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Chapter 5. National Security


Singaporean preparedness

THE TOTAL DEFENCE CONCEPT, the cornerstone of Singapore's national security policy in 1989, called for the deterrence of aggression through the maintenance of a small but well-trained and well-equipped military backed by a committed population proficient in civil defense. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Singapore government under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew laid the foundation for a national security system based on total preparedness, which involved more than 10 percent of the adult population in some type of national service. After 1967 all males were required to register for two years national service at age sixteen. By 1989 almost all males under the age of fifty had received military training in the armed forces, or training in the police force or in a public service related to civil defense.

Singapore's national security perceptions under Lee were influenced by the country's size and geographic location and by changes in the regional military balance. The nation's military planners acknowledged that if it were attacked by a larger power, Singapore could not defend itself with its own resources for more than a few weeks. However, they believed that the total preparedness for war of the country's military and civilian populace would deter potential adversaries from regarding Singapore as an easy target for aggression. Singapore's foreign policies were carefully planned to accommodate national security considerations. In 1989, for example, Lee stated that Singapore would consider normalizing its relations with China only after Indonesia had completed its plan to do the same. This position was consistent with Singapore's national security policy of deferring to the foreign policy concerns of its larger neighbors. After the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) fell to communist forces in 1975, Singapore viewed the growth of communist influence in the region, and the reduced American military presence in Southeast Asia, as a potential threat to its national security. Singapore's leaders feared that a militaristic Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union, would promote communist movements in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Throughout the 1980s, the Lee government supported the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN--see Glossary) in opposing Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia; the government also promoted the improvement of bilateral military cooperation with its ASEAN partners as part of its national security strategy. In 1989 Singapore was continuing to strengthen its military relations with its neighbors, although the threat of Soviet and Vietnamesesupported aggression against any one of the six ASEAN members appeared on the decline (see Foreign Policy , ch. 4).

From 1965 to 1989, subversive groups posed no threat to Singapore's political system, and there was no recurrence of the ethnic and communist-inspired riots of the 1950s and early 1960s. British statutes that had allowed the indefinite incarceration of persons accused of advocating the violent overthrow of the government were still in force in 1989 under the Internal Security Act of 1960. Although the government continued to use this statute to discourage radical political movements, by the late 1980s it had established a policy of releasing most persons detained under the Internal Security Act within a few months of their arrest unless they were referred to the court for trial.

In the 1970s, while the numbers for most types of crime remained relatively stable, there was an increase in crime related to the sale and use of illegal drugs. Although drugs continued to be a factor in crime in 1989, the occasional use of capital punishment for drug trafficking and the introduction of new law enforcement and rehabilitation programs for addicts reportedly were proving effective in controlling the problem.

The Civil Defence Act of 1986 defined the mission and responsibilities of the Civil Defence Force, which had been established in 1982. By the early 1980s, the armed services had a surplus of conscripts, and the government decided to expand the national service system to include civil defense organizations. By 1989 Singapore had ten operational civil defense divisions and had organized civil defense programs in each of the country's fiftyfive legislative districts.

Data as of December 1989

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