air missile, which is believed to have five times the lethality of the American-made AMRAAM. The Gripen has another quality that makes it suitable for Taiwan’s conditions. As a result of Sweden’s own precarious position due to its close proximity to Russia, Sweden has always stressed the short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability for its fighter jets. That also suits Taiwan’s needs very well, as part of the latter’s plan is to utilize highways and other large paved roads in times of war. F-16s and other jets in the ROCAF inventory are capable of STOL, but unlike the Gripen, they are not expressly designed for that purpose. Sweden has also made its previous agreements buyer-friendly; with perks that have included an offer
to Indonesia that encompasses a 100-percent technology transfer, as well as an agreement with Brazil that will result in the South American country building nearly 80 percent of the airframes domestically that it purchases from Sweden. If Taiwan were to be able to negotiate a similar offer in a Gripen sale, it would be a major boost to its domestic aviation industry, particularly for the country’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. This would, of course, be an ideal scenario, in which Taiwan would be relieved of the logistical burden of relying on imported spare parts.
Licensed production While Sweden might, under certain conditions, be willing to sell Gripens to Taiwan, agreeing to licensed production is a whole different matter. European manufacturers offer licensed production to keep their products competitive against US companies that are usually unwilling to offer such deals (Japan is a notable exception, together with partner countries in
photo: Hsuan Shih Sheng The Indigenous Defense Fighter is an example of domestically produced weaponry, an option that Taiwan may increasingly have to rely upon in the future.
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photo: ROC MND F-5 fighters have been in service in the ROCAF for 40 years, but are today primarily used for training as the nation seeks new platforms from overseas.
the F-35 JSF program).Thus, this particular scenario works well when the seller is competing with other offers, and Taiwan’s major problem is that sellers are not exactly lining up to sell weapons to the country. Perhaps equally important as performance is the issue of cost, and the Gripen appears to be a bargain. The per-unit price tag of Switzerland’s recent purchase of 22 Gripens is believed to have been near US$150 million. This amount also includes training, technical support, and spare parts. The platform is also efficient to fly and maintain, as it has an estimated per-hour operating cost of nearly US$7,000 and only requires six support personnel to handle maintenance—an efficient number that the demographically-challenged Taiwan would welcome. In contrast, per-unit cost estimates of the F-35 have been unreliable: While the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin hope to bring down the cost of the various F-35 models to below US$100 million, the final price tag for each unit may very well reach twice that amount. While per-unit estimates vary, the per-hour operating cost of the F-35 can be pegged at nearly US$31,000
per flight hour, and although the total flying hours of the entire fleet is still relatively low, this would not bode well for budget-conscious legislators in Taiwan, who would not be keen to share these numbers with their constituents, especially considering the government’s plans to move forward with another expensive outlay: the ROC hopes to build four submarines of its own by 2025.
“Obstacles do not end with Stockholm’s potential worries about retaliation from Beijing; London has the capability to block the sale due to sensitive UK-made parts.” Considering all the above, it should be stressed that per-unit costs are not a very reliable indicator, as there are multiple variables affecting price. Thus, these figures need to be taken with a grain of salt. Ultimately, it also depends a great deal on whether Taiwan would be able to secure a military contract, or if the sale would go through civilian intermediaries,
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photo: ROC MND Lieutenant Gao Ci-yu recently became the first female pilot to graduate from the ROC Air Force Academy. She may one day be asked to fly the Gripen.
with the latter option making the sale and servicing significantly more expensive. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that overall costs of a Gripen purchase would be much cheaper than the F-35 alternative currently being speculated about.
Arguably, a Gripen sale would not need to be put forward as a competing alternative to an equally hypothetical F-35 sale: Rather, it would be an interim solution that would allow the ROCAF to retire some older combat planes without necessarily replacing their original roles (such as in the case of the Mirage
vious political obstacles on the road should Taiwan’s government proceed with the request. If the United States feels compelled to stall the sale of F-16C/Ds for nearly a decade, allegedly over worries about the Chinese reaction, why should Sweden be any different? One counter-argument is that Sweden’s economic links with China are not particularly strong: In 2012, China constituted just 3 percent of Stockholm’s exports, and 4 percent of imports. The second argument is that the sale of 60 JAS-39E/F would be the most successful foreign sale for the Swedish aerospace company Saab by a long shot. More so considering that the market for jet fighters is shrinking. Russia, France, and the United States are producing
2000, which is a high-altitude fighter; a role for which there is no clear replacement) and ease the burden on the existing fleet. Moreover, Gripens can be easily integrated with existing ROCAF armaments, which would ease the logistical burden associated with acquiring a completely new plane. All things considered, there are of course fairly ob-
fighter jets domestically. India recently concluded a deal for the French-built Rafale. Other potential buyers are off the table due to their involvement in and standing orders for the F-35 program. There is no other offer on the horizon that could potentially be as good as what the Taiwan offer could be. Third, some elements in the United States would be inter-
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ested in making the sale happen, too; the Gripen still has several US-made parts, including the F414G39E engine, and thus certain US defense contractors would still benefit from the deal. That being said, obstacles do not end with Stockholm’s potential worries about retaliation from Beijing; London has the capability to block the sale due to sensitive UK-made parts (especially the scanned-array radar) used in the Gripen. Britain is arguably more economically entangled with China than Sweden is, though not significantly more so; with 3 percent of exports and 8 percent of imports in 2012 (although one could argue that this imbalance would make China be the one to feel the pain, should it move to restrict trade). Moreover, Saab is heavily invested by the influential Wallenberg family, which also owns companies like Ericsson and Electrolux that have strong investment stakes in China. Thus, whereas incentives for the sale are strong, obstacles are formidable, too. As noted above, Taiwan’s disadvantage is that its options are generally limited to US-made platforms in the absence of competing offers. In other words, Taiwan is usually at the wrong end of a monopoly scenario. At the very least, pursuing an acquisition
elsewhere could serve to re-energize the long-stalled F-16C/D deal. If all else fails, there is one more lesson that Taiwan can learn from looking at Sweden: A relatively small non-allied nation determined to defend its territory against a potentially hostile great power with the capability of developing its own high-quality weapon systems (albeit in cooperation with other states, technology-wise) ranging from excellent submarines and offshore defense corvettes to capable jet fighters. There is a sense of acknowledgement among Taiwan’s defense planners that domestically built weapons are increasingly the better choice within a narrow field of options. There is no doubt that it would take a great deal of effort to develop the knowhow and requisite investment in human resources. Cooperation with the United States would be required as well, but that may be less of a problem as selling parts may be less controversial in Washington circles than selling combat-ready platforms. Taiwan is not yet in a situation to become like Sweden in terms of its own defense industry, but it very well may be in 20 years’ time. Long-term investment in developing this capability has to start at some point, and there is no better time than the present. n
photo: mashleymorgan Due to its diplomatic isolation, there are very few countries willing to sell defensive arms to Taiwan. The Swedish Gripen represents a viable possibility.
