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National Service- by guest spot author Gordon Lee.


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. :)”
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. (http://www.thereformparty.net/voting-rp/election-manifesto/)
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.

Problems
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.

Proposal

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.”

Written by Gordon Lee student of University of Warwick currently studying Economics, Politics and International Studies

30 Comments »

  1. I want to make it clear to anyone who supports national service in any way needs to get their head examined. Countries like Israel and South Korea are in a state of war with their neighbours. Are we? The likes of Syria and Iran do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty, often chanting “death to Israel” and refusing to mention them by the country’s name, calling them “Zionists” instead. Does Singapore get that kind of negativeness from any of our surrounding neighbours?

    The Soviets used conscription (even Russia today), but that didn’t help them win the war in Afghanistan or the First Chechen War now did it? And how many Red Army conscripts were killed during World War II? The Army of the Republic of Vietnam and People’s Army of Vietnam had national service during the Vietnam War, and the ARVN was mainly supported by the United States, who also used conscripts. Now how did that work out?

    My national service is over, which leaves me to worry about my reservist obligation. Depending on how parties are going to deal with either, be it compensation for loss of time or abolishing conscription, will get my vote.

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  2. You mean we should make citizenship voluntary a lá Starship Troopers; serve those two years in order to retain your red passport. There might be some kinks to be worked out with regards to female service, but the idea is still there: Automatically granting citizenship upon birth in a Singaporean hospital is but a dastardly ploy to boost birth rates; the government ought to make us earn it instead – is that it?

    Much has been said of a transition to a professional force because 1) We are not in a state of existentialist threat 24/7 and 2) The country’s economy would otherwise not be able to compete with the manpower taken offline to serve. It is a worthwhile point to consider as Taiwan and South Korea have done so or are planning to do so, but therein lies a catch: We do not have the manpower to do so. Who will staff this professional force if the perks, pay packets and working hours in the private sector are so much better? The commenters fail to highlight a significant catch-22 in their elitist arguments; since the country’s young are better educated and more upwardly mobile, there will be less of the disadvantaged class to sign on and make the military their career. After everything we have heard from the ‘majority’ here, who is going to be interested enough to do so?

    Can we compare ourselves to Brunei, then, whose ‘royal army’ is but no larger than a regiment-sized body of men to defend a country several times larger than ours? Are we going to resort to calling for American/NATO intervention like the Libyan rebels? Except for a readily disposable supply base in Sembawang, our American friends actually have very, very little invested in here.

    But NS is not about the army, to be perfectly honest, and neither is it about the SCDF or the police. The revised, ‘sissy-fied’ training speaks volumes about that sea change in perception of national defence; it is worth noting that training-related deaths in the South Korean military is a three-digit figure. SAF recruits have laptops, comfortable bed-sheets and frequently overdose on care and concern from commanders so much so that they have, to all intents and purposes, become gun-toting boy scouts instead. Which is precisely the point: Maybe it is true that the government will whip a professional force out of their holster in the event of a war, leaving Gen Y to hide in the shelters with their families, and that the whole point of serving two years of NS is but to foster ties between different races and strata of society. And what is so wrong with that? How is that a waste of time? How much better can it be conducted, instead of calling for it to be abolished completely?

    On a wholly unrelated note: The Kingdom of Brunei subscribes to the notion that the United States (amongst many other oil-hungry nations) will readily come to its defence with the Seventh Fleet, whose theatre of operations includes the Pacific region. The idea that there are ‘no permanent friends, only permanent interests’ applies here; on the limited information publicly available, it is a hypothesis that most armchair defence observers would reach. Before you think that hardly anyone buys Bruneian oil, it is worth remembering that the Sultan was once the richest man in the world. Many commenters have pointed out that Singapore’s greatest and only resource is its manpower – there are no natural resources available that would inspire a war in their lifetime and the next, and perhaps for many more to come. But it is also worth noting that greater wars than an invasion of Singapore have been fought for significantly less important reasons than natural resources or territory.

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    • Brunei aside, are you not curious how other small countries managed their national defense effectively without conscripts? S Korea, Taiwan and Israel are effectively in state of war conditions, thus we can see how they need conscripts. Even then, they the 2 east asian countries are exploring ways to shorten the service.

      Our conditions are less “terrible” then theirs, should we not explore how we should scale the defense requirement accordingly? I am not against being prepared to defend, I am questioning the mechanisms we have to measure if we are over or under investing in this area.

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    • So does anonymous coward imply that he would much want to see our army up the training standards to levels where men die of ACCIDENTs in the hundred. Boy that would be really interesting to see how the parents in a country where the QUOTE “greatest and only resource is its manpower” will respond.

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  3. Since so many young men like doing NS, perhaps we should make NS a voluntary service.

