Taiwan has finally found a solution to its military recruiting problem; increase pay and benefits until the number of volunteers you want show up. For a long time Taiwanese would not accept the fact that pay and benefits was a key motivator. As a result Taiwan was finding that moving from conscription to an all-volunteer military was not easy. Once the pay and benefits were increased, and it was made clear that living conditions and discipline were no longer medieval, volunteers quickly showed up. But until recently young men were not interested. 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 persisted in the military and were resented by the majority of Taiwanese. Until there was some serious attitude adjustment about the military in Taiwan the armed forces were going to shrink and lose a lot of their combat capabilities because of a shortage of volunteers.
Until 2013 Taiwan kept cutting the number of military personnel on active duty and had planned to reduce its military personnel from 215,000 to 170,000 over the next five years. The official reason was better relations with China made reductions possible, but another reason was the inability to attract sufficient 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. This was not a new problem and the government had been trying to deal with it for over a decade. Until recently the solution was to reduce armed forces strength. This was to be done in stages and take it from 350,000 in 2003 to 215,000 by 2014. At that point the military was supposed to be all volunteer. But the plan was not working because the military has not been able to attract enough volunteers. Solving that cost more money and a required some fundamental changes in attitude within the military.
The military had sought 10,000 volunteers for 2014 by after 12 weeks 86 percent of that goal had been achieved. It wasn’t just the pay, but also a new perception of military service. 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 it was believed 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. Over the last two years the military did change the culture of brutality and even sent some misbehaving officers and NCOs to jail.