Singapore Defence approach to safeguarding our country, forming

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Last updated: May 3, 2019

Singapore is a parliamentary democratic republic.

Therefore it is the role of the government to ensure that Singapore has national security through policies and measure implementation, one of which is the development of a robust SAF. National security is the security of the nation state not only in the face of military threats but also in other aspects of the country such as security in its economy, resources, cyberspace and also socially. National security forms the fundamental foundation for Singapore to maintain its sovereignty and to protect the ‘Singaporean way of life’. No one owes Singapore a living. Having national security allows Singapore to survive, remain relevant and competitive. Singapore’s strategy to ensuring national security rather successfully follows that of a ‘poisonous shrimp’ strategy, tiny but fatal.

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Singapore is a small state with no natural resources, lacks strategic depth and has a small population with an ethnically diverse society troubled with bleak socio-economic conditions. Her position was extremely vulnerable thus she had to boost its security tremendously. MINDEF plays a crucial part of the five-pronged Total Defence approach to safeguarding our country, forming our Military Defence.

The SAF plays a pivotal role of being a ‘diplomatic deterrent’, taking on many defence diplomacy activities to its advantage. The formation of the SAF has always been due to a need and affirm Singapore as a global middleman and mediator. By being pragmatic and forward looking, Singapore has granted itself a decent amount of national security through the twin pillars of deterrence and diplomacy as its main strategy for peace and security. As a capable force, they give Singapore ‘a seat at the table’ so that Singapore can further its advances to achieve greater national security and development.A major challenge to national security is due to unfriendly neighbours. In particular, countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia whom together with Singapore form a triangular relationship.

Singapore being an ethnically diverse society surrounded by larger neighbours of malay majority societies such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the political climate is one that is potentially hostile. History between nations have led to a long held enmity causing negative sentiments towards the thriving of the small nation. There are tensions yet to dissipate between Singapore and the two nations. This is evident in direct military threats such as through Indonesia and Malaysia’s largest bilateral military exercise Malindo Darsasa 3AB in Johor- an area uncomfortably close to Singapore- where paratroopers and high military activities were conducted on Singapore’s National Day. This unfriendly display of military forces signals to Singapore that these nations are ready to challenge her sovereignty. A more direct threat to her sovereignty and territorial boundaries is when Malaysia’s information minister had mentioned on Singapore’s National Day that Malaysia should ‘regain full control’ over Singapore given to them since their independence.

However, these relationships are indispensable for Singapore as she is heavily dependent on Malaysia and Indonesia for resources such as water and natural gas. This is one of Singapore’s greatest vulnerabilities which is more potent when they use this to their advantage to secure their own interest. This is especially so with Malaysia. For example when there was conflict between Singapore and Malaysia on the re-location of the railway customs checkpoint, Malaysian authorities had threatened to cut Singapore’s water supply.

On multiple occasions, in similar political disagreements due to clashing interests, threats to Singapore’s security of essential resources would be their main strategy to jeopardise Singapore’s economic prosperity and suit their interests. For these reasons, the SAF has to be formidable to ensure that Singapore’s neighbours will not decide to threaten her using military force. If necessary, a strong SAF can be mobilised should countries fail to supply resources. By constantly adjusting its threat analysis and staying up to date with the right defense technologies and equipment, the SAF has the duty to remain as an effective deterrent, gaining the upper hand over the other militaries at all times. The close geographical proximity also means that the country’s national security will inevitably be affected by neighbouring countries. Their domestic issues will affect Singapore and the SAF must be ready to step in to protect her national security.

For example, when violence in Indonesian provinces especially near Singapore arose such as the Riau Islands, a place where Singapore additionally has economic investments in, there was fear of a refugee problem which the SAF was prepared to intervene to prevent them from affecting Singapore’s economy. Existing amongst politically less stable states threaten Singapore’s security should unrest prevail. These countries also have the tendency of diverting domestic political issues by drawing attention to Singapore by criticising her system of governance. The SAF also has the role of engaging in strategic partnerships to achieve common motives of regional stability when seen as a case of optimisation of resources and an opportunity to further diplomatic relations. They conduct joint training operations with foreign militaries, even with neighbouring countries.