    Those who wish to opt out of NS should be given the choice. Please dont play the fairness card here because those who want to do NS see no problem in giving 2 years of their lives to the government. Please go ahead and work out your view of patriotism in the army but please dont force those who are not interested in doing a two year NS stint.

    Those who dont share this majority view should be given the option to not do NS

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  4. I noticed most of the proponents of NS harped on 2 points:
    1) NS benefitted me immensely so I think it is good, thus, it should continue to be COMPULSORY for future males citizens

    2) NS is necessary for national defense.

    Ref 1) I find this arguement shallow. If I find tap-dancing an immensely rewarding experience, is it reasonable to have it made compulsory to all? What about those who have difference preference? We are talking about compulsory conscription here. Postive personal experinces of individuals must be balanced with the fact that the NS men are handed a 2 year handicap for their adult life. Is the positive experience that some experience a good reason to impose a 2 years penalty for everyone? If the experience is so rewarding, why are we denying the females and the foreign talents – who contributed immensely to the country and our country will fail without them – such benefits? Where is the mob with pitch-fork baying for their “birthrights” to be made available to them?

    Ref 2) I do not argue against the need for an armed force. There are other small countries who managed to defend larger area with smaller armed forces that utilize a smaller budget. We ought to benchmark against them and see where we lost the efficiency. Surely, the government is worried about the SAF developing a “crutch mentality” if we continue to allow them free access to cheap labour. Additionally, we pay our regulars in the armed force handsomely. I see no reason why we cannot maintain a professional arm force to defend our land when other similarly small countries can.

    By the way. Brunei is small and has a small population and is it rich in resources. Why have they not been invaded yet without a conscript force protecting it?

    NS and SAF is like an insurance for the country. I paraphrase RDM Teo’s point regarding insurance: We need to aski ouself if it is worthwhile to pay a high price for an insurance that may not be able to perform its function when called upon.

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  5. Many inteligent male Singaporeans, has relocated to other countries after their NS stints to avoid reservist. Many stayed out of Singapore permanently and some returned only after only after their reservist liability ended. The above act, i believe have caused the following problems:
    1) Singapore ladies can’t find marriage partners causing low birthrate
    2) Difficulties in finding “A” teams
    3) No sons to look after the funeral of parents
    4) No male teachers to lead male students, therefore more and more aquas. etc, etc

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  6. The easiest thing to modify about NS is the 10 year ICT cycle. It is called the “green holiday” – because the time is not used efficiently and productively. Many of us wish that it could be cut so that we can get on with our lives, not to mention competing with foreigners who do not have to do ICT.

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  7. I am really thrilled to read the various points of view on NS here.

    Let me give a bit of my background. I completed my NS (legal age limit) 2 years ago. I served my fulltime in the Police, reservist in the Police, then transferred to the SCDF and lasted till I stood down.

    I was mobilized as a SCDF reservist following the Indian ocean tsunami as a member of the SCDF Search and Rescue team and was on the ground in Banda Aceh for about two weeks as part of Ops Lion Heart.

    My deployment in 2004/2005 as a reservist (never ever expected anything like that), showed me one thing: that the investment, sweat and toil we Singaporeans have undergone in National Service was worth it. The SCDF and the SAF were on the ground helping. We we organized, professional and came to the aid of our fellow human beings in the time of their need. Nevermind that their leaders labelled as a “red dot” etc. In times of need, we are there. I never felt more proud to be a Singaporean as I felt when I came back.

    I am prepared to consider both Gordon Lee’s and Samuel Cheam’s comments based on my personal experience in NS.

    I did 2.5 years full-time as a police inspector and did my reservist duties all the way until I reached the age limit. Will I volunteer if there is a requirement. Yes, in a heart beat. I did volunteer to go to Japan but the SCDF was trying to figure out how to respond and my name is on the list.

    Did NS change me? Yes, it did. Was a waste of time – yes, to a certain extent. But, the fact that I was an officer helped in when I was in the university and later in the reserves. It helped me formulate in my own mind what matters. When you are 18 and faced with the looming NS, the thoughts are different. Right now I have two sons who would be reaching NS age over the next 5-7 years. Do I think it is a waste to spend 2 years in full-time NS for them? As a parent, I can completely appreciate the issue. Personally, I benefited from my time in both full-time NS as well as in the reserves. I don’t know how my sons will find it and I am not necessarily in favour of removing NS entirely as I think it teaches one some useful skills and depending on where you are deployed, you can either detest it entirely or find the time spent meaningful. What I would like to see is to ensure that the full-time NS time is spent as best as possible. How can that be ensured? No idea. Apart from keeping a positive outlook and frame of mind, the rest if upto the individuals.

    We can certainly consider reviewing the 2 years to see how best to spend the time and also consider other non-uniformed options. I would encourage all of you to read Startup Nation (http://www.startupnationbook.com/).

    We can better use the monies spent and ensure that the experience of Israel is repeated here.