photo: Dominique Pineiro Militants with the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State have seized a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria and are proving difficult to defeat.
Strategic Vision vol. 3, no. 18 (December, 2014)
Confronting Extremism Examining the extremist threat and the strategies, vulnerabilities of Islamic State Moh’d Ali Khawaldeh
he international strategic environment has seen many intellectual and ideological problems; fascism and communism being two ready examples. Today the world is facing the threat of extremism. The ideology and its adherents exhibit a reliance on violence as they seek to carve out for themselves a territorial homeland—a caliphate—in the heart of the Middle East. The na-
the most appropriate strategies that can be reliably applied to ensure the achievement of these objectives. The origins of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can be traced to the Salafia Jihadia movement, also known as Tawhid Wal Jihad, which was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq in 2004 in the wake of the US invasion of that country. Members swore allegiance to the Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,
tions of the world must together reach for solutions to limit the penetration and expansion of the influence of the radical group the Islamic State by developing
and the group is currently under the leadership of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who disagreed with the leadership of Syria’s al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra,
Brigadier General Moh’d Ali Khawaldeh is an officer in the Jordanian Armed Forces who is currently studying in the International Master’s Program in Strategic Studies at the ROC National Defense University. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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because of its refusal to join the private Islamic State due to its high level of control, executions, and strict application of Sharia law.
Initial gains The Islamic State has achieved victories in its ground war, carving out for itself extensive control over a territory covering areas in Iraq and Syria that is estimated to be as large as the nation of Syria itself. By taking advantage of sectarian differences between the region’s Sunni and Shiite populations, it has strengthened its role, primarily at the expense of the Shiite majority. This schism was not clearly evident during the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. On the other hand, the emergence of Shiite religious cleric and leader Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran serves as a poignant reference to political leaders in both countries. The former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki pursued what could be called vindictive policies re-
garding the Sunni community, contributing greatly to the revival of sectarianism among Iraq’s population and providing advantageous conditions for the growth of the Islamic State. Several other issues have contributed to the emergence and existence of the Islamic State. For one thing, the group provides support to some of the rebel groups that fight against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, members of the Sunni commu-
“The seriousness of the Islamic State is not only limited to the negative impact on both Iraq and Syria, but also to the other countries in the region.” nities in both Syria and Iraq feel frustrated as a result of their countries’ decision to adopt discriminatory policies on issues of religion, deliberately marginalizing the Sunni community that expelled Al-Qaida from Iraq. Much of the Arabic world feels a prevail-
photo: jan Sefti A female Kurdish freedom fighter. The Kurds are among the many groups attacked by the Islamic State as it seeks to establish a modern-day caliphate.
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photo: Matthew Bruch A pair of US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq on the morning of September 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes against IS targets in Syria.
ing sense of frustration from the perceived foreign and this reflects negatively on the general level of intervention in the domestic policies of some Arabic security and stability in the Middle East region in countries. Case in point; after the Arab spring, when particular, and the world in general. members of the Muslim Brotherhood were democratMoreover, the IS can possibly connect and unify exically elected to top leadership tremist groups across different positions in Egypt, including countries of the world, therethe presidency. There has been fore contributing to the chaos a reluctance to take appropriit can create. Moreover, the ate action to deter the Islamic possession of oil fields within State in Iraq and Syria: Syrian IS-influenced and -dominated troops are too preoccupied areas represents a great source with that country’s civil war, of wealth, and thus the ability and the Iraqi army is marked to lure the poor segments of soby a weakness in terms of comciety to join them. bat capabilities. The seriousness of the Islamic Weak points state is not only limited to the photo: Thierry Ehrmann negative impact on both Iraq Although the Islamic State has A portrait depicts Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of IS. and Syria, but also on the other achieved some impressive succountries in the region. This group has the potential cesses up to the present, this does not mean that it has ability to control important maritime choke points no weaknesses. For one thing, it has chosen to open on international trade routes, such as the Suez Canal, several fronts in the battle. So far, IS fighters have al-
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ready attacked the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and factions of the resistance forces arrayed against the Syrian Assad regime, all at the same time. This is a classic case of military overreach, and could lead to the dispersal of its efforts and a loss of focus. This clear strategic error parallels the historic mistake committed by Adolf Hitler during World War II when he launched an invasion of the USSR with Operation Barbarossa, and in Africa at the same time, which put Germany in a two-front war and created the conditions for the ultimate downfall of the Third Reich.
