Crossing the Civil-Military Divide: Structuring a Civilian Role in Taiwan’s Defense Policy, 2000–2008


In 2000, the election of opposition politician Chen Shui-Bian as Taiwan’s president upended five decades of rule by the Kuomintang Party, and an era of tight military control over defense decision making. Chen had long favored reforms to increase civilian participation in the areas of defense policy, strategy, and procurement. Now he faced the tough task of implementing a new law that called for restructuring the Ministry of National Defense and placing a civilian defense minister into the chain of command. The new president confronted strong opposition from officers, many of whom resisted the increased presence of civilians in the formulation of policy. During the next eight years, Chen’s efforts sharply increased the number of nonmilitary personnel at the ministry and created new opportunities for civilian influence and oversight. Chen turned the National Security Council, an organization within the presidency that previously had held little influence, into an effective advisory and policy coordination unit. His administration also introduced an annual political–military joint exercise that increased civilian officials’ defense capability and preparedness.

Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Taipei, Taiwan, in February and March 2016. Case published June 2016.

security sector reform
policy planning
joint staff
civilian control of military
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Building trust
Creating civilian capacity
Reducing corruption
Removing officers from government
Subordination to civilian control
Core Challenge
Credibility (trust)
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Tristan Dreisbach