    To Samuel: Since you’ve already exposed some of the doctrine of the SAF, there are some things that need to be considered. When I was doing my SCDF reservist stints, one of the things that was clear to me was that the issues will not be as clear as you say: “If war should ever happen (hopefully not) it will be with either Malaysia or Indonesia, our two closest neighbours and as our history demonstrates, often the most belligerent.”

    In order for there to be a physical fight, or for it to even reach that level, things have to go horribly wrong with them both. And even then, it is even more likely that the traditional powers (the US) and along with the UK and Australia (and perhaps India, China and Japan) will intervene way before it comes to blows. There is always a buildup period (see how the US spent a couple of months before invading Iraq in 2003). Will the obligations under the ANZUK treaty lapse? I don’t think so. Granted, NZ does not have
    an air force anymore, but all things considered, the scenario you paint is highly unlikely (I know, never say never!).

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  8. I did not submit this article to the blog (the article was written more than a year ago), but nonetheless, I am happy to see it receive publicity and generate discussion.

    Let’s be absolutely honest, because of the way the Singapore government and civil service operates, none of us is fully equipped with all the necessary information and statistics. Until we do, I stand by my instinctive judgement of NS as being anachronistic, unfair and cost-inefficient.

    What is more important is to keep an open mind on the issue, and hopefully, someday, we will get an open, public and independent strategic defence review that studies all the evidence at hand, and publishes its findings and recommendations for a modern solution to modern defence problems – in a way that is fairer and a more efficient use of public funds.

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  9. Good article by Gordon Lee. I’ve been thinking about the issue of NS since reading countless rants by SG men about serving NS (the points are well covered by Zweiz).

    My conclusion is the same as the author’s – a phasing out of NS – although I come from a more ‘emotional’ perspective, without the huge amounts of numbers or facts. I believe the government’s devotion to defence is largely misplaced and we need to look closely at their arguments.

    We’ve heard time and again that SG is without resources; the only asset we have is its people. Looking at the spend on healthcare / education vs defence, you wouldn’t get that impression now, isn’t it? If the government truly believed in this one resource, it’d work to provide free health care and education for all Singaporeans. This would enable Singaporeans to live a fuller life. I will never be able to substantiate this but I think if Singaporeans could feel a tad more secured because they know the state will support their basic needs, there’ll be more risk takers; more entrepreneurs, more artists, perhaps some inventors even. Isn’t this what the government wants?

    The other reason for NS is that SG is a tiny island surrounded by big countries and it can’t be seen as an ‘easy’ target. Seriously? Perhaps I’m naïve, and being a woman and not having served NS, I’ve never been indoctrinated to potential threats, but I can’t see who would want to attack SG, a country with no resources. Malaysia? Indonesia? For what? Trade route? Some land? This is the 21st century. And please don’t compare the land ‘conflict’ to that of India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine or Taiwan/China.

    Am I silly to believe that in this day and age, fostering strong neighbourly relations of inter-dependence, especially since we’ve never before had conflicts on the scale of war, secures SG’s position? Afterall, look at the Swiss. Even during WWII, they were not attacked. And today, I don’t think they or France/Poland/Italy live in constant fear that Germany would attack them.

    Of course, low threat doesn’t mean no threat. We would still need an army, an active force. How about establishing military schools like that of the US? Students would graduate and go on to serve either in civil defence, police, SAF, navy, etc. I would also propose that all students from secondary school onwards be taught first aid. At age 16 – 18, they’d go through the basics of handling a weapon and whatever else. Talented individuals can either be earmarked for recruitment into the military school or conscripted to attend additional training for 18 – 21 weeks anytime between 18 – 34 years old (Swiss standards). The conscription letter would be delivered to individuals at anytime, hence employers would not be able to discriminate against hiring Singaporeans.

    SG would thus be able to have a good base of active personnel plus ensure that all Singaporeans can be activated in some way or other should there ever be a need.

    One last thing – there’s a side benefit to phasing out NS. All the land that’s currently taken up for camps and training grounds can be developed whether for recreation or urban purposes. More available land means more affordable housing or office space since it’s not as scarce. More land would also mean more personal space, thereby reducing the stress of living in close quarters.

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  10. ‘s all good, if this policy gets put into place, the next elections we’ll be holding are state elections for reps to the dewan rakyat

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  11. To Anonymouns Coward

    “How is it that being two years behind the girl you sat next to in junior college is to said male’s disadvantage? Many NSFs have bitched about it, swallowed it and gone on to be no less successful in being doctors (who aren’t retained for two years, in fact), lawyers and all manner of industry leaders. Obviously, that precludes talent, a positive attitude and proclivity for hard work. ”

    It never cease to amaze me how people refuse to see logic staring right in their face. The exmaples of success that you quote are due to an individual’s hard work that is unrelated to whether one served NS. Just because someone had serve NS and managed to achieve a semblence of success does not mean it poses no handicap. That some managed to overcome handicap does not mean the handicap does not exist. It just mean the handicap must be overcomed.

