atans1

NS: Taiwan’s way

In Political governance on 07/04/2014 at 4:45 am

Netizens have recently (again) been voicing their opinions on NS and on the amount S’pore spends on the military. Most views are against the status quo. Sadly, a lot of comments are juz noise, if not rubbish: of the “PAP is always wrong” variety. The PAP may often be wrong, it isn’t always wrong.

Hopefully, an extract from the transcript of an interview that the Economist did with the president of Taiwan will help inform the debate on NS and S’pore’s military spending. Some comparisons are in the Appendix but before cyberwarriors  mindlessly attack the PAP because Taiwan spends less than ours in $ value, and as %age of budget and GDP, they should note that the US has voiced its concern that Taiwan is freeloading on the US, spending too little on its own defense despite Taiwan facing (unlike S’pore) an existentialist threat (China reserves the right to invade Taiwan if it seeks independence),

Taiwan has cut NS down to four mouths. Not all males of enlistment age will now be required to serve, but rather only a small proportion. Others will be able to follow their own career interests … a more reasonable use of human capital.

It realises that NS  is a cost to society, and wants to reduce this cost. When all the males of a certain age are serving in the military, this naturally places a cost on society. Many businesses will lack the manpower they need, which will limit our overall development. There is, therefore, a great social cost.

Does the govt here realise that having cheap labour for public event (any idea in F1, a commercial enterprises, has access to NS men as cheap labour?), and security involves a social cost?

The extract

In the context of the third line of defence, how problematic is the shift to an all-volunteer army proving? I understand that there are some problems with recruitment.

President Ma: Let me first clarify that we are not moving to an all-volunteer system. Ours will be largely a voluntary force, but not an all-volunteer force. We still have conscription. All males of enlistment age are obliged to spend four months in military training, following which they become part of the reserve. During wartime, they can also be called up to active service.

The Constitution states that the people have the duty to perform military service. Were we to do away with the four-month requirement, we would be in danger of violating the Constitution.

All nations that go by a volunteer system, especially those that had practiced conscription, experience a temporary dip in personnel numbers. With such a systemic change, it is natural that supporting measures will be insufficient. We have just made our change, and are tackling difficulties as they arise.

We have three main goals. First is to enhance the military’s combat readiness. Second is a more reasonable use of human capital. Last is reducing social costs.

As to enhancing combat readiness, let me explain by way of an example. Take a private. Under the old system, he would serve for a year. He completed his service just as he was getting a feel for things. Under the new system, volunteers serve for four years per enlistment. This means that mature soldiers will serve for a longer period. This will naturally increase combat readiness.

We also want to attract young people into the military, which requires improvements in three areas. The first is pay. A private under the old system would have been paid about NT$6,000 per month as basic salary [S$250]. Under the volunteer system, that same soldier will receive NT$33,000 [S$1375], a better than fivefold increase. Second, is honour. We must, on many fronts, increase soldiers’ social status, that they get the respect they deserve. Third, is career path. During the four-year enlistment period, soldiers will be given all manner of vocational training. Our hope is that they end their time in the military with at least one professional certificate, that when they re-enter society, they will not have trouble finding a job.

Of course, we hope to retain such people, and we have seen a retention rate of nearly 60% following these recent developments. This is no small achievement since the changeover to the new system. And we have been resolving difficulties we have encountered one by one by implementing our strategy.

Second is the reasonable use of human capital. Not all males of enlistment age will now be required to serve, but rather only a small proportion. Others will be able to follow their own career interests. This is, of course, a more reasonable use of human capital.

Third is reducing the cost to society. When all the males of a certain age are serving in the military, this naturally places a cost on society. Many businesses will lack the manpower they need, which will limit our overall development. There is, therefore, a great social cost. Through the changes we have overseen, we will reduce this cost.

Two months ago, the Executive Yuan raised the salary for voluntary military personnel, which has had an amazing result. Some 60 years ago, our military personnel numbered over 600,000. Today, they stand at roughly 200,000, a number that may fall a little further. This size of military is sufficient to defend Taiwan given modern self-defence methods.

BTW, here’s an antidote to the PAP’s claim that S’pore outperforms Taiwan:

If you look at the four economies that we used to club together as the original Asian Tigers—Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong—they are all having to reinvent themselves. Do you think that those four economies can still learn from each other? Does Taiwan have any other economic models in mind that it wants to emulate?

President Ma: I believe that the Four Asian Tigers can still learn from each other, even though their specific situations may be slightly different. For example, our situation is similar to that of the Republic of Korea, and rather different from those of Singapore and Hong Kong, because the latter are basically cities. Nonetheless, in terms of their strategies for economic development, they can still serve as a valuable reference.

Looking at the economic performance of these four countries and regions over the past six years, our economic growth rate has been 2.91%, second to Singapore. This is based on nominal GDP. If we look at GDP in terms of purchasing power parity, we have had the highest growth rate.

We also have had the lowest CPI among the Four Asian Tigers. Our unemployment rate has been relatively high, but our misery index—calculated by adding the inflation rate to the unemployment rate—was the second-lowest amongst the four.

Our problem is that we have made insufficient progress in terms of liberalisation, and the pace of our industrial restructuring has been too slow. With regard to regional economic integration, we have to make up considerable ground to be able to compete with Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Republic of Korea.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/03/interview-taiwans-president

Related article on NS in Taiwan: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25085323

—-

Appendix

S’pore, Taiwan military expenditure

In 2013, the estimated military spending was US$10.5bn for Taiwan, and US$12bn for S’pore.

In Taiwan’s case this represented 16.2% of the budget and 2.1% of GDP.

In S’pore’s case the US$12bn represented 20% of the budget and 6% of GDP.

Even if Taiwan is spending too little, surely S’pore is spending too much? I don’t know. What do you think?

Related article on S’pore’s military might: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101393982

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  1. I disagree on the bit about the social costs of NS. I mean what are these 18-year-olds going to do with their time anyway? These are boys who grew up playing video games or watching TV all day and have just finished their school years. It’ll be good for these boys to toughen up through NS before they join the working world. Boys to men, as the saying goes.

    So contrary to your belief, I think NS has a positive social cost in the longer run, not to mention its basic purpose of national defense.

    Besides, if I had to serve 2.5 full-time years and 13 part-time years, how is it fair to those who had served that they can now shorten their duration for these younger chaps?

    Lastly, I don’t know much about spending too much or too little. 12 billion is too huge a figure for me to imagine. But the fact is that we can afford it, at least for the time being, and so long as we can, the status quo should remain.

  2. The whole issue of national service being debated so far has revolved around the length of service, the social and economic costs. The problem is really very complex. Issues of national identity, economic opportunity costs, military doctrine, etc., are matters should be seriously discussed, preferably by a Presidential Commission to chart the way ahead. Leave out the chest beating, motherhood statements from incumbents, and simple minded solutions proposed by well-intentioned people like Tan Kin Lian. I suggest that those who want to put up comments read the serious discussions on conscript armies available on Google Scholar. I would like to remind your readers that LKY’s preference for a fully conscript army versus a professional army more than 40 years ago was the threat of an armed forces coupe as witnessed in neighbouring countries and elsewhere. He publicly said he preferred and armed forces that was under civilian control like in the US where the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

  3. […] Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: NS: Taiwan’s way – Literally Kidding: Let NSFs sit on trains. Here’re 3 reasons […]

  4. Nothing complex about it. Like I said s’pore won’t be an independent country by 2050. Doesn’t matter if pappies are in charge or opposition. Or whether the defence budget is 1cent or 1000 quadrillion. Nothing can change destiny. In the meantime no worries man.

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