Speaking at an event on Thursday organised by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen spoke about the security-strategic landscape of the region, but also touched on local defence issues, such as the longstanding dispute over National Service duration.
Dr Ng said that besides facilitating bonding between generations of men who go through NS together, he believes the reason why Singaporeans still support NS is because NS fulfills the basic and real need of defending Singapore from external threats.
This is why he is ruling out alternative forms of national service, saying “You cannot bring in somebody for National Service and say, ‘Well I’ll bring you in and you go and teach children in the schools’.”
“I do not think you have that justification, and that you can get the support, because the question would be ‘Well, why don’t you hire teachers to do that? Or nurses, or someone else. Why is it that you have the right to take away some time from me?'”
He believes that another factor contributing to Singaporeans’ support for NS is the duration of the service, which Dr Ng insists has been kept at a length no longer than necessary.
“If you make it too short, you are diluting the justification for doing it. If you are bringing me in for fewer months, and if something happens to Singapore and you cannot adequately mount a defence for Singapore, then you have wasted generations and years of National Service. You might as well have not done it. If you want to do it, you have to do it properly,” he said.
“(But) that is not a justification for a long National Service, and we have over time reduced it because with modernisation and better means, now it is two years – 24 months. For some (it is) slightly shorter, 22 months.”