How TOTAL is Total Defence?

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by Michael Y.P. Ang

The Government appears to be using the word “inclusiveness” often in recent years. We are repeatedly urged to accept immigrants, hire workers regardless of birthplace or age and embrace naturalised athletes as our own.

Why is it then that when it comes to the one thing that helps to maintain the existence of Singapore as an independent nation – defence – the Government bends over backwards to exclude certain Singaporeans based on birthplace and age, making those who are naturalised during adulthood exempt from national service, even if they are not above the NS age (below 40).

If the Government wants us to embrace naturalised citizens, why are some excluded from crucial roles in national defence? And why are we building a non-inclusive society through two-tier citizenship?

Exempting adult naturalised citizens from NS appears to also contradict the Government’s national defence strategy, outlined in the Five Pillars of Total Defence.

Pillar 1 (Military Defence) proclaims: “To defend ourselves when attacked or, more importantly, to deter foreign intervention and prevent ourselves from being attacked”.

If we are serious about defence and embracing social inclusiveness, why are some citizens excluded from such a vital duty even when they meet the physical and age requirements?

Pillar 2 (Civil Defence) states that “During times of crisis or disaster, resources will be strained and we will need everyone to pitch in”.

What has happened to the concept of needing “everyone to pitch in”? For those unsuitable for military service, could they not be posted to the Singapore Civil Defence Force?

Pillar 3 (Economic Defence) calls on Singaporeans to “play a part by retraining and upgrading” to “remain employable as the economy changes and old jobs give way to new ones”.

Adult naturalised citizens do play a part in this, but doesn’t every other working person (male or female, young or old) in Singapore do the same to the best of his or her abilities?

Pillar 4 (Social Defence) reads: “We befriend, accept and help people of different ethnicities. We show consideration for one another, respecting and being sensitive to the needs and religious and cultural practices of others”.

Although integration of naturalised citizens is not the purpose of NS, is there a better way of promoting integration while meeting our national defence needs at the same time?

Is there another regular activity that allows new Singaporeans to engage their fellow Singaporeans of various ethnicities, religions, social statuses (white-collar or blue-collar workers, managers or non-managers), and income levels as equals?

We are asked to invite new citizens to our social gatherings, but isn’t it silly that because of their presence, we need to make it a point to refrain from reminiscing about our NS experiences so as not to make them feel socially excluded?

Pillar 5 (Psychological Defence) says, “While being prepared is the key to Total Defence, it is always the fighting spirit… that determines whether or not our nation will overcome a crisis.”

By excluding new adult citizens from being trained and prepared, we are essentially prohibiting them access to “the key to Total Defence”. Will this not dampen their fighting spirit?

Yes, imposing a two-year NS stint on adult naturalised citizens is impractical, but why not a modified form of NS where individuals learn basic combat or civil defence skills over a number of weekends, so they can play a meaningful role in defence if and when the need arises?

It is meaningless for the Government to exhort inclusiveness when, in practice, it is selective inclusiveness. The Government should not exclude new male citizens, based simply on age, from a deeply Singaporean activity, lumping them together with those not equipped to engage in that activity – the elderly, medically unfit, mentally ill, physically disabled, and kids.

It is true that adult naturalised citizens did not enjoy the fruits of our nationhood during their younger years, but are they not going to enjoy the benefits of Singaporean citizenship for the rest of their lives?

Perhaps we could get the ball rolling by requiring them to meet the fitness standards of the Individual Physical Proficiency Test. Surely, this is not too much to ask on Total Defence Day.