Monday, April 18, 2011

National Service being insulted

National Service being insulted

In a brief few days, the national institution of NS has been insulted over and over again by people who are pleasantly disposed to FTs and new citizens. And this hurts, it hurts very badly to all NS men and ex NS men. The years of sacrifice that they gave to the country now seems meaningless. In just a few days, NS is no longer as important as it was. The rite of passage for all young Singaporeans is being brushed aside as something lesser, as little as any economic activity.

For a start, a doctor claimed that his role as a doctor to treat his patients is as good as doing national service. This has infuriated many Singaporeans, especially the doctors that served as MOs. They must be wondering why are they so stupid when by the nature of their job, they are now doing national service. So what the heck, to don on the uniform for 2 to 3 years, and with reservist liabilities for another 20 plus years, when they don’t really need to? And for new citizens who have not don on the uniform, they can be found to be more deserving to be political masters of the country. Is that insulting?

Now another one is saying that all kinds of activities in the country that benefits the country is as good as doing NS. Foreigners/PRs/new citizens who are contributing to the economy of the country, never mind if they did or did not serve NS, also can. I think he got a point. Our forefathers were immigrants and did not do NS also. So new talents, do or no do NS, same as our forefathers, immigrants. Immigrants have privileges too. Citizens?

As an ex NS man, I am pissed off by the degrading of National Service as something as common as any economic activity. The amount of trouble and inconveniences to the NS men and their families, and their careers, are now being pooh pooh as just another mundane economic activity.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reform Party’s Guest spot: National Service

Reform Party’s Guest spot: National Service

Recently someone sent me a link to a funny video on politics entitled, ” Sex Appeal and Jokes …..So this is our humble attempt at getting the first time voters to be actively involved in the local political scene.

The link is here,
Whilst very funny it also contained a VOX POP segment interviewing real youth on the streets who identified several concerns, including National Service. National Service is an area where we should not be afraid to debate the issues openly and hear everyone’s opinions. RP Policy on National service says that we aim to reduce NS to 18 months initially followed by a further reduction to one year. This is covered under Point 13 of our election manifesto which can be found here. (
I was sent this set of proposals Written by a Gordon Lee, an undergraduate at The University of Warwick currently studying Economics, Politics and International Studies. I don’t know the author and he is not an RP member but guest spot is all about turning the blog over to guest authors and opening up a space for debate. So here goes!
Proposal for the Reform of National Service Facts (according to CIA world factbook, amongst others):
The Singapore Armed Forces is a conscript-based military that has an active size of 60,500 which is supported by 312,500 reserves. Military spending is 4.9% of GDP, and ranked according to spending as part of GDP, Singapore ranks 20th in the world. Singapore also has one of the longest military service periods in the world at 24 months, with a reserve obligation to age 40 or 50, depending on rank.

“The government’s stand since independence is that conscription is necessary for Singapore’s national defence because the country is unable to afford a fully professional force. Over the years, it has also marketed National Service as being an opportune time to “bond” male Singaporeans together, regardless of their respective backgrounds.

Conscription takes away two years of a citizen’s freedom in the name of “national interests”. Unfortunately, in the case of Singapore, where tensions are cool, these “national” or “security” interests do not outweigh two years of the lives of every male citizen. Even though the government often compares Singapore with Israel, South Korea and Taiwan as being small vulnerable states, the fact is, they live in much tenser situations and have fought wars with their neighbours in their recent history. It is also to be noted that Taiwan intends to end conscription by decreasing the number of conscripts by 10% each year from 2011, and replacing them with professional soldiers.

In addition, conscription is also systemically biased against males, as females do not need to serve in the military (or to contribute in any department of the government). This creates a situation where males are disadvantaged as compared to their female peers, by two years.

The government’s pro-foreigner policy (under which many foreigners have entered Singapore such that the citizen population is just 63.6% of the total population) also causes citizens who serve NS to be penalised not just in the job markets because they lack two years of experience, but also by employers because of the NS reservist liability which includes yearly call-ups and in-camp trainings. There have been cases of employers openly discriminating against Singaporeans through their advertisements of job vacancies.

