Health, defence spending not a zero-sum game

Recruits undergoing Basic Close Combat Training at an SAF unit at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) at Pulau Tekong on Jan 23, 2018.
Recruits undergoing Basic Close Combat Training at an SAF unit at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) at Pulau Tekong on Jan 23, 2018. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Dr Yik Keng Yeong suggests in his letter that the Government is spending too much on defence compared with healthcare (Rethink of our health, defence costs needed; Feb 22).

As a national serviceman on my third cycle as a Reservist on Voluntary Extended Reserve Service, I feel it is necessary for us to move away from the narrative that social needs and defence are in competition.

The amount of our annual budget spent on security has dropped by 10 per cent over the last decade.

Conversely, spending on social needs now takes up the lion's share of the budget.

In Budget 2017, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that future defence budgets will aim to keep pace with inflation through a trajectory of 3 to 4 per cent annual growth.

His ministry would reprioritise programmes to meet new challenges, while addressing overall budgetary pressures of an ageing society and slowing economic growth, he said.

This year's defence budget of $14.8 billion is in line with this trajectory, growing about 4 per cent from last year.

A continued focus on defence versus healthcare spending as a zero-sum game is an incorrect approach.

Instead, it would be more relevant to see defence as a form of insurance - one we would never want to draw on, but which is there when we need it.

Defence capabilities cannot be ramped up instantly when danger emerges, but require long-term planning, equipping and training.

Built up over the past 52 years, the stable and secure environment we enjoy and often take for granted has enhanced our economic vibrancy.

Tourists and international companies come to Singapore because it is safe, stable and secure.

And Singaporeans can build lives, grow businesses and care for their families under the umbrella of defence that is provided by the Singapore Armed Forces.

The global security environment is increasingly uncertain, and we cannot take our peace and security for granted.

Investment in defence and the need for everyone to play their part remain paramount.

Without defence, we will not have the safety and security on which to build a successful healthcare system and other hallmarks of a strong nation.

Nicholas Fang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Health, defence spending not a zero-sum game'. Print Edition | Subscribe