Guerrilla competencies Conducting offensive operations is one of the main weaknesses of forces accustomed to guerrilla war in tactical operations. It is similar to the war conducted by Hezbollah in Syria, in contrast with the results of their defensive operations against Israel in southern Lebanon. The results of IS raids on militarily vulner-
able sites in Kurdish areas and attacks against Iraqi forces demonstrate an inability to confront troops protected by integrated weapons systems. This prac-
“An effort must be made to make people aware of the virulent ideology of the extremist fighters, and to foment an awakening of the local population.” tice may prove to be a major weakness for the Islamic State in the long run. While the strategies employed by the Islamic State, both in terms of warfighting and administration, demonstrate a lack of leadership experience, their tactics—such as the use of innocent civilians as human shields to protect their members from airstrikes—reflect poorly on the Islamic religion, which calls for peaceful coexistence and tolerance among religions. The killing of civilians, the persecution of Christians in Iraq, and the imposi-
photo: Timothy Kingston A soldier from the 8th Iraqi Army Division takes a breather as fellow soldiers conduct a tactical movement exercise in Al-Wahda, Iraq.
Friday, October 31, 2014 Research by Djordje Djukic and Evan Centanni PolGeoNow presents our latest update on territorial control in Iraq, which is still split three ways between the Baghdad government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the Islamic State (ISIS). This14 mapb report is available exclusively for Premium readers. STRATEGIC VISION
competencies from other allied states. In the service of this latter point, Turkey represents an indispensable example, because of the impressive combat capabilities of its ground and air forces, its proximity to the northern border and oil fields occupied by the Islamic State, and because Turkish forces are able to mount attacks on IS sites inside Iraq during the day and return to their bases at night, thus providing them with protection against IS counter-attacks. Attacks must be carried out along several fronts in order to dilute the defensive efforts of IS forces in any one area. Map by Evan Centanni, starting from blank map by NordNordWest. License: CC BY-SA At the same time, an effort tion in IS-held territory of an absolutist interpretamust be made to make people aware of the virulent Copyright ©tion 2014ofPolitical Geography Now (www.polgeonow.com) Islamic law, threatening those who do not ideology of the extremist fighters, and to awaken the adopt their dogmatic ideology, are examples of how local population—a strategy which has been used the Islamic State is the very antithesis of the notions previously in Iraq against Al-Qaeda and achieved of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence, and stains the reputation of the religion shared by mil“There is no doubt that in the fight lions of Muslims. against global terrorism, the parThe question thus remains; exactly how can the ticipation of all the countries in eradication of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq the world—including those in East be achieved? The basic qualities of the strategy seAsia—is crucial.” lected to eliminate the Islamic state are characterized by comprehensive, accurate, and disciplined planning and implementation containing the following elements: the mobilization of all regional and international efforts to prioritize global interests, the individual interests of the beneficiaries under the current situation in the foreseeable future, and to integrate all relevant capabilities and
positive results. For it to be successful, however, the regimes in both Iraq and Syria have to preserve justice and equality among all strata of society, in order to redress the grievances of the Sunni community who are largely excluded from a political and social system geared mainly to benefit the Shiite community. This will aid in the cutting off of all forms of
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support available to the Islamic state, including the imposition of sanctions on countries that continue to deal with them.
How does this struggle half a world away affect the nations of the Pacific and Southeast Asian region?
international maritime trading ports like the Suez Canal, through which much of the Asia-Pacific region receives its supply of energy in the form of oil shipments. Therefore, there is no doubt that in the fight against global terrorism, the participation of all the countries in the world—including those in East Asia—is crucial. According to the analysis and arguments presented
These countries are characterized by regional and global importance at both the economic and security levels. Because of the obvious impact of terrorism not being linked to a specific area, without a negative impact in other corners of the globe, terrorism is able to spread by extremists located anywhere in the world. Indeed, some of these extreme actors are presently operating in the countries of East Asia and the Pacific, and they can be encouraged and absorbed by the Islamic State. As a result, it poses a direct threat to the security and stability of these countries. The IS threat is multifaceted; it will also have an impact on the global economy via control of the various
herein, the prognosis for the continued growth of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is not good: they do not possess the elements of a full state in terms of limited available expertise and successes achieved. Moreover, the Islamic State has not established a formidable force: to date, they have prevailed against an incompetent Iraqi army, Kurdish forces that do not possess sufficient capacity, and a Syrian army that is busy fighting its own civil war. Nevertheless, this self-described IS caliphate will become a reality, and a new era, if the international community does not take decisive action to plan and implement appropriate measures to deter such terrorism and extremism. n
photo: IS Raqqa Media Center A fighter of the Islamic State group waves their flag from inside a captured government fighter jet following the battle for the Tabqa air base in Raqqa, Syria.
Strategic Vision vol. 3, no. 18 (December, 2014)
Making the military a desirable career option key to army professionalization Li-Chung Yuan
fter Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency of the Republic of China (ROC) in 2008, to fulfill a campaign promise, he ordered that the suspension of conscription would become government policy, and the Ministry of National Defense (MND) immediately embarked upon implementation of an All-Volunteer Force (AVF). A four-phase implementation plan starting from 2008 was designed, the rationale being to increase, year by year, the percentage of volunteer soldiers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and officers, with the end result being an end to the draft by the close of 2014.
According to the government’s calculations, the policy is expected to create a force that is capable of responding to an armed invasion while also being equipped to handle humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) operations. Moreover, the AVF would solve Taiwan’s problem of having an insufficient supply of able-bodied men due to low birth rates and an aging population. President Ma’s idea was to enhance the quality of the armed forces, perform homeland defense, and develop an effective deterrence capability through utilization of fewer personnel and resources. Nevertheless, since the policy was implemented,
photo: ROC MND Snipers in the ROC military pose for a photograph with their weapons. Selling the armed forces as a career to young recruits is proving to be a tough job.