For example the Forging Sabre exercise in Arizona and long term military partnerships with countries such as Australia. The SAF also contributes to diplomacy through providing humanitarian aid during disasters such as the Banda Aceh tsunami disaster in 2004. This shows Singapore’s commitment to bilateral ties and express her wish to explore greater mutually beneficial cooperations between the 2 nations.A strong SAF is needed to protect Singapore’s economic interest.

The SAF currently ensures the security of economic activities and boost investor confidence in Singapore, allowing Singapore to ‘sell trust’. The navy patrols major trade routes and our skies are being monitored closely at all times. Direct economic challenges from neighbouring countries will surface as they try to expand their economically strategic territories.

Such a threat, if Singapore remains vulnerable, would cause her economic downfall as it undermines Singapore’s ‘hub strategy’ that generates large scale trading activities. Having no natural resources, Singapore not only relies on import and exports for economic growth but it is also a way to obtain food and other essential resources. The SAF has the role of protecting economically advantageous territories, to ensure that Singapore maintains its ownership. For example, in the Pedra Branca incident, the SAF was ready to go to war should the time come if Malaysia had continued to pursue the issue. Malaysia has thus been cautious not to aggravate Singapore excessively.On the international realm, Singapore has to achieve balance of power with the major powers such as China and the United States. It is crucial to engage countries such as the US with huge military strength and political influence to maintain the region’s security.

The SAF is used as a means to engage global powers to grant regional security and to boost Singapore’s position at the table through a greater military presence. Strong military ties with the US have allowed Singapore to benchmark against higher standards and improve its own capabilities. Greater US presence has increased Singapore’s deterrence and diplomacy front and ensures peace and security is maintained.

The changing nature of terrorism threatens our peace and security. Globalisation has increased the terrorism threat and the SAF has to deal with transnational terrorism whose source of threat is not localised. Terror groups such as ISIS and self radicalised individuals pose significant threats to society’s peace and stability. Furthermore, with these threats being more sophisticated and specialised, it requires the greater expertise of the SAF.

MINDEF would have to start taking a more community-oriented role, working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to form a more integrated approach and protocol to deal with unpredictable attacks.Cyber threats such as the breach of state secured data is starting to surface. Government data and data of military personnel have been stolen in recent times.

This begins the new age of ‘data warfare’ that Singapore has to face. Furthermore, the source of attack is hard to determine, making it easy for unknown enemies to use the data to their advantage. If data is used for political agendas just like potential Russia involvement in the US 2016 elections, Singapore’s stability would be destroyed from within.

The danger lies when data is used against Singapore, making national security plans essentially futile as Singapore would be even more vulnerable. MINDEF thus has to reallocate resources to a whole new sector dedicated to protecting its own computer systems meant gain advantage over the enemy. It is important that Singapore is careful not to expose confidential information and lose its strategic advantage.

The future remains uncertain and complex. Given the changing nature of security threats the role of MINDEF becomes more crucial and integrated with other security forces to holistically deal with modern threats efficiently. Domestic and foreign threats are becoming more integrated and MINDEF will have to improve its capabilities. MINDEF also has another crucial role of preparing for future threats. In doing so, Singapore can ensure future national security. Being a small nation, the margin for error remains low, therefore, the SAF must continue to pride itself on being one step ahead of their opponents as the evident uprising of neighbouring military forces will present a greater threat to Singapore.

The military and the government work hand in hand to mitigate threats to national security. Political climates and circumstances are bound to influence the operations of the SAF. However, the SAF must never fail to guarantee peace and security for Singapore and operationally ready. Even when politicians fail to play their cards right, Singapore will still be protected and secure.


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