Whilst the lack of affordability of a fully professional force may have been a problem in the early days, it is hard to imagine that the same problem still exists today. Even when corrected for inflation, the IMF estimates Singapore GDP to be 25,117 million dollars in 1980, and some 235,632 million dollars in 2008. That is a ten-fold increase from 1980, and the affordability problem was mentioned during 1967, when the NS (Amendment) Act was passed. Imagine how much more Singapore is able to afford a professional force now, compared to then! If anything, a conscript army based on the problem of affordability is a serious anachronism that does not stand true today.

Whilst there is certain “bonding” that takes place during NS, my experience fails to show me, contrary to what is claimed, that NS improves feelings of loyalty to the country, nor that the “bonding” that takes place during NS cannot be achieved outside of NS. If anything, Singaporeans are just further trained to blindly obey instructions from their superiors – which would probably also be to the benefit of the government. This culture is detrimental to society as a whole, and seems to affect creativity in the society, which is important for the spirit of free enterprise and global corporations. Surely two years of a person’s life is more important than this “bonding” that presumably takes place?

The active size of Singapore’s military of 60,500 compares with Australia’s 55,000, the Netherlands’ 53,000, Cuba’s 46,000, Austria’s 35,000, Lao’s 29,000, New Zealand’s 9,000 and Brunei’s 7,000. Singapore’s total military force (active, reserve and para-military) of 470,000 compares with Philippines’ 403,000, Japan’s 297,000, Malaysia’s 172,000, Canada’s 112,000 and Australia’s 81,000. The size of Singapore’s military is clearly too large, but we should not allow ourselves to be deceived by the government’s rhetoric that it is either this number or nothing at all. My proposal will be set out later on.

Only a fixed number of personnel is needed to defend Singapore effectively, regardless of GDP or the population, since military strategy largely revolves around covering land – the area of which is a constant. As one of the wealthiest states in the region, having this professional force will be easily affordable. On the contrary, having a conscript army instead increases the costs of running the army because the larger the population (which grows over time), the more conscripts there are, and the more money has to be spent on their allowance, on training facilities, training equipment, and many other miscellaneous expenses – not to forget the hidden economic costs of not having them otherwise contributing to the economy.

27,000 males enlist annually, making that a total of 54,000 males serving their two years of NS annually. Assuming that they all get a recruit’s allowance of $420 per month, that works out to $272 million a year. Not only does the government spend that amount, but by the government’s own statistic of $53,192 as being GDP per capita, these 54,000 males could have otherwise contributed some $2.8 billion per year. That puts the total economic cost of the labour required for the conscript system at over $3 billion per year, even before considering all other expenses that concerns the training and administration of these 54,000 males. Government revenue (mainly through taxes) is currently just above 10% of GDP, in other words, the almost $3 billion increase in GDP from having these people in the workforce can also increase government revenue by almost $300 million. This money can then be better spent on healthcare, education or supporting the needy.

Yes, the size of Singapore’s military is artificially huge because of the number of conscripts on which it is overly reliant. Singaporeans just need to ask around for anecdotal evidence on training standards, training alongside foreign troops and the incidence of malingering to get an idea of the true quality of the troops disguised behind a number.


I propose that conscription be gradually phased out over a period of a few years, and the $272 million of allowances, and hundreds of millions more from training and administration costs be used instead of increase the salary of regular personnel (whose wages are depressed by the influx of conscripts), and with this higher salary, the SAF can afford to hire more and better regular soldiers than it currently has. From the savings from allowances alone, the SAF can afford to hire an additional 5,500 regular soldiers at an average monthly wage of $4,000.

With better salary, and also with training and equipment funds used on a smaller pool of soldiers, the SAF can be more selective on recruitment for the force, and will also be able to provide the force with better equipment and better training. Leftover funds from training facilities, administration and equipment can also be channelled to hire more soldiers, or to purchase more strategic weapons like long-ranged missiles, which do not generally cost more than $100,000 each, and serve an equally strong, if not stronger, deterrent. These equipment are much quicker to mobilise and attack, making this deterrent even more effective, and less labour-intensive.