    If you cant see that, ceteris paribus, a female with similar attributes will 2 years ahead than his male (NS serving) counterparts there cannot be much ground to discuss this on an intellectual basis with you.

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    • …unrelated precisely because it does not pose a handicap. What does it mean when you lose out on two years to your female peers? Do you lose out intellectually? Academically? Monetarily? Will you earn less as a result of those two years (reservist service aside)?

      I don’t think the university admissions deans care how old you are; the last I looked, university qualification was strictly based on school records. There are NSFs out there who currently have places to study law, architecture, engineering and all manner of professional degrees both local and overseas. Ceteris paribus, of course; this argument is based on the two years of active service and does not include reservist time.

      Roy, it is a fallacy to think that you cannot prove a negative simply because the answer is ‘No’; if the handicap must be overcome, then it is not a handicap, right? By extension, examinations are handicaps, driving tests are handicaps, elections are handicaps; so many other quotidian things are handicaps by that simple generalisation. I think it depends on how you choose to see the two years of NS: some commenters have chosen to see it as having done them some good, while others chose to define it as a royal waste of time and effort. The latter category thus fits your ‘handicap’, so to speak; please do not be so presumptuous as to speak on behalf of everyone who has had to serve.

      N.B As a qualifying statement, I might add that it is only those who have a stake in the system (i.e officers and commanders et al.) who have the most reason to speak up in defense of the status quo. I might not belong to that select class, but neither am I blinded by the overarching propaganda that simply states “TOTAL DEFENSE IS IMPORTANT” or some sort of variation on “WE MUST NEVER TAKE OUR EXISTENCE FOR GRANTED”. On a personal note, I believe in national defence, and though I would much rather not make it a career, I am proud to have contributed in some way towards making it possible for these sybarites here to criticise the system.

      Singapore prevails, gentlemen. That is all that matters.

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      • I disagree with your points cos they do not make sense. Let me touch on some points you made:

        1) What does it mean when you lose out on two years to your female peers? Do you lose out intellectually? Academically? Monetarily? Will you earn less as a result of those two years (reservist service aside)?

        I am stunned by how you think being 2 years behind academically is not material. When you are 2 years behind academically, 2 will attain the your academic achievemenets 2 years later. You really think that there are no monetary losses when you have 2 years of productive life where you can earn wages and climb up career ladders.

        To make things simple for you yes. You will have 2 years less wage for your entire life and ceteris paribus, you will have 2 years wasted. A very simple example. An investment banker who need not serve NS would have started his career 2 years earlier and earn 2 more years of investment banker pay, and earn his career stripes for the 2 years he would have spent in NS. He would have accrued 2 less year of saving thats he could used on his post graduate MBA (by the way, these fees increased every year so starting your MBA 2 years later could mean a whopping 15K increase in the tuition fee). Thereafter, the handicap is perpetuated…

        2) Roy, it is a fallacy to think that you cannot prove a negative simply because the answer is ‘No’; if the handicap must be overcome, then it is not a handicap, right? By extension, examinations are handicaps, driving tests are handicaps, elections are handicaps; so many other quotidian things are handicaps by that simple generalisation.

        You misunderstood. I was trying to tell you that you were wrong trying to prove that a handicap does not exist simply by SOME being able to overcome it. I thank you for paraphrasing my point – that you cannot prove a negative simply because the answer is ‘No’ – to yourself.

        You really need to brush up on your logic. A 50 cents coin is money but not all money is 50 cents coins. Your point on exam and election is a logic failure. These are obstacles that must be overcomed (not everything that needs to be overcomed are handicap my dear). By your logic, if a man loses the ability to walk and could overcome it, does it make his disability less a handicap to his ability to live life normally? Yes, he has his wheelchairs and critches and he managed to overcome his mobility issue, but would the money he spent on them not be used in his tertiary education if he was a normal person?

        3) Please do not be so presumptuous as to speak on behalf of everyone who has had to serve.

        Excuse me. That was my point to you. Could you kindly look at my post and note how I took pains to use “some” in my replies so I try not to appear to speak for everyone? You on the other hand tried to speak for all. Who assumed that just because some overcame their NS handicaps that there is none for all? Who assumed that only the commanders and officers et al have a stake in the National Defense system?

        BTW, Every single citizen, including those who serve NS and those who do not, has a stake and has a say in it.

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  12. Hi,

    I was a Singapore PR who surrendered and left the country just before serving NS. Most of you reading this will probably hate me, but please listen to my point of view:

    I came to Singapore with my family at the age of 5, when we knew nothing about conscription, and we were awarded what was known as landed PR status, or residency upon arrival. We never asked for it, it was given to us.

