Harms of cutting defence spending overstated

Soldiers preparing for a drill at Amoy Quee Camp on Nov 26, 2015.
Soldiers preparing for a drill at Amoy Quee Camp on Nov 26, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

A nation's defence policy should be based on a level-headed assessment of the threats it might face.

On this basis, the alleged harms of cutting defence spending seem to be overstated ("Cutting defence spending will invite trouble" by Mr Roy Goh Hin Soon; last Thursday).

First, let us address the idea of perceptions - that is, whether reduced spending would be interpreted as Singapore "going soft", and whether this will have any impact on the economy.

Singapore possesses strong state institutions and rule of law. Our efficient administration, business-friendly policies, highly skilled workforce, well-developed infrastructure, and relative lack of corruption stand us in good stead for attracting foreign investment and international events.

National defence is by no means the be all and end all of our appeal as a global hub for commerce.

Next, let us consider the threats that our defence forces must be geared towards.

It is deeply perplexing to see the continued existential panic and fearmongering over Singapore's vulnerability.

Given the economic interdependency and diplomatic intimacy that binds Asean together, and the condemnation and sanctions that any invasion would likely draw, war is, logically speaking, not in the best interests or intent of any of our regional neighbours.

It is largely accepted that militant forces and home-grown terrorism pose the greatest danger to Singapore's national security.

In such a case, aggressive spending on a conventional armed force is woefully ineffective.

For instance, the very well-funded and well-equipped United States army floundered against the asymmetric tactics of militants in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Instead, defence spending should be channelled towards creating a leaner and more nimble fighting force, one that is more adept at counter-terrorist operations and urban warfare, rather than antiquated models of total war, not to mention, being more cost-efficient overall.

Pursuant to this, Singapore should refrain from acquiring expensive and flashy new armaments with questionable effectiveness in this operational context.

For example, many have pointed out the crippling performance deficiencies of the F-35 fighter jet, such that even the US is reassessing the viability of the programme.

With the defence budget brought to more modest levels, resources can then be reallocated towards the most vital bread-and-butter issues, directly improving the lives of Singaporeans who need assistance the most.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'Harms of cutting defence spending overstated'. Print Edition | Subscribe