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With 6.9M population by 2030, half not required to do NS

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With 6.9M population by 2030, half not required to do NS

Post by Darkmen on Sun Sep 15, 2013 1:17 am

By 2030, only about half of the population will be core Singaporeans. Most of the rest will be foreigners, who will not be required to enlist for national service.

Seah Chiang Nee
With a bigger 6.9 million population, Singapore’s dilemma over a declining reservist army will be over by 2030, shouldn’t it?

Theoretically, the answer is yes. Surely you can’t have one of the world’s most over-crowded cities that impose military service for all 18-year-old boys running short of soldiers.

Well, this city can and probably will. In fact, the arrival of more new citizens or permanent residents will probably not throw up a larger “people’s army” but create a bigger headache to defence planners.

The reason? By 2030 only about half of the population will be core Singaporeans, most of the rest being foreigners will not be required to enlist.

National service, which began in 1967, requires young citizens to enlist for two years and thereafter serve in the reservist army – going back for a brief in-camp training every year. (Since then, it has trained more than 300,000 reservists, who will become front-line soldiers in the event of a war.)

For many years now, this concept was badly affected by a falling birthrate and a high number of Singaporeans emigrating overseas.

In fact, each consecutive batch of recruits has got smaller.

For example, the first batch 45 years ago numbered 55,000 conscripts, but nowadays, the annual figure is close to around 27,000 – only half what it used to be.

This would include a few children of PRs and new citizens. But it’s more than just a numbers problem.

Few small and medium-size firms (which employ 60% of all workers) would want their employees to report for 10-20 days of in-camp training annually.

To avoid this, some managers are hiring foreigners who have no such duty. Particularly guilty are foreign bosses who do not see any usefulness of military training to their profits.

Recently a government White Paper was passed in Parliament which approved the admission of more migrants to push for a 6.9 million population.

“The trouble is that the vast majority of some 553,000 PRs are here to make money and will eventually leave.”

The trouble is that the vast majority of some 553,000 PRs are here to make money and will eventually leave.

Unlike citizens, PRs do not have to enlist, but their children do. Most parents, however, try various means to prevent their sons from becoming reservists.

The annual reservist recalled has for years placed Singaporean workers in a disadvantaged position when competing against women and foreigners, who are free from military service.

In response to local complaints, the Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced in March the setting up of a special committee to try to improve the lives and careers of NS-men and their families.

It will discuss how to better reward those who have fulfilled their NS liabilities and increase support from various groups like families, employers, schools, PRs and new citizens.

Why would a vastly expanded population not significantly enlarge the reservist army?

A reason is that by 2030, the anticipated 6.9 million population will have greatly diluted the Singaporean core to just about half.

The other half will be foreigners who have not undergone national service. With Singaporeans bearing an uneven brunt of the defence duty, the crucial question is: “Will the reservist army defend a Singapore in which half the population are from abroad?”

It is hard to imagine how the government in 2030 can convince core Singaporeans to risk their lives to protect the newcomers, who actually compete against them for jobs?

It will severely test the resolve of our NS-men or even the workability of the concept of a citizens’ defence force. So far, most Singaporeans have grudgingly accepted NS with some grumblings against foreigners here and there. The majority just soldier on.

Singaporeans have articulated for a review of NS training or a reduction of the service period but few have called for an end to it, realising its importance.

Last year, nearly 70% of Singaporeans polled by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) said that having a male child who had completed NS is an important characteristic of being ‘Singaporean’.

While he was in power, the founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, was conscious about factors that motivated NS-men to defend Singapore.

He concluded that owning a Housing Board flat was a crucial consideration. His rationale was that Singaporeans had to feel they were defending their own homes and families, not just fight to defend “Orchard Road (tourists) or Shenton Way (financial district)”.

Two months ago in an online discussion whether NS-men would defend a Singapore dominated by foreigners, a reservist soldier wrote a response online addressed “to rich foreigners living in Singapore”.

He said that outsiders were all impressed by what Singapore has to offer to wealthy foreigners.

These included safe streets, low crime and a safe environment to bring up a family and freedom to live a lavish lifestyle, he said.

“This security that you enjoy is not free and does not come easily. Singapore does not have a highly paid professional army.

“It is largely made up of part-time conscripts of ordinary Singaporean men. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Singaporean men like myself shed blood, sweat and tears. Some have even lost their lives just to provide this security.”

“Will Singaporean NS-men like myself lay my life on the line to protect foreigners here? I’m afraid that’s a BIG NO! Why should we? Sorry but you and your family are on your own! I will only fight to protect my fellow Singaporeans. No more no less,” he said.

There is no indication that his views reflect those of the general body of reservists, but it is nevertheless disturbing.

It makes the defence minister’s forthcoming committee deliberations very important.

Seah Chiang Nee

Chiang Nee has been a journalist for 40 years. He is a true-blooded Singaporean, born, bred and says that he hopes to die in Singapore. He worked as a Reuters corespondent between 1960-70, based in Singapore but with various assignments in Southeast Asia, including a total of about 40 months in (then South) Vietnam between 1966-1970. In 1970, he left to work for Singapore Herald, first as Malaysia Bureau Chief and later as News Editor before it was forced to close after a run-in with the Singapore Government. He then left Singapore to work for The Asian, the world’s first regional weekly newspaper, based in Bangkok to cover Thailand and Indochina for two years between 1972-73. Other jobs: News Editor of Hong Kong Standard (1973-74), Foreign Editor of Straits Times with reporting assignments to Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and The United States (1974-82) and Editor of Singapore Monitor (1982-85). Since 1986, he has been a columnist for the Malaysia’s The Star newspaper. Article first appeared in his blog, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

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