Country Listing

Singapore Table of Contents


Total Defence Concept

Singapore's leaders defined Total Defence (see Glossary) as the capability of the nation to deter or overcome aggression by maintaining small, well-equipped regular armed forces backed up by a large, well-trained military reserve and a civil sector that could be quickly mobilized to provide support to the armed forces. By 1989 Singapore had each of these components in place. The air force was recognized as one of the best in the region, and the army continued to make steady progress in improving its capability to react, albeit on a limited scale, to repel an invasion. The addition of six corvettes strengthened the navy's ability to defend territorial waters and conduct limited operations farther out to sea. More than 50 percent of Singapore males had received formal military training, and more than 10 percent of them belonged to a reserve unit. The Ministry of Defence monitored the combat capabilities of reserve units through frequent training and mobilization exercises. The country was believed to have adequate stockpiles of fuel and ammunition. Its military logistics and maintenance capabilities were excellent. Finally, a national Civil Defence Force, established in 1982, had gradually been expanded to coordinate military, police, and civilian organizations involved in efforts to maintain internal security and to restore vital services quickly during wartime and other emergencies.

In 1989 the most apparent weakness in Singapore's Total Defence system was the friction between the government and business community over the financial and social costs of sustaining the defense sector. As the birth rate declined after 1967, the percentage of males drafted for service increased each year. Concurrently, the number of persons available to Singapore's expanding export industries also decreased. Thus, some business leaders were critical of government policies that perpetuated the national service system and argued that the armed forces had grown too large and that new weapons, increased army pay, and other military programs were unnecessary. The same business leaders were reluctant to grant workers leave for reserve training. Governmentsponsored public opinion polls confirmed that a large segment of the general population questioned the need for national service. A poll taken in 1983 indicated that 40 percent of Singaporeans thought that national service was a waste of time and money. Government officials defended the system by arguing that even small countries must maintain credible defenses or risk disaster. They also noted that a large percentage of personnel trained by the armed forces in various technical and professional fields were well prepared to compete for skilled jobs in the private sector when they completed the active-duty portion of their national service. In the mid-1980s, the government began a variety of public relations programs to overcome opposition to its defense policies and, as of 1989, had no intention of reducing manpower levels or proposing cuts in military spending.

Data as of December 1989