Dr. Li-Chung Yuan is an assistant professor of the Graduate Institute of Strategic Studies at ROC National Defense University. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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photo: ROC MND In the past, the ROC military has had difficulty reaching out to communities in Taiwan, and will need to hone this skill once the AVF transition is complete.
the MND has been struggling to recruit sufficient numbers of volunteer soldiers. While demand for volunteers is high, supply has failed to materialize. There are a number of factors affecting this that will have an impact on the ultimate success of the AVF transition in Taiwan. Although the number of serving personnel was dramatically reduced after two major downsizings, in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, military manpower was still dependent on a mixed system comprising a majority of conscripts with an increasing number of professional servicemen. The draft—referred to locally as “compulsory service”—was maintained, and the military’s manpower needs were generally met. Compared to the aforementioned force-reduction programs, ending conscription is a far more daunting task. Most measures conceived by the MND (including an auxiliary military downsizing and restructuring project, legislation of new military service laws, adjustments in strategy and missions, and the creation of incentives) are all ultimately aimed at building a professional military. At the political level, the government has expressed a firm commitment to push
on with this reform, and President Ma has stressed this issue on various occasions. Despite the government pushing so hard to implement a volunteer force, it seems that Taiwanese people are not interested in signing up to serve. This has many policymakers asking why.
Seeking adventure In most developed countries, a common attractor to the armed forces, especially for young people, is the search for adventure. Taking part in overseas operations, however, (a major selling-point in Western militaries) is almost entirely absent in Taiwan: The ROC military has not engaged in combat operations for more than half a century. In the absence of such operations, and with the prospects of war being low, people have started to re-evaluate the value of the armed forces. Underlying these cultural and essentially political questions, there is the day-to-day matter of pay and benefits. In Taiwan, as in many other developed nations, youth unemployment is relatively high. However, the market for skilled and intelligent re-
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photo: ROC MND ROC military recruiters speak to civilians while manning a recruitment booth. Recruitment targets have not been met, forcing the AVF deadline to be delayed.
cruits is strong, and in financial terms the armed services do not compete well. Finally, an element which was almost entirely ignored when policymakers began planning the AVF transition is the old-style military culture and methods of commanding troops. This is likely to become a far more important factor as AVF implementation moves forward. All these matters lead to the question of whether the decision to introduce an AVF in Taiwan was wellconsidered, and whether the necessary resources and funds have been made available for its implementation, even if that implementation has been delayed. There is clearly an argument to be made that Taipei has acted too rashly, or at the very least with too little research and unrealistic expectations.
Unforeseen elements In Taiwan, there have been unforeseen elements that may have made the AVF transition even more difficult than anticipated. Recruitment is likely to prove a major problem, far more so than in other countries. In the past five years, the ROC armed forces have faced difficulties in meeting annual recruiting
targets. For one thing, military service has a generally lower level of respect in Taiwanese culture than it does in many other cultures. Service as a soldier is traditionally regarded as being on the lower end of the social scale because it is widely believed that those who serve in the military are only there because they have performed poorly in school. It is clear that the results of recruiting youth cohorts from society and schools were less than satisfactory, with exceptions in 2008 and 2009 due to the high unemployment rate caused by the global economic downturn. In 2010, only 64.5 percent of the recruiting target was reached; while in 2011 and 2012, recruitment rates dropped further, to around 50 percent of target. In 2013, the MND only managed to recruit 8,600 volunteer soldiersâ€”less than one third of the target it set for the year. Many people began to suspect that the deadline of 2014 for full AVF transition would not be achieved, and in September 2013, the MND was forced to postpone its target date by two years, to the end of 2016. Moreover, the recruitment problem was seriously exacerbated by a downturn in public perception of the ROC military stemming from an incident involv-
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ing the fatal abuse of Hung Chung-chiu, an army conscript who died in July 2013 after being subjected to inappropriate treatment during training. The media in Taiwan tends to be harsh in its coverage of the armed forces, and often (if not always) reports on the negative aspects of the military such as notorious incidents and discipline issues. As such, news of Corporal Hung’s death dominated headlines for an entire month, which undoubtedly severely ruined the military’s public image. In addition, Taiwanese society has a stereotyped impression of the military, believing it to be authoritarian, dogmatic, and unproductive, and these views have discouraged most young people from joining the military voluntarily. The consequence of the Army scandal was apparent and immediately took a toll on the recruitment of volunteers. With the impending introduction of a volunteer force, the incident could hardly have come at a worse time. Not only did the narrative of abuse highlighted by this incident contribute to the overall negative public perception of military service in Taiwanese society, it also contributed to the view that
military service entails unpleasantness and restrictions upon personal freedoms. Retention is obviously another headache for Taiwan’s volunteer force transition, as the armed forces have been losing half of their mature and trained soldiers every year, and it is increasingly difficult to keep them longer. Retention rates have rarely reached 50 percent
“The MND’s original plan was to raise the basic salary of a recruit to twice the legal minimum wage set by the government.” since the AVF transition started—from 44 percent in 2010 to 33.5 percent in 2011. Many issues contribute to the low retention rate, but soldiers’ dissatisfaction with military service, the poor work environment, and problems with leadership and management styles are among the top ones. The only way to overcome recruitment and retention difficulties and to recruit a sufficient number of quality applicants is to make it more attractive for
photo: ROC MND Servicemen perform precision drill at Tsoying Naval Base on a day the base is open to the public. Such public outreach activities can aid in recruitment.
