Academic journal article Military Review

The Role of the Singapore Armed Forces in Forging National Values, Image, and Identity

Academic journal article Military Review

The Role of the Singapore Armed Forces in Forging National Values, Image, and Identity

Article excerpt

Nothing creates loyalty and national consciousness more speedily and more thoroughly than participation in defence and membership of the armed forces ... the nation building aspect of defence will be more significant if its participation is spread out over all strata of society. This is possible only with some kind of national service.

-Dr. Goh Keng S wee

Singapore as a young country is unique in many ways. Its geo-strategic position at the crossroads of the worlds busiest trade lanes has created a multiethnic and multiracial society, which is still attracting many foreign talents through immigration, bringing with it the challenge of establishing a unique and enduring national identity. The national flag carries a waxing crescent moon to embody the spirit of this young and growing country, and it is widely recognized in Singapore that the work of nationbuilding is never done.

Adding to the challenge of nationbuilding, Singapore's limited size, small population, and lack of natural resources necessitate a unique approach to its defense. It meets its security requirements through the implementation of national service (NS) in the military. Here, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is both the guardian of the country's national interests and sovereignty as well as a national institution that brings together people from all walks of life.1 As such, there arises an important role for the SAF, through NS, which is to build a common set of beliefs within young Singaporeans that will define the people of Singapore collectively. This role for the SAF is already widely recognized and is echoed in Singaporean popular culture, with national service being the theme of many dramas and movies such as Ah Boys to Men, which will be filming its fourth sequel in 2017.2

Conscription as a Social Leveler

The practice of conscription in the past five decades has created the "NS citizen soldier"-a unique form of military professionalism where three hundred thousand national servicemen (NSmen) are part of the main fighting force alongside fifty thousand active-duty personnel.3 The SAF has deliberately integrated active-duty personnel and NSmen. For example, a Singapore infantry brigade comprises a mix of active and NSmen units. The brigade headquarters is also staffed by both active-duty personnel and NSmen.4

The SAF has identified the need to sustain Singaporeans' commitment to defense as a key strategic objective. Toward that end, much effort and many resources have been invested into related initiatives such as values inculcation programs in the curriculum of military schools to help young Singaporeans affirm their national loyalty.

The values being inculcated in these programs are by design and top-down driven. They are not the result of a long common historical experience. The same conscious design applies to development and promotion of Singapore's code of Shared Values.

Singapore Armed Forces andthe Continuous Journey of Nationbuilding

Five shared national values to be promulgated among citizens were proposed by a parliamentary committee and then passed by the Parliament of Singapore on 15 January 1991:

* Nation before community and society above self

* Family as the basic unit of society

* Community support and respect for the individual

* Consensus, not conflict

* Racial and religious harmony5

The SAF Core Values and Singapore Shared Values are routinely reviewed to ensure their continued relevance. In August 2012, the Singapore government launched Our Singapore Conversation, an initiative involving over 47,000 Singaporeans in over 660 dialogue sessions. Whilst one of the key perspectives was to build a Singapore anchored on values, there continues to be an open question on which of the Shared Values expressed in 1991 should be retained.6

Evolving Concepts of Values and Ethics in the Singapore Armed Forces

One of the first SAF manifestos to be published was the 1967 SAF Code of Conduct. …

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