What 700 years of history tell us about the SAF today

A look back at Singapore's history highlights both the strategic advantage of its location and its vulnerability to being pulled into regional powers' conflicts, underlining the need for a strong defence

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This year's SAF Day, marked on July 1, is an exceptional commemoration of the contributions of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to Singapore's peace because it coincides with the nation's bicentennial. As the country commemorates the 200th anniversary of modern Singapore, set against a backdrop of 700 years of history, the nation can discover lessons in homeland defence that undergird the need for a strong SAF and its military transformation to meet the security challenges of the future.

The darkest geopolitical chapter in Singapore's history was the Japanese occupation during World War II, an experience that laid the national narrative for a strong and capable SAF. But in fact, military conflicts had besieged Singapore island even before 1942. In 1603, a naval battle between the Dutch and Portuguese colonial powers then active in the region occurred near the Changi coast. In 1613, the Acehnese military razed Singapore in its advance to attack the Johor Sultanate. Between 1633 and 1641, the Dutch imposed a naval blockade of the Strait of Singapore. Following these episodes of geopolitical rivalries among global and regional powers, a period of decline descended on Singapore until the 1800s.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline What 700 years of history tell us about the SAF today. Subscribe