Given new threats and a world that is again in flux, the role of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is all the more important today - to provide Singapore with the strength and confidence to defend national sovereignty, and to keep Singaporeans secure, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.
A strong and combat-ready SAF also lends weight to Singapore's words "by allowing us to make a serious and meaningful contribution to help maintain regional peace and security, and to respond to crises", he added.
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was addressing 359 graduating officer cadets at a parade at Safti Military Institute to mark the completion of 38 weeks of training at the Officer Cadet School.
The former navy chief said the region was in flux at the time of his own commissioning 46 years ago, with superpower rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union and uncertainty prevailing as the US began to withdraw from the war in Vietnam.
"We once again see a world in flux. Competition between major powers - this time between the US and China - is threatening to divide our region and the world," he said.
In a divided and fractious world - with fractured production chains, less trade, and lower economic growth - all will be worse off, he said.
There are also new trends in extremism and terrorism, with recent attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka happening in places of worship, which should have been sanctuaries of peace and comfort, said Mr Teo.
To chart a course amid this uncertainty, Singapore must work for its own national interest, strengthening relations with all countries and not taking sides, he said.
It should also maintain a high degree of operational readiness and vigilance in the SAF and the Home Team. "We have friends, but ultimately, we must ourselves defend Singapore, and not depend on others," he said.
He urged the graduates to always make the safety of their soldiers a top priority, even while training them hard. "If your soldiers know that you look after them and value each one of them, they will be prepared to follow you to make the ultimate sacrifice when you call upon them to do so," he said.
The newly commissioned officers will go on to assume command, instructional or staff appointments in the SAF.
Among them were a pair of sisters who have signed on to become naval officers.
Lieutenant Felicia Kwek Zhen Yi, 24, said she loves her country and wants to help keep it safe.
"Since I am older and more capable now, I feel the need to give back and to defend this very place where I grew up for the past 24 years by ensuring the safety of this nation," she said.
Lieutenant Emily Kwek Zhen Chun, 30, who previously worked at consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble and the Singapore Tourism Board, graduated as the top cadet in her cohort, clinching the Sword of Honour and Best in Knowledge awards.
She took a significant pay cut from her corporate job to join the navy. She said: "Besides a navy career being less desk-bound, the meaning behind what I do is also different... I want to inspire and influence so that others can have a fulfilling career too."