Credible defence force protects present, future threats

Dr Yik Keng Yeong's implicit suggestion that Singapore should spend more on healthcare and less on the military is understandable (Rethink of our health, defence costs needed; Feb 22).

The perceived imbalance is difficult to comprehend when rising healthcare costs can be acutely felt whereas the benefits of a high investment in defence are less tangible.

A country's public policies, however, have to be formulated holistically in the unique context it exists in and never in isolation from one another.

Tackling immediate challenges also cannot come at the expense of future generations.

Dr Yik's arguments against high defence expenditure are simplistic.

While defence expenditure may have increased in absolute terms, it has not ballooned in the last decade. As a percentage of GDP, the budget has not fluctuated significantly.

It is a different story for healthcare expenditure. The 2020 budget for it is projected to be three times that in 2010.

Dr Yik's point that military personnel are paid handsomely is highly subjective. One could actually argue they may in fact not be paid enough given the risks military professionals have to undertake.

All organisations also seek to recruit and retain the best talent. While remuneration should never be the sole motivation for public service, its importance cannot be discounted either.

Drones and smart bombs may result in greater efficiency and effectiveness in certain types of operations, but there are many others where such technology alone is insufficient.

There is ample proof that a technologically advanced military will always give a military a wider range of options to respond to any security crisis.

Above all, that Singaporeans now enjoy and continue to wish for "trade, water, infrastructure and family support every single day" is precisely because of the absence of war.

Such peace is closely associated with the presence of a credible defence force.

It will be unsound to pursue a public policy approach that creates a desirable and admired Singaporean way of life which cannot be adequately protected against threats.

Ho Shu Huang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'Credible defence force protects present, future threats'. Print Edition | Subscribe