Taiwan’s defence policy documents: A review

Process of Taiwan’s democratization introduced greater demand for transparency in defence planning. The first defence report ever published was unofficial, prepared by opposition legislator for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)Huang Huang-hsiung in 1989. However, the first official document followed soon after, in 1992, in the form of National Defence Report (NDR) which has been published every two years since, with the exception of three year period between last report under President Chen in 2008 and first under President Ma in 2011.

Thus, since 1992, three types of policy documents have been produced:

  • National Defence Reports (NDR) published by the Ministry of National Defence (MND) with usual interval of two years (1992-2013, next edition expected later this year).
  • National Security Report (NSR) published by the National Security Council (2006, revised in 2008).
  • Quadrennial Defence Reviews (QDR) published by the Ministry of National Defence every four years, within 10 months after the inauguration of the President (2009-2013, next edition expected in early 2017).

It is worth noting that both QDRs and seven out of eleven NDRs were published while KMT held power, under Presidents Lee Teng-hui (1988-2000) and Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016). The others were published under the DPP government during President Chen Shui-bian’s two terms (2000-2008).

The NDR and QDR are mandated by articles 30 and 31 of the National Defence Act (emphasis added):

 Article 30

The MND shall periodically submit the National Defense Report in order to elaborate national goals, general international situations, military situations, defense policy, restructuring of the armed forces, combat readiness status, utilization of defense resources and the implementation of all-out defense. If national defense policy encounters major changes, the MND shall submit the report in due time.

 Article 31

The MND shall periodically submit reports pertaining to military policy, combat readiness status, and armament status.
To increase the efficiency of the defense budget deliberation process, the MND shall compile annul reports on the Chinese Communist Party’s military strength, ROC five year’s military strength construction and administrative plan to be submitted along with its general budget statement to the Legislative Yuan.
The reports as referred to in the preceding two Paragraphs may be categorized into two versions, classified and open ones.
The MND shall, within ten months after each presidential inauguration, publicly submit the Quadrennial Defense Review to the Legislative Yuan.

In July 2008, the Legislative Yuan (LY) passed an amendment to Article 31 of National Defence Act, requesting a report prepared by the MND and submitted to the LY within 10 months after each presidential inauguration and the first report was published in March 2009. The process of QDR drafting included for the first time consultations mechanism between the MND and group of civilian experts, thus taking a step, if only small, towards a greater role for civilian expertise in shaping Taiwan’s defence policy.

Thus far, two QDRs have been published, both prepared by the MND under the President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration. Therefore, the next edition will also be an opportunity to observe changes in the document coming with the new President. The series of blue defence papers produced by the Democratic Progressive Party, under the consecutive chairmanship of Su Tsen-chang and current DPP presidential candidate and elections frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen, provides extensive insight of what the defence policy under the DPP administration may look like. Positions of other contenders, ruling Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hung Hsiu-chu and People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong, on national defence have yet to be revealed. In any case, as I argued earlier, development of Taiwan’s defence strategy is more matter of incremental development than radical changes coming with each power transition. For all the partisan bickering, main political parties do not approach defence matters in a fundamentally different way.

The intended difference between the QDR and NDR is to have one document (NDR) that reports on the achievements in defence area during previous two years and its primary audience is the public, and another document that provides insight into what respective administration plans to do within its four year term and which main audience is the legislature. In practice, the two documents appear to be similar content-wise. However, this issue is likely to be fixed by time with each coming report.

Unlike the QDR and NDR, the National Security Report does not carry the same weight as it does not have legal backing and is produced by National Security Council (NSC) which after constitutional changes in 1991 became purely advisory body to the president with no powers on its own. Despite a one-time effort in 2006, Taiwan lacks a comprehensive national security report, addressing the broader aspects that have impact on defence posture, e.g. economic interdependence, energy security, or environmental threats, among others. Both the NDR and QDR address these issues but not in a consistent way— and it is not their primary role anyway.  A comprehensive security report would require cooperation between different government agencies. The NSC which includes representatives from the MND, foreign ministry, interior ministry, defence ministry, ministry of economic affairs, and Mainland Affairs Council, among others, would be suitable institution to be in charge of drafting national security strategy. However, that would require changes in existing laws, and it is uncertain whether there is enough political will to have more transparency in the area where ambiguity may be actually preferable policy option. There may be a wider consensus on defence matters, however, the nature of relations with the PRC as the most important broader security factor is a highly contested issue.

Access the complete collection of Taiwan’s defence policy documents (11 NDRs, 1 NSR, 2 QDRs) HERE.


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