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young people to join the military than alternative employers. Offering a desirable work environment with attractive incentives is central to recruiting personnel. Dictated by the MND, various incentives including both monetary and in-kind schemes have thus been designed and implemented across four implementation phases. The MND has identified four conditions that could help attract young people: 1) pay that is better than what is offered in the private sector; 2) providing a sound welfare and family-care system; 3) a comprehensive retirement plan and veteran-care system; and 4) taking a soldier’s career and family into consideration in service regulations. These conditions would play a key role in enhancing the attractiveness of the military as a viable career option. In practice, the MND’s original plan was to raise the basic salary of a recruit to twice the legal minimum wage set by the government. Other options included offering service bonuses, streamlining career paths, increasing educational opportunities, improving working and living conditions, revising the retirement scheme and veterans’ welfare, and enhancing
family care. Similar measures and schemes were also adopted to retain existing soldiers, with retention bonuses being a major one. After suffering a disastrous recruitment setback in 2013, the Executive Yuan initiated a series of concrete measures to boost the recruitment of volunteers. Starting in 2014, all volunteer soldiers will be entitled to a monthly pay raise of US$128. Furthermore, in July, the MND requested that the Legislature authorize a combat and hardship bonus, as well as a retention bonus, for volunteer soldiers. In November, the Executive Yuan passed a draft law for implementation of the AVF transformation that focuses on three categories: 1) salaries and benefits; 2) dignity; and 3) post-military career. Beginning in 2015, military personnel will be eligible for retirement benefits after serving just four years, rather than the previous 10. After four years of service, retired soldiers will have access to services such as veteran’s hospitals and training for job seekers. The MND has implemented various measures including rationalization of service environment and improvements in the area of human rights. It has also
photo: ROC MND Rather than maintaining a large standing army of conscripted soldiers, ROC military planners are eying a leaner force of professional operators.
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photo: ROC MND Approximately one-sixth of the volunteers recruited so far in 2014 are women, suggesting that a successful professional military is gender-blind.
begun promoting outreach efforts, such as opening up military bases to the public and setting up recruitment booths on college campuses. One of the most important non-monetary measures in attracting new recruits is to allow them to leave base when off-duty—a recent change that was enthusiastically welcomed by most volunteer soldiers who no longer need to stay in barracks 24/7. Moreover, the defense ministry has tried to improve its public image by opening a channel of dialogue with the public on issues such as the concept of total defense, strengthening civil-military relations, increasing disaster relief efforts, and even supporting the production of a television drama about life in boot camp.
Moving the goalposts By November, the modified 2014 target of 10,557 volunteers (the original 2014 target was 39,000 volunteers) had already been achieved with the successful recruitment of 11,970 volunteer soldiers out of 28,502 applicants. The retention rate has also seen a significant uptick; compared to the average retention rate of 46 percent in the previous two years, the
2014 retention rate has so far increased to 57.7 percent. These two important figures suggest that the aforementioned measures have started to bear fruit. After a shaky start to the AVF transformation, the MND has learned a lesson and for the first time is seeing promising signs. This cannot be attributed to the MND’s efforts alone; intergovernmental collaboration also played a key role. Most importantly, the MND must realize that, in order to earn respect from society, simply raising soldiers’ pay will not work. An overhaul of current military culture by fundamentally eradicating the culture of bureaucratism, unproductiveness, excessive red tape, fawning, cheating, and faking is essential. Efficient and effective command and management of manpower is equally important, and thus the old style of manpower utilization must be abandoned. Only when soldiers do not feel that they are wasting their time during their national service can they win public support for the armed forces, and therefore choose to stay longer in the military. The numbers seen in 2014 may be a good omen, and by following the right track, the ROC Armed Forces may be able to achieve its goal of becoming an allvolunteer force by the January 1, 2017, deadline. n
Strategic Vision vol. 3, no. 18 (December, 2014)
No Pain, No Gain
Successful AVF transition requires greater commitment from government Michal Thim
photo: ROC MND Members of the elite Frogmen unit of special operations soldiers endure rigorous training. The ROC seeks to transform its military into a professional army.
lans are underway to transform Taiwanâ€™s military from a force relying on a regular intake of conscripts aged 18-35 and serving 1112 months, into a fully professional, all-volunteer force (AVF). Thus far, the road has been rocky, to say the least. One aspect of the reform is to downsize the cur-
nomenon; it has been an ongoing process since the 1990s. Taiwanâ€™s military operated with personnel of 385,000 in 2004, and that number represented a force downsized from a strength of 450,000 in the 1990s. Most of the personnel cuts have affected the army more than any of the other main service branches. Reading these figures, it needs to be considered that
rent force in 2015 from 275,000 to 215,000 (of which 176,000 are to be volunteers), and perhaps further to 190,000 by 2019. Downsizing is not a new phe-
they are nominal requirements and, more often than not, many positions go unfilled, thus the real strength can be considered even lower. Part of the reduction is
Michal Thim is a doctoral candidate in the Taiwan Studies Program at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, a contributing analyst for Wikistrat, and a research fellow at the Prague-based think-tank Association for International Affairs. Michal tweets @michalthimnet.
