The concept of Total Defence was introduced in Singapore defence culture in 1984 and was adapted from the experiences of countries like Switzerland and Sweden. The main reason behind this political decision was that Singapore as a small nation with conscript armed forces, needed to draw on the different strengths and abilities of its community to augment the national defence capabilities of the country. Currently Total Defence has been enhanced as conflicts between countries are no longer just military in nature and potential sources of instability can appear in less obvious and non- conventional ways.
Total Defence in Singapore is based on five different aspects - Military Defence, Civil Defence, Economic Defence, Social Defence and Psychological Defence. These five aspects represent the key sectors of society, are complementary and when combined can create a “safe net” for all the facets of the socioeconomic spectrum. Thus, Total Defence can be implemented whether it is a security threat such as global terrorism or a national crisis like SARS and can bring together all relevant government agencies, private sector organisations and the citizens of Singapore in a coordinated effort.
Responsible for the military defence of the country is primarily the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) which is one of the most advanced in Southeast Asia. Currently, the Singapore government spends almost 5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence and has seriously enhanced the capabilities of SAF to deal with non-conventional threats such as terrorist bombings, hijackings, and chemical, biological and radiological attacks.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) is a national authority that has as a main purpose to recruit and train civil defence volunteers in first aid, rescue and evacuation procedures, and shelter management. Additionally, SCDF also conducts talks and exercises to familiarise the public with basic first aid, the nearest bomb shelters and emergency arrangements like relief supply of critical items such as blood, water and food. Through this procedure citizens are trained and know what to do in a potential terrorist attack and thus implementing the second pillar of Total Defence, Civil Defence.
Economic Defence is the 3rd pillar of Total Defence. Singapore has a rather developed economy. This is highlighted by the fact that for the year 2010 it claimed the title of fastest-growing economy in the world, with GDP growth of 14.5%. The authorities of the country are deliberately trying to keep this positive development and maintain the foundation of the economy strong, so as to be able to continue to function in times of crisis.
Singapore is a multinational and multicultural state. Its population has the sixth-highest percentage of foreigners globally with just over 40%. Therefore, it is relatively easy to destabilize Singapore society by exploiting differences in race, language, religion and culture. Thus, maintaining racial and religious harmony is the main notion of Social Defence and it is critical in ensuring peace and stability in the country.
The final element of Total Defence is a psychological one. The emotional situation in which the population of Singapore is will shape in a large extend the ability to overcome a potential crisis.
This is the main notion of the Singapore policy of Total Defence. The country’s authorities recognize the limitation that the size of Singapore creates and therefore are trying to utilize every possible aspect in order to secure society from any potential threat.
Epicos Newsletter Head Editor