There have been suggestions to reduce the duration of National Service (NS) or even abolish it altogether by replacing it with a professional army. link link link The call for a review is valid and timely because the situation today is a far cry from 1967 when NS was made compulsory i.e.
1 Neighbouring countries no longer pose a threat i.e. any potential attacker has to be mindful that it will also destroy its investments in Singapore. Worse, it will invite a disproportionate response from more powerful countries which also have substantial investments in our country.
2 A 2-year stint in the army has disadvantaged Singaporean males i.e. including the time wasted while awaiting enlistment and entering university, males could be 3 years behind in working experience compared to female Singaporeans.
3 After ORD, NS liabilities further disadvantage Singaporeans as companies prefer foreigners without NS liabilities.
4 Starting work later in life means starting a family at an older age. NS and it liabilities stand in the way of the government’s procreation message.
5 Low income families may require the child to work to relieve the financial burden of parents.
It is therefore imperative that the government review its policy on NS. Why does it not do so? Why does it continue to spend a disproportionate 20 per cent of its budget on defence?
First, we need to understand the organisational structure of an army. It is made up of individual soldiers, from a platoon at the basic level to a division. A division consists of between 10,000 and 15,000 men.
The rank of a general (and of course his exorbitant remuneration) has to be justified by the number of men under his command.
In our army exists what we call ‘paper generals’ (PGs). These generals have been parachuted into the upper echelons of power within a relative short time – but with zero battlefield experience.
Conscription (NSF) provides about 35,000 personnel. In order to command these 35,000 NSF as well as half a million reservists, the government employs thousands of professional soldiers and support personnel. Reducing the duration of conscription will result in a huge number of ‘job losses’.
Abolishing/reducing conscription will lead to less PGs in our army.
Do we need these PGs in our army? The answer is obviously negative because soldiers cannot be led by those with high academic qualifications but zero battlefield experience. Experience counts more than anything else when one is entrusting his life to a leader on the battlefield.
Who then needs these PGs? It is clearly the PAP government. It has been standard practice for PGs to be inducted into politics and government link corporations after a short stint as the head of the army. It is the PAP government that needs a big and wasteful army in order to have PGs.
The reduction in the duration of conscription and NS liabilities will translate into billions in savings. Male Singaporeans will also be able to enter the workforce earlier and support their families or start a family.
It defies common sense to maintain a large, wasteful and politicised army. It will be a win-win situation to review NS conscription for Singaporeans.
Whether these PGs are effective as leaders in a real war is left to be seen. Does this ‘keechiu’ PG inspire anyone?