AVF Transition b 23
simply empty positions being cut. Another aspect is the gradual phasing out of conscripts and replacing them with volunteers. Full transition to an AVF has been part of the national defence program dubbed “Hard ROC,” first floated by then presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou, whose ideas were inserted into the first Quadrennial Defense Review upon his election as Republic of China (ROC) president in 2008. The transition to an AVF is, in part, a response to Taiwan’s demographic predicament: the island is beset by a declining birth rate; one that is already below the level needed to sustain the current numbers of men and women in the 18-35 age group. The other rationale behind the AVF transition stems from levels of operational requirements. As joint cooperation between military branches becomes a necessity of modern warfare, a smaller AVF force is better-suited to conducting complex tri-service (army, air force, navy) operations than a conscription-based force. This is generally due to better training in terms of quality and quantity. Considering that Taiwan’s armed forces face a formidable opponent in the People’s Liberation
Army (PLA), Taiwan’s defence needs cannot be based on a quantitative basis—matching the enemy manfor-man, plane-for-plane, tank-for-tank—but rather must be addressed asymmetrically. Transition to all-volunteer force in a broader sense did not start in 2008: By then, already 60 percent of manpower was made up of non-conscripts. Moreover, the branch that traditionally relies heavily on con-
“In the event of a general mobilization, reservists would primarily support army units deployed to repel an invasion and serve as back-up units.” scripted civilians joining the force for a limited period of time is the army. Due to training and combatreadiness requirements (among other factors) the navy and air force are branches with a higher ratio of volunteers to professional servicemen. Current plans for the AVF transition still call for every able-bodied Taiwanese male of conscription age to undergo a four-month long basic training,
photo: ROC MND Officers and men of the 737 ground support wing conduct circuit testing as part of a security check of munitions during a training exercise.
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with short-term exercises every two years for selected reservists. Critics of the program have characterized this level of preparation as inadequate, and potentially contributing to a decline in combat readiness. At least on a basic level, however, there is hardly a better way to keep reservists combat-ready. Furthermore, in the event of a general mobilization, reservists would primarily support army units deployed to repel an invasion and serve as backup units. This does not necessarily require constant training. As experience from ongoing conflicts elsewhere show us, even a purely civilian population can be turned into a reasonably effective combat force in a relatively short time. A case in point is the civil war in Syria. Moreover, reservists in Taiwan would be put under the command of skilled officers whose primary responsibility would be combat readiness in order to conduct joint operations effectively. In general terms, the AVF transition should allow for a better leadership corps, particularly at the non-commissioned officer (NCO) level, which in turn would mitigate the impact of having a large portion of reservists with only a minimum level of basic training. To apply this
general assumption to Taiwan’s case, this particular need has to be addressed in budgetary terms and consideration of the overall force structure. To wit, an all-volunteer force in Taiwan would need more NCOs and fewer generals.
“Failure to attract sufficient recruits prompted the Ministry of National Defense to postpone the date of full transition to early 2017.” Thus, the AVF transition appears to be a sensible course of action, and in many ways a necessary response to Taiwan’s particular defence needs and its demographic potential. Yet this reasonable policy faces considerable implementation issues that had better be addressed before hastily transitioning to an AVF. The first issue is the number of incoming volunteers that, during the initial years of recruitment, were significantly below annual targets. The ROC military attracted roughly 6,500 volunteers in 2011 when it was aiming for nearly 12,000; and only about
photo: ROC MND A Navy recruiter speaks to potential recruits. With the transition to an all-volunteer force, the ROC military will have to upgrade its recruitment abilities.
AVF Transition b 25
photo: ROC MND In the modern ROC military, counsellors are made available to help conscripts deal with the often difficult transition from civilian to army life.
11,000 in 2012, missing its target by 4,000 recruits. The figures for 2013 were even more dismal, with the figure of 8,600 well below the annual target of 28,500 volunteers.
Reaching targets This failure to attract sufficient recruits prompted the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to postpone the date of full transition to early 2017, revising the original 2014 target to 10,000 recruits, as well as implementing a pay raise and a revision of the requirements for admission. As of November 2014, nearly 12,000 volunteers have been accepted, reaching the annual target for the first time. On paper this looks good, except that it is the result of a downward revision of the annual benchmark to an easily achievable number, rather than a case of recruiting efforts meeting staffing needs in terms of quantity and quality. The second issue, very much related, is inadequate funding. More often than not, Taiwan is the subject of critique, often in connection with arm sales, implying an inability to procure modern weapons systems.
While such criticisms are not misplaced, the main problem is not a procurement issue. The ROC government has, on a few occasions, dealt with a pending arms sale by adopting a special budget outside of regular defence spending. In other words, if an offer is made (i.e. Taiwan’s request for an arms purchase is granted), financing that particular case is less a problem of low defence spending than it may seem. The real problem is with the structure of spending. In 2008, President Ma pledged a ratio of 4:3:3 for personnel, operation and maintenance, and defence investments costs. The reality in 2013 was a ratio of 4.75:2.32:2.77. With a full transition to AVF, personnel costs will only rise further, and the operation and maintenance part of the budget will suffer together with defence investment, including research and development. Part of the problem related to procurement is that, as current equipment gets older, maintenance costs increase. Prior to 2008, the Kuomintang (KMT) pledged to raise the defense budget from around 2 percent of GDP to 3 percent. This never happened. A similar vow is currently being made in the run-up to the presidential elections in 2016, this
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photo: ROC MND Units such as the Air Force radar squadron require specialized technical skills better suited to a professional military rather than a conscript force.
time by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Ultimately, Taiwan’s politicians will have to come to terms with the fact that defense is a bipartisan issue, and it will take a cooperative effort on the part of all parties in Taiwan to make an AVF force financially sustainable. One thing is clear, however: If spending remains at current levels, the country’s defence posture is heading toward disaster.
Public perception The third issue, and an equally urgent one, is building a better image of the military among the general public. One disadvantage of the AVF concept is that it takes military service away from “the people.” Ironically, the AVF also addresses a rather low level of respect for the ROC armed forces in the public eye. However, it ultimately approaches the problem from the wrong end. Low morale among the public is as serious as low morale among the troops: an AVF would remove the “conscript problem,” but it does not address the military’s poor public perception.
