Taiwan should spend less not more in military expenditure

I read this commentary article about the news that

In early March, Taiwan’s defense minister Yen Ming estimated the island nation could resist a Chinese onslaught “at least one month”—and that’s assuming other countries aid in Taipei’s defense.

The point of the article is that Taiwan has only itself to blame for its hopelessness against a Chinese invasion because why have Taiwan not kept up their military spending with China’s ever increasing military budget.

Against this rapid Chinese military modernization, Taiwan’s defense budget has remained flat or even declined. At $10.5 billion in 2013, Taiwan’s military spending represents just 2.1 percent of GDP, down from 2.6 percent in 2007. Pres. Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly promised to spend 3 percent of GDP on defense, but the global economic crisis in 2007 seriously damaged Taiwan’s economy and ended that aspiration. …

This is mostly Taipei’s fault. The Taiwanese government has slashed military spending by a fifth in the past decade alone. Money is debatably the strongest indicator of how seriously a country takes its own defense. In that respect, it’s getting harder and harder to take Taiwan seriously.

This argument is understandable if we assume China will want to and do invade Taiwan sometime in the not too far away future (say within a few decades).

The grudge against military occupation (Japan) and repression (Chiang Kai-shek) will run deep and long – Taiwanese society is still deeply shaped by her previous experiences of these. There are also sizable (roughly half a million) and increasing number of Taiwanese living in China, who will have (extensive) family members still staying in Taiwan. Will China be willing and prepared to handle the potentially widespread and long-lasting fallout and instability after taking over Taiwan by force, even without civilian casualties?

For the sake of argument, assuming the answer is yes. What realistically can Taiwan do militarily against a regional (and would-be global) superpower? Not much. Taiwan is already one of the Top 20 military spending countries in the world, spending $10.7 billion in 2012 (SIPRI). Maybe the military balance can be improved by supersizing the military budget to join the Top 10 club. Taiwan with a population of only 23 million and a territory consisting of a few small islands. Do they have enough capable manpower to fight? Can they afford it? In order to join the Top 10 club, Taiwan’s military spending has to increase almost 5 folds, but even then it is still less than one thirds of China’s. This is already an impossible feat in the boom times for a small country like Taiwan, not to mention her economy has been stagnating since the global financial crisis.

Does this mean Taiwan is doomed to be invaded? No. If the projected military strength is the only way for national defense, countries in the world would all have spent like mad in military expenditure in the vain hope that the superpowers would not dare to intervene by force. We know this is not the case. Most do not spend anywhere like the Top 10 club, let alone the superpowers. The superpowers also do not want to get militarily involved with most countries not because they are strong (all are vastly weaker) but because there are other more important factors to consider, namely economic, political, cultural, diplomatic, demographical and historical. Neither USA or China would like to see Taiwan join the other side. Taiwan should concentrate on using her limited resources in tackling her widening inequality, stagnating economy and worsening living standard and in strengthening her economic inter-dependency with China. One dollar spent in buying advanced weapons is one dollar taken away from socially/economically productive uses in other parts of national budget. For her national security, Taiwan should spend less not more in military expenditure.