In this article I will discuss how Singapore can go about planning for the abolishment of National Service. But I will first preamble with why NS needs to be discarded.
Why NS needs to go?
1) High Military Expenditures. Singapore spent 3.3% of its GDP on military expenditures in 2013 based on The World Bank. Countries a few spots above Singapore include Iraq (3.4%), Pakistan (3.5%), the US (3.8%) and Russia (4.2%). Below Singapore are countries such as South Korea (2.6%) and Malaysia (1.5%).
Yes you read right. Singapore spends more than South Korea when it comes to military spending, even though North Korea is a much greater threat to South Korea than Malaysia or Indonesia will ever be to Singapore.
Perhaps this is why South Korea is home to Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia. Money not spent on military is redirected to Technology Research and Development.
2) Low Enemy Threat. NS was necessary initially when Singapore was founded. Without its own troops to defend the island, Singapore was vulnerable to invasion from neighbours and pirates. Currently with an active strength of 71,600 and reservists of 900,000, Singapore now has more than enough military might to fend off attacks, albeit for a few days at best until allies come to its aid. Realistically, if neighbouring states want to invade Singapore, it wouldn't be long till its resources are exhausted. Malaysia has 110,000 active and 296,300 reservist military personnel, and has an additional 14 million men available for call up. Indonesia has 476,000 active personnel and has 52 million men available for call up.
To achieve the same effect of fending off Malaysia and/or Indonesia for a few days, Singapore can consider the option of hiring a professional armed forces, and slowly dismantle the NS institution as we know it currently.
Of course, Singapore needs to maintain solid relationships with the US and UK. Just look at South Korea, who heavily relies on the US for tactical support if necessary.
3) Disadvantaged NS Men. Singapore-born male citizens are severely disadvantaged when compared to females (citizens or PR) and PR males. NS enlistees are subject to a two year National Service, reservist call ups to 40 years of age (50 in the case of officers), IPPT requirements, and exit permit requirements.
Starting their careers two years later than females and PRs means that these young men are most likely going to be promoted later in their careers, which impacts their earnings potentially in a negative fashion. In addition, the interruptions caused by reservist duties are disruptive to their work and family schedules. Many foreign talent managers are less willing to hire true blue Singaporeans due to their NS liabilities.
The consequence is that these men feel disgruntled and disenchanted with how National Service is decreed and implemented. They are thus unwilling participants in the enlistment process, making them soldiers who might not be willing to fight for Singapore in times of war.
This brings us to the next section, which contains details on how to go about implementing this change.
How to go about abolishing NS?
1) Tear NS Down Step by Step. The new professional armed forces need to be brought up to standard slowly. Hiring and training of the new force needs to coincide with the step-wise reduction of NS duration.
Table #1: Reduction of NS Duration
|Year||Duration (Months)||Reservist Age End|
The above table lists what could be a schedule to reduction of NS and reservist durations while the effort to ramp up hiring of the professional forces is underway. Note that this is a very preliminary suggestion; like they always say, the devil is in the details, but I'm sure our paper generals can figure all that out.
2) Eradicate NS Enlistment Act and Exit Permit Penalties. Singapore's recent punishments for NS men who violate the Enlistment Act or who leave Singapore without the proper exit permit are excessive. Even for Singaporeans who left at a young age were not spared during court sentencing. Read about this case where this person left at 1 year old, and he still received a jail term that was subsequently overturned.
These are from the 2006 Ministerial Statement by then Minister of Defence Teo Chee Hean:
– Where the default period exceeds two years but the defaulter is young enough to serve his full-time and operationally ready NS duties in full, MINDEF will press for a short jail sentence.
– Where the defaulter has reached an age when he cannot serve his full-time NS in a combat vocation or fulfil his operationally ready NS obligations in full, a longer jail sentence to reflect the period of NS he has evaded may be appropriate.
– Where the defaulter has reached an age when he cannot be called up for NS at all, a jail sentence up to the maximum of three years may be appropriate.
These were in response to the famous Melvyn Tan's sentencing of a fine of $3,000 for evading NS. This fine was seen as too lenient as perceived by the Singaporean males who have suffered through NS. You can read about Melvyn Tan's case in this article.
I recommend the following penalties for NS men who violate the Enlistment Act or who leave Singapore without the proper Exit Permit.
Table #2: New Possible Penalties for NS Men
|Offence||Current Penalty||New Proposed Penalty|
|Exit permit not valid or expired||Fine for non serious cases.
Jail for serious cases.
|No fine for non serious cases.
Fine for serious cases.
|Default for less than 2 years||Fine||No penalty|
|Default for more than 2 years.
Defaulter can still serve NS.
|Fine and/or jail||Fine|
|Default for more than 2 years.
Defaulter is more than 40 years old.
|Fine and/or jail to maximum of 3 years||Fine and/or community service|
All NS defaulters would be forgiven under this new system. In addition, male citizens who migrate from Singapore would not be held liable for NS, and would be allowed to renounce their Singapore Citizenships without recourse. By forgiving all NS defaulters, we welcome back these long lost Singaporean sons who have been forbidden by the PAP from ever entering Singapore again based on decisions made decades ago (the majority of which were made by the parents of these young men). This in turn might decrease the need for mass immigrants from China and India, but this is best left for another topic.
3) Promotion based on Merit. Singapore's top rung in the military is composed mostly of scholars. These scholarships were awarded when these young men were 19 or 20 years old. You can read about these paper generals in this article. I find it highly improbable that the potential of these young scholars can all be determined accurately at such a young age. Perhaps it is self-fulfilling prophecy that the promotional committee felt the need to promote these career scholar soldiers to the general and admiral ranks. Otherwise the entire scholarship program could be seen as flawed.
The PAP, or any new ruling party that comes into power in GE2016 or GE2021, needs to revamp this system of promotion based purely on grades obtained at the GCE "A" Levels. Instead, promotion to the general or admiral ranks need to be based on merit and distinction in the field. Perhaps hire a few US 4-star generals or admirals as consultants, and see what improvements could be made. After all, the US is only the largest and most powerful military force in the world. I'm sure they know a thing or two that our paper generals don't.
In summary, National Service needs to be abolished. However this abolishment must be implemented properly so as not to jeopardize the security of Singapore.
Military strength numbers for Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia obtained from wikipedia