Reblog: Measuring Military Strength, How Much is Enough, and does Singapore Need Conscription?, from

The text below (in bold) does not come from me–I wish it did!!! Rather it comes from a reader of the now-defunct blog that I was part of (military studies@rsis) in response to a piece that I had written on 3 November 2012, entitled “Measuring Military Strength, How Much is Enough, and does Singapore Need Conscription?”.

As a layman, I benefited much from reading this blog. The fact that more than half of the NS men failed the old IPPT and the progressive lowering of training rigor shows that the Singapore conscription model is far less robust than what the SAF would like the public to believe.

Besides political inertia, a equally likely explanation is the unique military industrial complex of Singapore where the institution of SAF is so closely linked to the ruling party, both using each other to grow and advance its own interests. Indoctrination can always be disguised as nation building. On the other hand, the SAF, like all institutions, want to ensure its survival and maximize its growth. This is particularly so when PSC awards generous scholarships to a small segment of society and later offer military top brass lucrative positions in political and through Temasek and GIC, commercial arena. The incest is a deeply entrenched tradition in the Singapore system.

But to ensure the survival of both the ruling party and maintain a robust defense, drastically shortening the NS duration is long overdue. First, it will at least improve the livelihood and retirement adequacy of a already rapidly aging population living in a high cost city with very little social protection. It will also help in some ways to improve procreation and arrest falling fertility. Wasting the most creative and useful part of a person’s life is a crime. But it is hard to fight against inertia and political interests. The shortening of the wait for enlistment is a case in point. Why has it got to wait for so long before those in power realize that SAF has been wasting people’s lives for so many decades.
The growing doubt over the NS policy and the low morale show that the moral justification of conscription has morphed into a immoral one – Singaporean men are systemically discriminated by the state while allowing unchecked influx of immigration to create unfair competition. How effective is conscription when the conscripts see conscription as meaningless and downright immoral.

If Singapore is a small state in middle east, then the aforementioned case against conscription will not apply. Unfortunate, Singapore is in the increasingly peaceful Asean.

LAYMAN’s observation about the intertwining between the SAF and the ruling PAP is an astute one–which was why I said earlier that I wish the observations above were mine!

It also brings me to a thought experiment that I have been running in my head: what happens if a future Singapore government decided to abolish conscription???


3 thoughts on “Reblog: Measuring Military Strength, How Much is Enough, and does Singapore Need Conscription?, from

  1. That was my first ever internet posting actually. Thank you for your very encouraging response. To clarify, I am not against conscription per say. I am just against wasteful and ineffective conscription that fails to keep up with changing realities. SAF is a special top down autocratic institution that could serve other political objectives that are unrelated to defense. All ruling parties desire to perpetuate their reign as long as possible. The special relationship between SAF and the ruling parties run by a small but common group of elites mean that the interests of Singaporeans and all forms of rational arguments are irrelevant. What is relevant is the overriding self interests of this small group of elites. This is not an indictment against SAF or the ruling party. This is just a logical deduction based on our current understanding of human nature.

    I broke tradition by commenting on your blog because your work is non political and professional. Your work is also different from conventional SAF group think.

    Conscription might be necessary many decades ago but today, given Singapore’s current progress and different set of evolving challenges, conscription is a dinosaur that has to be drastically revised to remain a positive and effective institution.

    I used to buy into the propaganda that Singapore has a world class government until Little India riots, immigration intrusion by random Malaysians and MRT breakdowns. Luckily, SAF does not have the same reality checks. For many who have gone through national service, I suspect that all the SAF assurance are nothing but hot air. Generals are sojourns who learn to sing the same songs to please political masters to facilitate their career move to other higher paying jobs. Defending Singapore is a political construct. The accusation that Singapore generals are paper generals are perhaps a little harsh, but technically, the accusation seem accurate by definition. If real police can fail, then can we expect paper generals to succeed in a real war? Just an academic question.

    In the immediate future, we do need to retain but reform national service. For a start, we can look towards Switzerland as a model where conscription enjoys popular support. Conscription there is deemed less disruptive, effective and very short lasting a couple of months. Switzerland is far more vulnerable than Singapore since it is surrounded by far larger countries like France, Germany and Italy – remember the two world wars and countless earlier all out wars in European history. Switzerland’s model is more applicable than Israel and South Korea in the case of Singapore.

    Just some random thoughts from a layman.

  2. Many thanks for your comments.
    We are all laymen. The only difference between you and I is that I have been academically trained in this subject matter, and I think about this subject by using an academic process that others might not regularly use. That process does not give me special insights, however.
    Which is why I started this blog–breaking away from the fold because my views were becoming something of a potential liability to my other colleagues. I wanted to encourage and help develop a community that can discuss such matters intelligently and in a non-partisan manner.
    Keep it coming!!!

    1. The abolishment or drastic reduction of conscription will affect many military and political careers. You are exposing the futility of the dogma of conscription and you are taking great risks in exercising your academic freedom. Many PSC scholars, who mainly come only from two Junior Colleges have benefited from this political instrument to launch their political and other careers. The fact that these intelligent minds are silent about the futility of conscription means that there are powerful vested interests associated with this outdated institution. Remember the boy who innocently pointed out that the emperor had no clothes. In the context of Singapore, that boy will be fixed, just to paraphrase our founding father. Nonetheless, I do salute your audacity to think critically. But no ruling party or military institution wants to nurture independent thinking. They prefer Yes Men. Conscription engenders conformity which is a great political dividend.

      By the way, I hope your blog will not adversely affect your career. My advice is that just look at the people who thrive in SAF, talk like them even though let us not think like them. By the way, please pursue your thought experiment of a Singapore without conscription.

      Another related question is whether with rapidly aging population beset by inadequate retirement savings and other social issues, can Singapore afford to let half of the population give up the most promising part of their youth to conscription? Can Singaporeans compete with the best of the world when the best of the world do not have to be set back by conscription?

      To begin with, at least we know potential Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will actually have a chance to emerge in Singapore before conscription rob them the opportunity to embark on some internet startups that can change the world. Sports, arts and many other endeavors that involve risk taking and creativity will thrive. Fertility will improve, at least moderately which is a big deal in light of falling fertility. The resentment against unfair foreign competition will be substantially mitigated. Singapore will have a chance to leapfrog from a good city to a great nation that is creative, open and tolerant. Talents who are otherwise stifled by conscription will have a fighting chance to succeed beyond what is currently artificially suppressed. People may eventually feel that the ruling party is once again work for rather than against Singaporeans.

      On second thought, given the current caliber of the dominant political actors, I doubt the thought experiment will have any chance to be translated into reality. We do need a new LKY to challenge the current regime built by the old LKY. How I miss the young LKY, who happened to be the opposition leader. Today, both the ruling party and the opposing parties are far less extraordinary than the political players in early Singapore. The best days of Singapore seem to be over. Just random thoughts about your thought experiment.

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