In addition to having a larger professional force, the SAF should also have a military reserve force not from conscription, but as part of a contract – just like the United States and the United Kingdom. This military reserve force will also be leaner than our current 300,000 (which is clearly excessive), but also better trained as they are contracted. This works by offering potential recruits a generous pay package for a period of military training (just like the current National Service term), after which they can go on to fulfil their civilian role and take on a job, whilst still going for monthly military trainings on weekends during their bond period.

This dual system of bulking up the professional force in numbers and quality, whilst reducing the number of reserves (but improving their training) will go a long way in addressing the problems and injustice identified with the current system, and also make the military more effective and efficient – spending money wisely and having a larger workforce contributing to the economy.

I recognise that citizens who have served National Service might have certain reservations over this proposal either out of nostalgia or injustice (that they were forced to serve, but future generations need not). I put it to them that the conscript system is a seriously flawed system especially in the modern Singapore context, and that this degenerate system should not be allowed to perpetuate and continue to harm future generations, the economy and our society. I hope that even after decades of spewing propaganda about the absolute necessity of National Service, the government will have the political courage to recognise that it is no longer relevant, and take actions to correct this harmful policy.

I welcome any corrections on figures, and for information on figures which I do not currently have.”


Gordon Lee

The writer is a student of University of Warwick currently studying Economics, Politics and International Studies

The article below first appeared at

See also:

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Fertility and Defence

On Fertility and Defence

Kelvin Teo

Photo courtesy of An Honorable German, Flickr

The figures for Singapore’s fertility rate is at a low of 1.23, far below the population cut-off of 2.1 that is required population renewal. This would have obvious implications and one of them would be manpower for our national defense. Singapore is currently among the countries with compulsory military conscription together with Turkey, Switzerland, Taiwan, Israel and others.

The duration of service in the Singapore Armed Forces used to be dependent on rank – corporals and above used to serve 2 years and 6 months before 2004, whilst Lance-corporals and below served 2 years. After 2004, everyone regardless of rank are required to serve for two years.

Now, with our population renewal below the desired level, maintaining defense manpower at current levels will be difficult in the near future, assuming Singapore sticks with compulsory conscription. Questions regarding the decreasing numbers of renewal by future cohorts and its implications will be raised: 1) Will the length of national service be increased from the current duration of two years to make up for reduced numbers of renewal? 2) Will the length of reservist term, frequency of reservist call-ups and duration of reservist service during call-up increase?

Increasing the term of national service, prolonging reservist term, increasing frequency and duration of reservist call-ups are mere treatment to the symptoms of decline in renewing manpower. There is another popular measure, something which some male counterparts have always raised in the spirit of ‘gender equality’ – requiring females to serve in the military. Female conscription is practised in Israel for instance. Females do not necessarily have to play a combat role; they can play a supportive role. That being said. all the aforementioned measures go against popular sentiments, and supporting plus implementing them will lead to mass disapproval and unhappiness. It is also disruptive to firms to have their employees reporting for reservist call-ups at greater frequencies and for longer durations. It will be even more disruptive to have both male and female employees reporting for their reservist cycles.

Thus, what other alternatives are there? One popular alternative is to modernise our defense force in a way that our military capability is projected with a smaller manpower base. Coincidentally, our ASEAN neighbours also embarked on a goal to modernise their defense forces as far back as the past decade under the perception of a common threat from China and apprehension of its intentions, according to a document from RAND corporation, a global policy think-tank on defense issues.

It goes without saying that the modernisation of our defense forces will require an increased defense expenditure, which means we may possibly have to maintain our defense budget at current levels or even expand on it if we were to modernise our defense forces.

