Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Prioritizing The Military

J.Michael Cole's defense editorial in the Taipei Times today highlights the culpability of the KMT and of President Ma Ying Jeou for the increasingly outmoded condition of military assets, as revealed in the recent exercises in Pingtung County:
"Ma, who attended the exercise, said after its conclusion that he was not satisfied with the outcome and called on the armed services to determine what went wrong and redouble their efforts. While there is little to disagree with in Ma’s remarks, there is no small irony in the fact that his discontent targeted an exercise that fielded equipment that belongs in a museum rather than in the field facing a military giant."
Cole, rightly, also blames the KMT for the current low morale among the rank and file members of the military (I find it unimaginable that low morale isn't also prevalent among many of the officers, though they are in a position of having to set a constant example of imperious discipline):
"Aside from the material deficiencies resulting from decisions made by the KMT, which when Chen was in office put its political interests ahead of those of the nation, morale in the ranks suffered as men and women, who every day put their lives on the line defending the nation, saw that their political masters were incapable of providing them with the tools they needed to do their job properly."
Not only that, but because public support for the military - both moral and financial - is mediated through the political calculations of whichever party is governing up in Taipei, their morale is bound to be low. This is not a point to be dismissed lightly: funding for the military should be made increasingly voluntary so that it is something the public can choose to participate in and be proud of; rather than have the State simply collect taxes and allow the governing party to decide spending priorities, the choice of how at least some of this extorted cash ought to be spent could be turned over to the public so that they can choose to "donate" their income tax to the military, for example, or to a specific branch of the military such as the Navy.

Cole goes on to list this government's other withering mistakes in respect of its' irresponsible defense policy:
"...the Ma administration has cut the military budget, de-prioritized live-fire exercises and made natural catastrophes, rather than the People’s Liberation Army, the main enemy."
I have written previously on this deplorable misuse of the military for handling the fallout of natural disasters, and one of the points raised in that letter deserves mention in this context: the efforts people may make to save others from natural disasters should never be politicized; and the use of the military for such rescue and recovery operations can only lead to precisely such politicization and blame-gaming. Rescue and recovery operations demand the utmost in communications, logistical and operational efficiency - they must not, therefore, be left to the uncertainty of government with its crippling political biases and tragic, stupid, time-wasting, regulation-encrusted bureaucracies.

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