    Many years went by, and I studied in a top independent school in the local system, because my family felt that the international schooling system was too expensive for the education and service they provided. I felt a lot of pride saying that I was from Singapore, reading about Singapore history, and going for various camps in Ubin and Sarimbun and being told that that was where NS was going to be.

    While my family had brought me up with the general mindset that I would never serve, I slowly found myself wanting to be part of the culture. I wanted to do my part for the country- call it brainwashing or propaganda but it seemed reasonable to me. Being an overweight teenager, I even pushed myself to become fitter and obtained a silver medal in the PFT, all to be part of the fitter group in NS that had a shot at OCS and finishing 2 months earlier.

    As I was completing Junior College, my enlistment date arrived in the mail and I did all the necessary medical check ups. However, as the day got closer and closer, I wondered about the nearly 3 years of my life that would be wasted if I joined – 2 years from serving and then waiting another 8 months from January to start college. I would be enrolling in university at the age of 21, the same age when I could have been done in the US had I not waited. The January-December education system, out of sync with the rest of the world, was already annoying in the sense that everyone was wasting 9 months of their lives after JC.

    Being a British citizen, I also had nothing to gain from the Singapore passport. At the same time, I still felt strongly about serving the country. So we went to MoD, my family and I, to make some inquires.

    Having a PFT silver medal, my NS would have been 1 year and 10 months. We respectfully asked the MoD if they would be so kind as to make it a year and 8 months, and we would pay whatever the bond it is that they wanted, and I would return during the summer break to serve the remaining 2 months – I had no intention of ORDing in November 2008 and waiting till September 2009 to start in the college I wanted to enroll in.. The request was flatly refused. We tried multiple avenues, but people didn’t even want to discuss it.

    I feel this lack of value to education at such a crucial age was what led me to leave – a good thing too for 3 reasons:

    -Most of my friends, even those in OCS, said that NS was really useful only for the first year or so. After that, most of them were doing nothing except very menial, mind-numbing jobs.

    -While most of them haven’t even graduated, I am a first year PhD student, realizing my dream. I probably would not have considered a PhD had those 3 crucial years of my life been taken away.

    – I definitely learned a lot more living alone in the US away from my family, than I would have in a camp in NS

    Call me selfish, but seeing a ministry that couldn’t be flexible about 2 seemingly unimportant months was disillusioning. I see my friends from Korea and Taiwan, who are able to defer their service indefinitely till they complete their studies, and I fail to understand why Singapore cannot adopt the same approach. We are still people in this competitive world after all, and education is one of the most important things for people who wish to pursue it. One might argue that there are still Singaporeans who have served NS who are doing their PhDs now – but at what cost? I couldn’t see myself studying till the age of 30.

    I am not asking for a removal of NS, heck or even shortening of NS – just a little bit of flexibility for people who want to study, and not just the top scholars or medical students.

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  13. I have long been an opponent of NS. Anyone who says NS is necessary to safeguard our security is a victim of intense brainwashing and paranoia by the PAP. Any good military expert can tell you that conscripts have never been effective at fighting a real war. A small regular army will fare better.

    And note that no NS is NOT EQUAL TO bad defense. In fact, freeing resources from paying and feeding NSFs will leave more investment towards a volunteer army.

    NS and reservist has destroyed S’pore in these ways:

    – created a social class of elite senior officers who think they are above citizens. After all, citizen men are conscripts holding lower ranks than them!
    – mostly destroyed the drive, career opportunities and idealism of young men, who might otherwise have risen to greater things if they have done something more productive in their crucial formative years
    – bred the attitude of ‘serve and f.o.’ and other negative mindsets which all men take with them to their future endeavors, including their jobs, family and social duties
    – local men lose out to foreign men in a BIG way, economically

    A far better model is a well-trained volunteer army, given experience through UN peacekeeping missions and overseas combat experience. Technology investment. And perhaps a reserve force of part-time volunteers.

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  14. To Samuel Cheam: While some of the considerations in the argument concerned may necessitate some discussion on the bigger picture (so to speak), kindly refrain from doing so on public fora and if possible, please edit your comment to reflect your understanding and compliance.

    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.

    What does “freedom” mean, as used in this post? Is it the: freedom to make teenage girlfriends pregnant; freedom to sniff glue under dusty stairwells; freedom to throw red paint and stick pigs heads’ on your neighbours’ doors; freedom to knife people because they stared a millisecond longer at you than they should have; freedom to rev oversized car engines along empty streets at 3 in the morning?

    It is not without reason that senior officers quote variations on the well-worn cliche: “Every day that passes without incident is a day in which the SAF has succeeded once more.” Success, obviously, in defending the country from existential threats both real and perceived; it is also equally well-known that the less informed citizenry decry a large peacetime military as a drain on resources and an unfriendly front to weekend golf and shopping sprees, but cry otherwise when the first bomb blows a bus-sized hole in that lovely notion.

