Now That It’s a Reality, Does Taiwan Still Back Extended Military Conscription?

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Now That It’s a Reality, Does Taiwan Still Back Extended Military Conscription?

As Taiwan’s first cohort of one-year conscripts complete their basic training, the public remains heavily supportive of the policy change.

Now That It’s a Reality, Does Taiwan Still Back Extended Military Conscription?
Credit: Ministry of National Defense, ROC (Taiwan)

Firing rifles in different positions, crawling forward in simulated scenarios filled with explosions, evacuating wounded soldiers, and providing emergency first aid – the Taiwanese military’s first batch of one-year conscripts recently completed their eight-week basic training. This marked a turning point in the country’s defense strategy, reflecting President Tsai Ing-wen’s decision announced in December 2022 to extend the military conscription period for males to one year. Tsai was in effect undoing a previous change by former President Ma Ying-jeou, who had reduced the required time in the military to just four months in 2013.

The decision to extend the period of compulsory military service was described by Tsai as “incredibly difficult” due to the associated political risks. Extending the length of military service directly impacted the youth population and was considered potentially harmful to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s electoral performance in 2024. However, Taiwan’s military has faced declining recruitment rates due to the country’s long-term low birthrate. Short service periods and insufficient training have worsened the military’s severe lack of combat readiness. Consequently, it was deemed necessary to extend the duration of compulsory military service and improve training for conscripts.

The successful completion of basic training by Taiwan’s first cohort of one-year conscripts epitomizes the tangible implementation of this pivotal policy adjustment. It symbolizes a shift toward a more robust and prepared military force, poised to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty and security. Moreover, it underscores the government’s commitment to enhancing Taiwan’s defense capabilities amidst the backdrop of escalating tensions with China.

Extending compulsory military service has garnered notable public support, as evidenced by survey findings. For example, a survey commissioned by the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) revealed overwhelming support (85 percent) for the extension of compulsory military service. Another survey conducted in June 2023 found broad support for the lengthened conscription period, even under various conditions, including potential tax increases or the commitment of the United States to defend Taiwan.

While past survey findings indicated significant public support for extending compulsory military service, it is important to acknowledge that public attitudes toward this policy may have changed in response to its implementation. As the extended conscription period was implemented and individuals experienced its impact firsthand, perceptions may have shifted.

Factors such as the actual effects on daily life, economic considerations, and especially geopolitical developments could have influenced public sentiment over time. Tensions in the Taiwan Strait and shifts in international relations can have a notable impact on public attitudes toward national defense policies. Therefore, ongoing monitoring of public opinion is necessary to ensure alignment with both societal preferences and national security objectives.

To comprehensively gauge the level of support for conscription and monitor potential shifts in public opinion on this matter, the INDSR conducted a survey involving a nationally representative sample of 1,414 Taiwanese adults. The survey utilized both landline and cellphone interviews and was carried out by the Electoral Study Center at National Chengchi University (ESC, NCCU) from March 12 to March 17, 2024.

The respondents were randomly assigned to one of two prompts to evaluate their approval for the lengthened conscription. This approach not only allowed for observing changes in public opinion before and after policy implementation but also assessed the genuine level of support for extending conscription among respondents. The versions were:

Version 1: “Do you approve or disapprove of extending the length of mandatory military service to one year?”

Version 2: “Do you approve or disapprove of extending the length of mandatory military service to one year, even if you or your son(s) will be subjected to the new requirement?”

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Version 1 used the same question wording as the survey conducted in March 2023. After one year, we found that public support for the extended conscription remains high, with an impressive 83 percent of respondents expressing approval for the extension. This indicates strong backing for the policy implementation.

Version 2 of the survey question incorporated a personal touch, prompting respondents to consider the impact of the policy change on themselves or their family members. This personalization could lead to more candid responses, providing valuable insights into the respondents’ true feelings toward the proposed extension of mandatory military service.

The result displayed that Version 2 showed a slightly lower approval rate of 78 percent. Nevertheless, both versions underscore robust support for the extension of mandatory military service, reaffirming the significance of this policy change in meeting the nation’s defense needs.

Further statistical analysis, controlling for other demographic and attitudinal factors, revealed that respondents aged 18-29 exhibited slightly lower levels of support for the extension of conscription compared to the overall level of support. Additionally, DPP supporters consistently exhibited higher levels of support for lengthening conscription compared to supporters of the Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party across both versions of the survey.

In addition to measuring public support for the extension of mandatory military service, the survey also revealed a strong association between support for the extension and willingness to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

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It is important to note that while there is a strong association, it does not necessarily imply causality. However, respondents who expressed approval for the extension were significantly more likely to indicate their willingness to defend Taiwan if such a scenario were to occur. This finding underscores the intrinsic link between national defense policies and the commitment of the Taiwanese public to safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and security in the face of potential threats from China.

In conclusion, this study illuminates the steadfast backing among Taiwanese citizens for prolonging compulsory military service. Through the amalgamation of survey data, it becomes evident that public sentiment remains resolute, unaffected by individualized considerations. Moreover, the correlation observed between endorsing an extended conscription period and the unwavering commitment to safeguarding Taiwan offers profound insights into the innate interplay between national defense policies and the collective resolve of the Taiwanese populace.

Moving forward, policymakers must heed the resounding voice of the public and continue to prioritize measures that enhance Taiwan’s defense capabilities while also ensuring alignment with societal preferences and national security imperatives. Ongoing monitoring of public opinion, coupled with agile policy adaptation, will be essential in navigating the evolving geopolitical landscape and safeguarding Taiwan’s future.

Ultimately, the unwavering support for the extension of mandatory military service serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Taiwanese people in safeguarding their homeland and preserving its cherished freedoms.