Why Taiwan can’t copy Ukraine’s civil defense plan – The Diplomat


Ukraine’s successful deployment of the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) has renewed attention on the possibility of creating a similar military reserve in Taiwan. Yet much of this discussion ignored the constitutionality of such a decision.

A March 15 comment in War on the Rocks by former Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China Armed Forces Lee Hsi-Min and academic Michael Hunzeker argued for “self-contained service under the aegis of the Ministry of National Defence”. Defense (MND). The authors say Ukraine’s experience “suggests that popular resistance has merit and could be the difference between Taiwan surviving an onslaught from the mainland and its downfall.”

Because of the MND’s decision to adopt an American-style operational reserve approach, Lee and Hunzeker argue that it will not be possible to integrate the TDF into current MND reserve reforms. They further observe that “the existing patchwork of militias and civil defense groups in Taiwan” will provide neither a deterrent to a Chinese invasion nor a meaningful resistance to an occupation by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces. ).

However, in calling for the creation of the TDF under the MND, the authors – and others who have echoed their views – ignore a crucial point: as things stand, the MND cannot simply give its fire green to such strength.

“The TDF is just noise to the current government,” says TH Schee, a representative of Open Knowledge Taiwan, which focuses on raising awareness about the state of civil defense in Taiwan. “Because civil protection is the police, according to the law. While mobilization falls under the Ministry of National Defence, civil defense is fully controlled by the National Police Agency (NPA).

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This renders any discussion of TDF in the national and international media pointless, according to Schee. “If the police don’t come out and talk about civil defence, it doesn’t make sense,” he says.

Lee Jyun-yi, a research associate at the National Defense and Security Research Institute of the Ministry of National Defense, agrees. He notes that a separate TDF would require “a change in law” because human resources would have to come from the reserve system. “Currently, reservists are used as a complement to regular troops, so there is little discussion about whether they can be used as a home defense unit,” Lee explains. “So there’s a legal constraint there.”

Moreover, there are deep reasons for the NPA’s blatant silence on the issue. Although Taiwan’s gun laws are strict and per capita ownership is among the lowest in the world, not so long ago the situation was very different.

The end of martial law in 1987 created a law enforcement vacuum, which was quickly exploited by organized crime. In his seminal work on the period, “Heijin: Organized Crime, Business, and Politics in Taiwan”, Ko-Lin Chin cites a former police chief as reflecting that “coast patrols became almost non-existent and as a result , it was easy to smuggle guns and drugs into Taiwan.

Chin goes on to document the violence that plagued cities across Taiwan as a result. “Shootings between criminal figures led to a dramatic increase in homicide rates in the 1980s,” he writes. “In short, the availability of handguns…has enabled many desperate and daring young underworld figures to achieve their goal of making money in a society where wealth is so prized.”

A series of shootings last year brought the issue back to the fore, with NPA Director General Chen Ja-chin calling a press conference to announce a ‘zero tolerance gun policy’ . If fears of a return to the dark days are exaggerated, the police remain unequivocal in their position on the arming of civilians.

“The police aren’t happy about sharing gun ownership,” Schee says. “To buy a speargun, you need permission from the police station. It’s like a joke. The law on recreational devices has not been changed for 50 years.

This makes any move towards weapons and live fire training problematic. To illustrate the obstacles, Schee refers to “a group of private companies” in Taiwan providing firearms and hand-to-hand combat training to police forces and individuals. “They do all kinds of defense stuff,” he says. “Israeli companies that practice Krav Maga, and others who are really good with firearms – much better than us, so the police need them. But for any private citizen who wants to handle firearms – they generally have to train abroad – Guam, Thailand or the United States”

Echoing that point, Lee notes that Taiwan’s stance on guns means comparisons with countries like Switzerland and Lithuania are inappropriate. “For us to have territorial defense units, we need to be trained in peacetime, and that requires infrastructure support,” Lee explains. “Currently, I don’t think we have that, so most likely if Taiwan wants to go in that direction, it would come in the form of reforming the reserve system.”

A related stumbling block is the existing Civil Defense Act (CDA) and its associated office and force, which also fall under the jurisdiction of the NPA. Although Lee and Hunzeker’s article refers to these as part of the aforementioned “patchwork”, there is no suggestion that they are an obstacle to a new TDF.

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“What people don’t recognize is that we already have civil defense forces in Taiwan,” Schee said. “Of course, most of them are between 50 and 70 years old, and the annual four-hour training is more like a karaoke session,” he adds. “But they exist.”

It is not surprising that a large part of the public remains in the dark. A quick glance at the details of the Civil Protection Act on the Department of Justice website clearly shows that few provisions are properly implemented.

Article 4, which calls for the formation of civil defense teams by municipal and county governments, railroads, schools and factories, among other institutions, is a surprising read. Anyone familiar with these areas of society could be forgiven for wondering what they missed.

“Drills are practiced,” Schee says. “But the provisions on the private sector and schools are not applied.”

Yet the law is there and, regardless of age and lack of training, the workforce is far from negligible. “There are 50,000 of these guys,” Schee says. “You can’t just erase that number. They are certified personnel checked by the police.

Finally, there is the Taiwan Military and Police Tactical Research and Development Association (TTRDA). Established as a non-governmental organization in 2015, the group includes former reservists and active military elements, as well as members of Taiwanese police SWAT teams. A 2019 article in The National Interest called the TTRDA a “paramilitary option,” established, in part, to pressure the MND to up its game.

While Schee says the TTRDA is “quite far from being a paramilitary group,” he thinks President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration is missing a trick by largely ignoring what these elements have to offer.

“There are several groups that are not exploited by the current government and reformers in the military, police and coastguard,” Schee says, noting that after studying and working overseas, members of these groups were exposed to “modern and innovative approaches”. ”

He mentions amateur radio and cybersecurity groups that he says have also been left behind. “Even though they may not be the ones offering a practical solution to the problem being addressed, they should be taken seriously,” he says.

One of the untapped options could be the relative popularity of airsoft in Taiwan. Richard Limon, a retired US Marine who works as a product advisor for VFC, an airsoft gun maker in Taiwan, says training with airsoft is a legitimate alternative. “As far as handguns go, this will do, because statistically most handgun fights take place within seven yards,” Limon says. “So you can at least understand the basics of how to fight and have a clue.”

Facilities like CQB, an indoor airsoft kill house in New Taipei City, could be invaluable resources for replicating the kind of close combat and urban warfare conditions a TDF would be needed for, Limon says. . “As to how to make the tactic work, how to get down a hole without getting killed, how to stand properly when you shoot – you could definitely use it,” he says. “All of these little factors alone might not seem so important. Add them all together, and it’s a big deal.

Unfortunately, government interest has so far been “negligible,” says Limon. “It seems like they’re just expecting someone to do the work for them,” he says. “It’s like you realize that things take time and money to grow and grow, and you can’t do it overnight?”

Like Schee, Limon also cites police resistance, based on misguided concerns that airsoft models are ripe for re-use. “Some people think you can turn them into real guns,” says Limon. “The metal used in these airsoft guns is not rated to withstand 5,000, let alone 20,000 PSI – depending on the caliber of the cartridges. I can make a zip gun out of a nail and a phone book or a plastic pipe. That does not mean that I will.

Ultimately, any immediate move towards meaningful reform of the TDF will likely be hampered by a lack of political will on the part of the outgoing government. “Because Tsai is less than two years away from his second term, no one wants to touch that,” Schee says.

As to whether a new administration would address the issues, Schee remains ambivalent. “I wouldn’t say the idea is bad per se,” he says. “I would just say there are limits.”


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