    A “tenser” situation, as put forth, is merely of the media’s devising: it goes without saying that a country is obviously very dangerous to live in if its people are blown up, stabbed or shot at several times a day. The cities of Los Angeles and New York were war zones in the 1990s and 1980s respectively, but I doubt that any of our Singaporean readers or commenters here know that – because of effective remedial action taken against the gang-bangers, but I digress.

    How recent does “recent” history have to be? There was a paradrop exercise and a terrorist hijacking no older than the current batch of NSFs. Hackles were raised, reservists were mobilized and people died (fortunately, the bad guys). It is indubitably stupid to posit that two years’ service far outweighs the lives – infrastructure – territorial claims – culture – anything you care to hold dear; though they rarely talk about it, the men guarding places such as Changi Airport and Jurong Island will tell you that there are people out there busying themselves with ways and means to ensure that that caramel macchiato you are sipping on in a Starbucks on Sunday afternoon will be your last.

    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.

    How is it that being two years behind the girl you sat next to in junior college is to said male’s disadvantage? Many NSFs have bitched about it, swallowed it and gone on to be no less successful in being doctors (who aren’t retained for two years, in fact), lawyers and all manner of industry leaders. Obviously, that precludes talent, a positive attitude and proclivity for hard work.

    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.

    That I do not dispute; they have yet to find a way to streamline a necessary evil. The reservists will be among the first to fight in the event of war – lest we all think they be relegated to carrying ammunition and fetching water for the NSFs – and it goes without saying that you might just want to make sure they still know which end of their rifle is supposed to be pointed at the enemy every now and then.

    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.

    Most of the regulars are officers and specialists, not the grunts for whom they exist to lead. There has to be someone for them to lead, no? There are schemes for enlistees to sign on, but the idea of military service itself is still unpalatable (as stated by OP) and much less service at the very bottom of the hierarchy. It has never been a problem of affordability.

    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?

    If by “bonding” you mean staying up late into the night playing DoTA on Garena then yes, you might be right. I have no doubt that people have spent two years and more bonding via said constructive pursuit. Singapore is a racially diverse country, as has been mentioned to the death by the powers that be; two years of our lives spent trying to bond might be more valuable than a lifetime of racial discord a lá Malaysia.

    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.

    It will not be too large when we have to go to war, no? The myopic zeitgeist is incredible; people are easily swayed by populist emotions and rhetoric when the going is good.

    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.

    And that fixed number of personnel will not have to grow old and retire. The statement “…since military strategy largely revolves around covering land” is a gross simplification, and must not be allowed to stand: unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, modern warfare is no longer about territory. The economic costs incurred by national defense are often adjudged to be sunk costs; a valid quid pro quo for an economy that would not have existed otherwise.

    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.

    If reservists are as enthused as you say they are not under a conscription scheme, what makes you think they will be under a professional scheme when they are leading better (and presumably busier) lives in the civilian world?

    While I have no doubt that a smaller force could be better in the interests of national defense, it is worth remembering that it is also besides the point: if that were so, then why force PES C and below to serve in administrative capacities? National service is more than just the SAF and kicking seven different kinds of shit out of enemy invaders; it is an attempt at getting a racially diverse nation to recognize that it is possible to set aside whatever differences they may have in order to work towards a common goal. A common goal that is of significant value, and not a Sunday afternoon project that you can turn your back on because you don’t feel like doing it any more; because you think it’s a waste of time; because your grandmother is getting married. A common goal that is able to unite people because of its urgency and importance; what you choose to do in your own home, in your own time is your own choice, but we will defend to the death your right to do it.

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    • “How is it that being two years behind the girl you sat next to in junior college is to said male’s disadvantage? Many NSFs have bitched about it, swallowed it and gone on to be no less successful in being doctors (who aren’t retained for two years, in fact), lawyers and all manner of industry leaders. Obviously, that precludes talent, a positive attitude and proclivity for hard work. ”

      Well you can give me 2 year’s worth of your pay if it’s nothing. What is nothing much to you can be life/death situation for others.

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  15. To Felix Tie and Samuel Cheam:

    your arguments about ns being needed would have made sense, but:

    1. about 31,600 (estimate, from wiki) of the army personnel consist of regulars (i.e. number still stands even if ns is shortened to a year or less)

    2. about 350,000 (wiki again) of the army personnel consist of reservists (i.e. post ns, again number stands if ns is shortened)

    3. remaining 54,000 (article) or so goes to ns personnel, which is only about 10% of the overall army strength. this is the number we are discussing here. if we were to reduced ns by half to 1 year, ignoring training and logistical issues, we would realistically only reduce the ns personnel strength by half

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    • To Zweiz:

      Thanks for the comment. Just to clarify something – my arguments about the need for large numbers and NS in general were levelled at Mr Lee’s (the guest blogger) arguments where he recommended phasing out conscription entirely and also reducing the numbers of the army.