Besides the alternative of modernising our defense forces, there is another option we can pursue – a military alliance with our ASEAN neighbours. The advantage of a military alliance is the achievement of economies of scale in the provision of defense, i.e. lower defense expenditure per capita is required to achieve the same level of protection. The prospects of an ASEAN military alliance materialising becomes a possibility when just recently, Indonesia called for increased synergy of ASEAN defense forces chiefs in order to respond to various challenges and threats to regional stability. The issue of synergy was one of the topics of focus at the 8th ASEAN Chief of Defense Forces Informal Meeting from March 30 to April 1 2011 in Indonesia.

“Defense forces chiefs must be more synergic and productive to be able to respond to various challenges and threats that could endanger regional security.”

“Based on monitoring security in the South China Sea is now escalating following a shift of issue to the region.”

- Indonesia’s defense forces commander Admiral Agus Suhartono in a meeting with defense attaches of ASEAN countries

Although scholars maintain that Singapore plans its defense strategies on the basis that Malaysia and Indonesia are its primary sources of threat, the recent developments in the South China Sea with respect to China may be the stimulus for the formation of an ASEAN military alliance. The source of conflict with China lie in the multiple overlapping claims to the South China Sea. China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan have asserted claims to some of the islands in the sea. The 3.5 square kilometres body of water is resource-rich with minerals, oil and natural gas reserves, especially the Spratly and Paracel chains of Islands. Besides being a potential source of oil and natural gas, the islands are a source of valuable fishing grounds and straddle shipping lanes.

How possible is an ASEAN military alliance and what would be its consequence? According to the aforementioned RAND document, there have been increased mutual use of military training facilities and joint military exercises among ASEAN nations with a focus on air and naval operations in maritime scenarios, even going back as far beyond the past decade. Excerpts of examples of military cooperation between ASEAN nations are appended below:

The Thai and Singapore air forces train together in the Philippines, and Singapore has also had access to excellent training facilities in Brunei.

Malaysia and the Philippines have a bilateral defense cooperation agreement that provides for regular joint military exercises, military information exchanges, and the possible use of each other’s military facilities for maintenance and repair.

Singapore cultivated defense ties with Indonesia and reached agreements that allow Singapore to conduct naval exercises in Indonesian waters and to use air combat ranges in Sumatra.

- The Role of Southeast Asia in U.S. Strategy Toward China, RAND

The consequences of an ASEAN military alliance is a belligerent response from China. As far back as March 2010, Beijing declared the South China Sea a “core national interest” which in diplomatic parlance is tantamount to the use of military means to defend it. It has already established a base in Hainan Island that will place its fleet closer to the South China Sea. It is also currently developing a new missile, the Dong Feng 21D, designed to hit an aircraft carrier from a distance of 1500 kilometres.

That being said, a belligerent response can be mitigated with diplomatic overtures or confidence-building measures with Beijing. Such a point is not lost on Beijing as it has used economic enhancements to improve ties with ASEAN especially in its proposal of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and its subsequent materialisation, making the former ASEAN’s largest trading partner. Under the auspices of the FTA, tariffs for imported goods from various product categories will be reduced to zero, in effect, it means a reduction in tariffs of ASEAN goods sold in China and that of Chinese goods sole in ASEAN.

Thus, in conclusion, the issue facing Singapore’s below expected rate of population renewal would have implications on the manpower of its future defense forces. Extending the duration of full-time national service, increasing frequency of reservist call-ups and duration of reservist training or even enforcing mandatory female conscription are temporary measures to make up for the lack of manpower but such will not go down well with populist sentiments among locals. Therefore, one alternative will be to modernise our armed forces to the extent that the same military capability can be projected with a smaller manpower. However, modernising our armed forces will mean a possible increase in our defense budget. The other option we can pursue is the possibility of a military alliance with our ASEAN neighbours, that allows us to achieve the same defense capability with lower expenditure, with the benefits of preserving regional security. Such a move may not be perceived in a positive light by our Chinese counterparts, but can be circumvented with ASEAN-Chinese diplomatic overtures for instance, in facilitating greater economic cooperation. After all, trade is the most rational preference over conflict where parties involved stand to gain economically.