The people of Taiwan will be more sympathetic to an increases in defence spending if they have a better sense of what the mission of the armed forces is: what are the threats facing Taiwan, and how does the government plan to respond to them? In other words, there needs to be a public discussion about ends, ways, and means—one in which the people of Taiwan have input. In other parts of the world—Europe in particular— transitions to professional militaries were partially in
“The revision of annual targets has been a necessary reaction to low recruitment rates.” response to decreased tensions following the end of the Cold War, and the subsequent (albeit misguided) perception that in the post-911 world, conventional war between states is no longer a primary concern. The latter belief led smaller states to scale down their armed forces, with some maintaining a particular specialisation that could be integrated with allied
AVF Transition b 27
forces for missions abroad and disaster-relief operations at home. However, following the breakout of the crisis in Ukraine, states have begun rethinking the utility of the AVF system. The Czech Republic in particular has begun a process of partial reintroduction of basic training, similar to the four-month provision in Taiwan. This, of course, is not exactly a case that parallels that of Taiwan, which maintains an all-purpose territorial defence-oriented armed forces. But it is a cautionary tale regarding the AVF transition, wherein policymakers were caught not having taken into consideration the potential for dramatic changes in the national security environment, and having rushed headlong into a situation wherein the military is disconnected from the public consciousness (for the convenience of the latter), which as a consequence begins to question whether defence spending is even justified. The revision of annual targets has been a necessary reaction to low recruitment rates. Raising servicemen’s pay is another practical solution in the right
direction, but more needs to be done. The ROC military cannot expect to attract skilled soldiers if the pay is not competitive with what can be earned in the civilian sector. This refers not just to IT experts and doctors, but to mechanics as well. To date, the military could utilize these skills on a low-cost basis that will end with full transition to an AVF. Ultimately, reaching admission targets is only one of a host of problems facing a successful AVF transition. The three problems outlined above—admission targets, money, and public support—are very closely connected and need to be addressed as whole. The key to peace in the Taiwan Strait is not found on the Taiwan side, and it does not stem from changes in the domestic political environment. The key lies in Beijing, and the willingness of the Chinese leadership to tolerate the status quo, and to tolerate opposition among Taiwan’s populace to any kind of unification scenario. The armed forces must be ready to respond to changes in Beijing’s behaviour, but to do so they will need the public’s support. n
photo: ROC MND Issues such as troop morale and esprit de corps are essential components of a properly functioning fighting force, and will be required of an AVF in Taiwan.
Strategic Vision vol. 3, no. 18 (December, 2014)
Changing balance in South China Sea forcing rethink of regional security Edward Hsieh
photo: Richard Doolin The mine counter-measures ship USS Patriot (MCM 7) encounters six- to seven-foot swells in the South China Sea on the way to Okinawa.
he South China Sea (SCS) is a lifeline; the site of major international air and maritime routes through which vessels, reliant on freedom of navigation, ply incessantly to deliver people, goods, and raw materials to feed the economies of the region, and of the world. Lying below the surface are vast mineral wealth and fishing resources, which add
calated in intensity recently, pitting these countries against each other at first in the field of diplomatic affairs, and increasingly in terms of direct action, as claimants attempt to expand the scope of their actual control. The situation has reached a point where the potential influence of military strategy is taking on a greater importance in dealings over the reefs, islets
to the high value of the SCS to the countries that share the sea and the often tiny land formations therein. The prosecution of sovereignty claims by countries such as China, the Philippines, and Vietnam have es-
and islands of the SCS. This situation, marked by increasing tension, has resulted in a lack of diplomatic balance, and has raised concerns in the Republic of China (ROC) on
Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hsieh is an instructor at the ROC National Defense University currently conducting research at RUSI, a British think tank. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
South China Sea b 29
Taiwan as to whether or not the archival evidence upon which its own claims of littoral sovereignty are based, particularly over the ROC-occupied Taiping Island and the ROC-controlled Dongsha (Pratas) Islands, is strong enough to ensure continued sovereignty and protect them from invasion.
Sansha City On July 24, 2012, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) promulgated the establishment of Sansha as a prefecture of Hainan province. The move was intended as a means of upgrading of the administrative status of the SCS island groups, both those claimed and those actually administered by China, from county-level to prefecture-level. While there is no actual, physical Sansha City, nor is construction on one yet underway, this seat of government is ostensibly located on the PRCoccupied Woody Island in the Paracels. The move by Beijing was intended as a message to other claimant nations bordering the SCS not to interfere with Chinese claims over the land formations ostensibly administered by Sansha—including the Spratly (called Nansha by the Chinese) Islands, the Paracel (Xisha) Islands, and Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands). After creating the administrative entity of Sansha, Chinese fishery management vessels stepped up their operations to molest fishing and supply vessels from Vietnam and the Philippines. Moreover, in May 2014, the PRC started to expand construction on the infrastructure on Johnson South Reef (Chigua Jiao), including an airstrip and dock facilities, likely for use as a strategic base for People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) assets in the Spratly Islands. It was reported by Jane’s Defense Weekly that, since September 2013, China has been expanding infrastructure on its islands and reefs in the vicinity
of Johnson South Reef, including Cuarteron Reef (Huayang Jiao) on the Spratlys’ southwest side. Cranes, drills, and desalination plants are visible in surveillance photos, with tracking data from Jane’s reportedly showing that the Chinese dredging ship Ting Jing Hao stopped in at Cuateron Reef three times between September 2013 and May 2014. Once construction is completed, it is expected that the finished structures will rival Woody (Yongxing) Island, the largest in the Paracel chain, and serve as a multifunctional base more akin to a small city. It would be a second stronghold suitable not only for placing a residential population but for boosting China’s claim of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. From a military perspective, the structure would allow PLAN and PLAAF forces a much greater area of operation in the SCS, reducing the pressure on Woody Island to provide supply and support op-
