China Times carried an editorial yesterday authored by prominent lawyer and Taiwan Red Cross Director Chen Chang-wen (CV Chen). He argues that Pingtung County authorities are critical of the slow Ministry of National Defense (MND) response to Typhoon Morakot. He also argues that for every NT $100 paid in taxes, NT $20 goes toward defense. Yet over the last 20 years, few deaths have resulted from armed conflict while Taiwan suffers the ravages of natural disasters each year.
He's critical of the Ma administration for not listing disaster warning, recovery, and response as a key mission of the armed services, particularly as cross-Strait relations have improved. Chen argues that Japan's Self-Defense Forces have been recognized for their involvement in emergency preparedness. He closes by asking if it's the PLA or natural disasters that pose the greatest threat to Taiwan.
An open advocate of cross-Strait unification, albeit without foreclosing the option of independence, CV Chen often is overly critical of MND. On this particular issue regarding military missions, he has a point. The facts on where lapses occurred in this most recent disaster aren't out yet. But as a general principle, Taiwan's senior civilian and military leadership should be examining the utility of an "all-hazards" defense strategy. All national emergencies -- pandemics, typhoons, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and use of military force -- share commonalities in command and control, demand for survivable communications, rapid response, mobility, and situational awareness.
No other society must cope with the type of military challenge that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poses to Taiwan. The severity of the PRC military threat to Taiwan is matched only by the challenges posed by natural disasters. As highlighted in the World Bank’s March 2005 report, Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis, “Taiwan may be the place on Earth most vulnerable to natural hazards, with 73 percent of its land and population exposed to three or more hazards.” Where else can one sit on a major fault line with powerful earthquakes and potential volcanic activity; in the path of a growing number of typhoons that are increasing in strength due to rising ocean temperatures in the Pacific; a geography characterized by some of the highest mountains in the Asia-Pacific region and a sharp drop to the ocean that creates rapid runoffs of rain water to create floods in the alluvial plains on the west side of the island?
An "all hazards" approach involves adjusting the operational requirements documentation process to include consideration of other national emergencies, and perhaps even scientific research. Oftentimes there is no fit -- an F-16 or PATRIOT would have utility in only one type of emergency. Yet other times, there are systems that could be of use across the entire spectrum of disaster warning, recovery, and response. Take the examples of a broadband communications satellite, remote sensing satellite, (e.g., FORMOSAT 2 Follow-on), unmanned aerial vehicles, HF/VHF/UHF radio systems, maritime surveillance, undersea surveillance, and a range of command and control systems. In the case of the two satellite systems, a strong argument could be made that these programs would be alive and well if the primary rationale for their procurement would have been disaster warning, response, and recovery, rather than pure military. Ditto for the radio systems and undersea surveillance.
Just a thought for the day...
UPDATE (August 11, 2009). Central News Agency published a report yesterday that outlined the significant role that Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) is playing in disaster relief. According to a press release, the ministry has deployed 8,235 soldiers over the past three days to assist local governments in typhoon rescue operations. According to an MND, statement, the military has evacuated 2,868 people, as well as deployed 101 amphibious vehicles, 214 trucks, 168 armored vehicles, 166 Humvees, 243 other tactical vehicles, 166 rafts, and 12 back up power generators.