Strong defence needed, but not excessive spending

We are pleased that a public discussion of Singapore's defence expenditure is taking place in The Straits Times Forum page.

Mr Adrian Villanueva ("Don't underestimate need for strong military"; last Saturday) and Mr Patrick Tan Siong Kuan ("S'pore must be like a porcupine"; Tuesday) make the point that Singapore needs a strong military force to deter our would-be enemies.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) concurs.

But a strong military is not the same as excessive and unsustainable defence spending.

In the past, Singapore spent more than 4 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on defence.

Even Taiwan, with the guns of southern China pointing at it, has managed to contain its defence spending at below 3 per cent of its GDP.

South Korea, technically at war with its northern counterpart, spends only 2.6 per cent of its GDP on defence.

Since the restructuring of public healthcare in the 1980s, the Government has reduced its share of healthcare expenditure to around 30 per cent, from the more than 60 per cent which gave Singapore some outstanding public health achievements in the 1950s and 60s.

The insufficient investment in healthcare infrastructure and manpower has led to overloaded hospitals and overworked staff.

In Parliament, MP Christopher de Souza raised the spectre of terrorism to justify the current or increased levels of military spending ("Security and unity are key to safeguarding Republic"; Jan 26).

He doesn't explain how buying more planes, tanks and bombs will deter militants coming into Singapore to perpetrate their crimes.

Even the Government acknowledges that defence spending at more than 4 per cent of GDP is unrealistic, and has been cutting down the budget of the Ministry of Defence progressively over the last decade, as was pointed out by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife and Temasek Holdings chief Ho Ching last year.

What the SDP is advocating is more reasonable and intelligent spending of our national funds.

As populations in developed countries age, a greater proportion of national spending is naturally devoted to social support and away from expensive military hardware.

This has been recognised by many Singaporean thinkers and leaders.

After all, Total Defence includes psychological defence.

A healthy, happy population is certainly something worth fighting for.

Paul Tambyah (Dr)

Member

Central Executive Committee

Singapore Democratic Party

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Strong defence needed, but not excessive spending'. Print Edition | Subscribe