“Taipei would do well to closely monitor China’s actions against Vietnam and the Philippines over conflicting littoral claims, for PLA military preparations and operations against them would surely be applicable to a Chinese push to take Taiping.” erations to military assets in the region, and greatly increasing the operational radius of fighter jets and other aircraft as they conduct combat support and other military operations in the area of the Spratlys. According to media reports, there are three factors behind the PRC’s choice for its second major base in the SCS. For one thing, of the seven Spratly land formations occupied by China, only Chigua, which it won from Vietnam in the Johnson South Reef Skirmish of 1988, is suitable for large-scale reclamation. Second, the location is near a main water channel. Third, it is an ideal location from which to press
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China’s claims, and monitor rival countries’ activity, on other reefs. These include Namyit Island, occupied by Vietnam and claimed by China and the ROC; the Philippine islands of Pag-asa, Lawak, and Parola, claimed by China and the ROC; and Swallow Reef, administered by Malaysia and claimed by Vietnam, China, and the ROC. Some analysts have predicted that once the reclamation is complete, the PLA will set up a variety of monitoring equipment for surveillance and reconnaissance, with others foreseeing a PLA attempt to retake Pag-asa (Zhongye) Island. Writing in Qianzhan, an unnamed Chinese writer argued that the PLA would occupy Pag-asa Island by the end of 2014, as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) stated aim of recovering all of its “illegally occupied” territory, islands, and reefs. Taipei would do well to closely monitor China’s actions against Vietnam and the Philippines over conflicting littoral claims, for PLA military preparations and operations against them would surely be applicable to a Chinese push to take Taiping (Itu Aba), currently occupied by the ROC. Despite the much-heralded stability that currently characterizes the state of cross-strait relations, the two sides continue to compete in terms of military capability and international diplomatic space, with the stakes of that competition being existential in nature for Taiwan: the CCP has vowed to annex the island nation, and has refused to renounce the use of force to accomplish that goal.
Difficult to defend The great distance separating Taiwan from Taiping makes defense of the remote island a difficult prospect. Even Vietnam could be tempted to seize the island, with all sides building up their armed forces and procuring advanced weaponry from allies such as the United States and Russia, thereby leading to the
increased militarization of the SCS. Evidence of this heightened state of militarization includes China’s decision last year to hold drills in the SCS by its aircraft carrier the Liaoning, escorted by the guided missile destroyers Shenyang and Shijiazhuang and the missile frigates Yantai and Weifang, as well as Vietnam’s
“The government is spending approximately US$110 million on improving the facilities on Taiping Island, including a new dock that can accommodate 3,000ton missile frigates and destroyers.” purchase of two kilo-class submarines from Russia, with orders for four more. The Philippines has already acquired two refurbished American frigates and has begun to patrol its littoral holdings. This trend could evolve into an arms race and risk confrontation in the South China Sea. With uncertainties in the South China Sea increasing, the likelihood of conflict is also rising. To ease tensions in the area, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged governments to adopt a voluntary freeze on provocative actions that might aggravate SCS territorial disputes. Reports indicate that Beijing has rejected the notion of such a freeze. In 2000, Taipei decided to station Coast Guard personnel on Taiping Island, recalling the ROC Marines garrisoned there previously, as a demonstration of goodwill. While this may not have been the best strategy from a military standpoint, at the time it was a good chance for Taipei to show its peaceful intent to Beijing. Given that the circumstances in the SCS have changed over the past 15 years, however, the options available to the ROC government have become somewhat limited. It is important that Taipei maintain a strong defensive capability over Taiping Island, as one essential component of national security—while also responding immediately and appropriately to any threaten-
South China Sea b 31
would simulate threats in the East and South China seas. Even ROC President Ma Yingjeou took part in a computer-simulation tabletop portion of the exercise, held at the National Political Military Command Center in Taipei’s Dazhi district on May 28, 2013. The exercise is part of a general increase in readiness over the ROC holdings in the South China Sea, the purpose of which is twofold: on a tactical level, to heighten amphibious capabilities should Taiping Island or Dongsha Island be occupied by the enemy and have to be retaken; and on a strategic level, as a demonstration of the ROC’s determination to defend its interests, thus serving as a deterrent to any military adventurism on the part of China. To support this effort, the government is spending approximately US$110 million on improving the facilities on Taiping Island, including a new dock that can accommodate 3,000-ton missile frigates and destroyers, and an extension of the airport runway from 1,150 to 1,500 meters, the better to accommodate the transportation of supplies and personnel. Many of the SCS claims are based on historical evidence, such as this 1774 map of the Philippine Islands depicting Scarborough Shoal as Panacot Shoal. Both items are expected to be completed by the end of 2015. ing situation—is to demonstrate ROC sovereignty These actions on the part of Taipei are not designed in the region. to alter the status quo in the South China Sea, but to Since 2012, Taipei has come to the realization that try to restore balance by increasing the ROC milithe Coast Guard assets, with only a few light weaptary posture commensurate with other powers in the ons, cannot effectively ensure Taiping Island security area. The critical message here is that the ROC seeks and that of its surrounding waters. The outpost has to defend its sovereignty, established over decades in since been equipped with more personnel, 40mm two key positions, in a time of diplomatic and miligrenade launchers to defend against low-flying airtary uncertainty in the region. craft, and 120mm mortars that have doubled the deIn the short term, it would seem likely that the situfensive range to six kilometers—far enough to drive ation in the South China Sea will remain turbulent, away intruding vessels. not only directly affecting ROC interests, but also In 2013, the ROC National Security Council auaffecting the overall strategic pattern and stability in thorized military exercises to be conducted that the Asia-Pacific region. n
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Published on Dec 15, 2014
Strategic Vision is a journal published by NCCU's Center for Security Studies and the ROC National Defense University that provides analysis...