      I understand the RP’s policy does not advocate this and so my arguments about numbers don’t really apply to their stand and it wasn’t meant to. I do feel however that training and logistical issues are still of significant concern and as such I doubt that reducing the years of active NS from two to one would be a good idea

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  16. here’s what i think

    majority of sg men (or boys) have no issues with ns itself, we serve and f. o (quote from my regular oc) and take it in our stride

    the issues arise when foreigners come into the picture. this has nothing to do with the talent (or lack thereof) of foreigners, nothing to do with how foreigners are needed to boost economy in sg, and nothing to do with the importance of ns

    this is simply a case of sg men serving ns vs foreigners who do not need to, i.e. a case of local men losing out on various grounds

    example 1 – 19 year old poly graduate enlists, ord 2 years later and starts work, only to find his foreigner friend working in the same company and recently promoted. wherever he goes on from here, be it further studies or working full time, he will be behind his friend by 2 years.

    example 2 – 30 year old guy leaves work early about 20 times every year for rt because he can’t jump as far or run as fast as the nation expects him to. this *will* leave a bad mark on his record (especially if his boss is a foreigner), regardless of what the conscription act says

    example 3 – 25 year old guy working in sales loses out on job opportunities (and by extension his appraisal/kpi) due to ict.

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  17. It is a good analysis of National Service regarding those serving in SAF. There are also those serving in Police Force and Civil Defence to account for. So, the problem is even more intense. Besides MINDEF being involved, Ministry of Home Affairs is also involved. Shortening the NS period is a good suggestion. I propose that if NS is to continue, all NS men must be paid Regular salary as any full-time employment would. This would allow them to have enough savings upon ORD. Also it would reduce the burden of NS men’s families who usually subsidise NS men’s expenses. I agree that Women Citizens should be made to serve some form of NS; example as Nurses; this would help alleviate the problem of shortage of nurses in Singapore.

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  18. I disagree with his point that there is no need for a conscription army. Looking back to 1942 when the British lost Singapore to the Japanese, our locals in the defense force then was unprepared to protect the country and their families.

    I would rather have those foreigners who take on Singapore citizenship to serve National Sevice either in the Civil Defense for say 5 years part time to therefore ‘equalise’ the Singaporean male who serves 2 years in National Service.

    The 2 years gives our boys time to grow up, be pragmatic and realistic… And equips them adequately to fight for their homeland…

    Having not fought a war with our neighbors speak volumes to the deterrence effect of national service and the regular armed forces.

    I rather be safe than sorry to lose our freedom and sovereignty just because we become unprepared and unable to maintain this deterrence.

    At the peak of the Indonesian crises they called us a little red dot… I rather have my two body serve 2years of their lives to ensure a better level of security.

    Additionally I would rather have our females to go thru NS as they can take on different roles within the armed forces which can utilize their skill set too.

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  19. Sir,

    I would like to offer a few comments on your party’s policy on NS and Mr Lee’s well written proposal.

    First, a quick clarification – I am a Singaporean and am serving out my final weeks of active National Service. My vocation in the Army has been relatively cushy as I was assigned to be a writer for an Army magazine. While I completed BMT, I did not have to slog through the agony of combat training and exercises like many of my peers. However my position has allowed me to see numerous aspects of the Army and I thought I’d share a few insights I have gathered. Also, these are my views as a private citizen and do not reflect the SAF’s or the Governments viewpoint in any way.

    Mr Lee wrote of many problems he identified with NS and I agree with many of them. In particular the need to redress gender discrimination, the need for greater job protection of NSmen vis a vis foreigners and the frankly quite silly argument that NS is needed to bond people together.

    It seems however, that Mr Lee agrees that there exists a need to ‘defend Singapore effectively’ and presents a proposal to do so without conscription and NS as it stands today. On this point, I must respectfully disagree.

    I would like to begin by challenging the basic premise of his argument- that the SAF requires a significantly smaller number of soldiers to defend our nation because our defence strategy revolves around ‘covering land-the area of which is constant’.

    In my opinion this is simply untrue. Singapore has virtually no strategic depth. We are the smallest nation out of all the countries Mr Lee compared us to and we have the greatest population density. We have no wide expanses of jungle/desert/forest to retreat and fight from, nor do we have large swathes of unoccupied land we can allow potential aggressors to occupy. Instead we have heavily built up areas with large concentrations of civilians, and what little jungle we have left is occupied by military camps and bases and is dangerously close to the population. This means that in a wartime scenario, we simply cannot afford to allow the enemy to strike at the homeland. Even the slightest aerial and naval bombardment would cause significant infrastructural damage and high civilian casualties. If, God forbid, an aggressor could get a physical foothold on the island, it would be all but impossible to prevent more deaths of innocents as combat would have to take place across the heavily populated urban landscape if the SAF were to mount an effective defence.

