Taiwan, like many other nations during the last two decades, is finding that moving from conscription to an all-volunteer military is not easy. Because of recruiting problems Taiwan is again cutting the number of military personnel it has on active duty. Now it will reduce its military personnel from 215,000 to 170,000 over the next five years. The official reason is better relations with China makes reductions possible, but another reason is the inability to attract sufficient volunteers. This is not a new problem and the government has been trying to deal with it for over a decade. Until recently the solution was to reduce armed forces strength from 350,000 in 2003 to 215,000 by 2014. At that point the military was supposed to be all volunteer. But the plan has not worked because the military has not been able to attract enough volunteers. Solving that will cost more money and a change in attitude within the military.
Conscription has long been unpopular to most Taiwanese in large part because of the culture of brutality towards new recruits. If that could be eliminated a smaller force of willing troops could be recruited and be much more effective. Fewer troops was supposed to mean more money for new equipment. But even that is in danger because public sentiment has become very anti-military because of the continued brutality towards recruits. But now the military is just trying to achieve a strength it can maintain with volunteers.
In 2012 and 2013 the military was only able to recruit 30 percent of the soldiers it needed to be all-volunteer by 2014. The Taiwanese military was forced to switch to an all-volunteer forces because of the growing unpopularity of conscription. That’s because until the 1990s the military was ethnic Chinese officers and NCOs commanding a largely ethnic Taiwanese conscript force. But the domination of the government and military by the ethnic Chinese minority has sharply declined in the last decade and calls to end conscription have gotten louder and more insistent.
The leadership of the Taiwanese military trace their origins back to the remnants of the defeated Nationalist forces that fled to Taiwan in 1949. This brought two million Nationalist soldiers and supporters to an island already occupied by six million Taiwanese who had been there for centuries and developed a unique culture. The Nationalist military used force when necessary to get cooperation from the Taiwanese majority and there remains an “above the law” attitude among the army leadership because of the attitude that the military is all that is keeping the communist barbarians from taking over Taiwan. Although many of the senior officers are now ethnic Taiwanese, these attitudes persist in the military and are resented by the majority of Taiwanese. Unless there is some serious attitude adjustment about the military in Taiwan the armed forces are going to shrink and lose a lot of their combat capabilities because of a shortage of volunteers.