    Given this problem, the only effective way to defend Singapore (in my opinion) is to have an aggressive policy that will create strategic depth by pushing deep enough into enemy territory so that their air/land/sea forces will fight with the SAF on a front in THEIR country and not ours. This however, requires large numbers of soldiers, a number I believe to be close to the current strength of the SAF.

    Large numbers are required because firstly, soldiers, aircraft and ships have to be allocated to guard and defend the homeland at all times. In addition to this basic number, we will have to have enough forces to push into enemy territory. If war should ever happen (hopefully not) it will be with either Malaysia or Indonesia, our two closest neighbours and as our history demonstrates, often the most belligerent. These two countries have large expanses of land and sea. To capture and hold a front in either of these two countries will require at least the same number of troops in Singapore if not many more. Furthermore, there is a significant chance of us having to fight a two front war, in which case even MORE soldiers are required. Therefore it is clear that a LARGE number of soldiers will be required for our defence.

    But why 400, 000 plus Mr Lee asks? Can this strategy be done with much less? Again, the sheer scope of the potential conflict should be an indication of exactly how many soldiers we need to ‘effectively defend’ our nation. To draw a parallel, one could look at the Japanese invasion of Singapore during WW2. It’s not entirely analogous of course, but it does provide an indication of how many soldiers are required. Just prior to the fall of Singapore Gen Percival had about 80, 000 troops (mostly army as the air force and navy were already decimated) to defend our island. As we all know, that number was bested by a smaller force of about 35, 000 Japanese troops. Now there are many things that are wrong about drawing this comparison (percival was incompetent, could have won/ we won’t be fighting without air and naval cover etc). But I think one lesson that can be learnt is that even 80, 000 troops here is not enough to guarantee our sovereignty beyond a doubt.

    How about using better technology then? The long range missiles Mr Lee speaks of perhaps? Well, unless Mr Lee is referring to ICBMs or nuclear tipped artillery shells, I firmly believe technology cannot compensate for manpower in our case. While technology greatly enhances our fighting capabilities and magnifies our firepower immensely, conventional long range missile weaponry (like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System the SAF recently acquired) cannot do enough damage to effectively deter aggression unlike nuclear weaponry. Similarly, these conventional missiles are very easily destroyed unlike hardened nuclear silos or hard-to-detect nuclear submarines. Ultimately, boots on the ground are still required. Even if we could develop long range weaponry to utterly devastate our enemy’s military forces, we would still remain vulnerable to counter-attack or a damaging kamikaze attack as long as we do not have men to hold the line deep into enemy territory.

    So, in conclusion, we DO need almost as many men as we have now in order to effectively defend Singapore. In my opinion at least.

    Based on that premise, many other aspects of Mr Lee’s proposal, as well as your party’s proposal sir, are no longer viable in my view. For example, can we guarantee that the SAF will get enough troops if we convert it to a mostly professional force? If that fails will we not have to conscript men once again? It is undoubtedly a myth that higher pay = more recruitment or more stringent recruitment. Pay for regulars officers and specialists at the early stages actually surpasses most private sector jobs and yet recruitment for regular officers remain low. Even if pay was significantly higher, do we really want soldiers who sign on for the money? The same argument thrown at the government about ministerial pay applies here – some jobs absolutely require passion, and if people take those jobs only because of the cash, maybe we dont want those people.The same problem applies to the contracted reserve force Mr Lee argues for.

    Similarly, your party’s stance on reducing the duration of NS is simply infeasible. It takes about 2.5months to complete basic training, officers then require another 9 months to be trained. If we adopt your party’s policy sir, our officers will emerge from officer training school and complete their NS with virtually no experience of leading men in the field. While it takes less time to train specialists and men, one year is too short to give a soldier enough training to sharpen and hone his skills. Especially since after that short, intense period, he will only be training sporadically over the next 10-15 years.

    I write this fully aware that my comments do not and cannot adequately address this multi-facted and complex issue. Also, I realise it’s easy for a desk bound ‘warrior’ who didnt have to spend two years suffering to argue in favour of NS! As such I welcome any corrections or differing perspectives!

    In closing, I think we do spend a lot on defence, maybe a bit too much even. But guaranteeing our independence and the freedom to call ourselves Singaporeans makes it a price worth paying.

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  20. Good comparisons. Just want to know Malaysian active and total military numbers out of curiousity and for totality of data view.

    While I do have initial reservations, I can see the clear and good reasonings countering my fears. I would like to point out that result of conflicts or avoidance of conflicts are also based very strongly on technological superiority and espoinage. Would be good to see additions based on these 2 items to the article.

    And, do we have figures on the number of regular officers we have in the SAF? This will give us another summary of cost savings if there are too many of them if we are to reduce quantity to improve quality of our combat force. Then the outlaying proposal would be paramilitary training for citizens to prepare everyone for roles during conflicts (much as we would not like to have any).

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