Can New Zealand’s Defence Model Work for Singapore? NO.


Ajax Copperwater’s article “New Zealand’s defense model: An example for Singapore?” at The Online Citizen is an example of how not to compare Singapore and the Kiwis in terms of decreased defence spending and healthcare as a peace dividend.

Let me state where I’m coming from. I’m a Realist and don’t apologise for defence spending, all things equal, unless defence spending is badly squandered like having subs that don’t submerge unless sinking is considered or if defence spending is supposedly excessive like $11.46 billion according to the 2010 Budget and about 4.5% of the GDP .

Firstly, New Zealand’s defence model is a terrible example to compare with Singapore as Ajax himself admitted. New Zealand is geographically isolated and its closest neighbour is Australia and threat of invasion is unrealistic. Singapore, a maritime state like Venice in its golden age and unlike New Zealand, has its commercial sea lanes to defend by air and sea if necessary. Furthermore, Switzerland, a neutral country with conscription since time immemorial, is a better description of Singapore’s defence posture than New Zealand. Even then if Switzerland is a yardstick, it is comparing apples and oranges as although Singapore is in a peaceful region, it is not that politically stable as Europe in comparison. That’s the ugly truth about it although this region has matured peacefully since Konfrontasti and the Vietnam War.

Singapore should not be seen as a hawkish regional menace despite its arms modernisation. But neither should it be seen as some ridiculous naive pushover like what this Ajax Copperwater wants us to believe.

Concluding paragraphs from “New Zealand’s defense model: An example for Singapore?

“What can Singapore learn from New Zealand?

I’m not suggesting Singapore should adopt New Zealand’s example completely for New Zealand’s defence needs is different from ours. New Zealand has an ally in its neighbour, Australia, and is not situated in a heavily-militarized region as Singapore does.

Nevertheless, if New Zealand can meet its defence needs with less than 15,000 personnel, surely Singapore can do with less than 100,000? I believe it can do even lesser than this number. Many would disagree with me. They might feel every soldier is critical to an army’s defence. That is true to a certain extent. Having a large army is counter-effective as the North Korea has shown. What good is an impressive army when its people have to shoulder the burden of military expenditure with poverty and poor health?

A huge army might be a good deterrent against an imaginary invasion, but there are more credible threat threatening Singapore: diseases. The less well-off would skip medical attention, believing they can get well on their own, to avoid the cost for treatment. That is a very dangerous act that could lead to death. According to MOH, pneumonia is third leading cause of death, 15.3% of case, in Singapore as of 2009. Early treatment in some cases of pneumonia can prevent death.

I feel Singapore can implement a system similar to New Zealand’s District Health Boards. Though Singapore is a city-state and does not have land area the size of New Zealand, its population size is larger. Each region of Singapore are different demographically and better needs of its residents can be met if overseen by a health board. A regional health board can provide a transparency in health expenditure and services dispensed. If the health board members are also members of Parliament or members of the public, perhaps the people can have a larger say in decision making and the health services they want.

As the climate changes for the worse, cases of new contagious and virulent diseases will rise. Is Singapore more prepared for something as deadly as SARS? Perhaps, but won’t it be better if Singapore spend more money on health care, more than 3.1% of its GDP, to safeguard better the health of Singaporeans? What’s stopping Singapore from at least providing free health care service to our youngest, our oldest and our most vulnerable? Won’t you rather have granny access to free health care whenever she needs it and whatever her affliction?”

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46 responses

  1. Fox

    Many people confuse the large defence budget with the uneven burden of conscription. Suppose we cut 50 percent of the defence budget but still retain NS. I don’t think male Singaporeans will be happier. On the other hand, if we tax people who have not served NS an additional 1 percent and redistribute the additional tax revenue to NSFs and NSmen, they won’t complain even though defence expenditure would have gone up.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  2. toh

    I agree with you. Each country’s defence policy needs to cater to its own unqiue security position, its surrounding political environment and the technicalities of military action. The only action New Zealand is gonna get is an invasion from Australia or across the massive Pacific which is near impossible. Whereas Singapore is at the crossroads of major economies and trade routes.

    January 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

  3. chemgen

    Fox – You highlighted a very good point.

    “On the other hand, if we tax people who have not served NS an additional 1 percent and redistribute the additional tax revenue to NSFs and NSmen, they won’t complain even though defence expenditure would have gone up.”

    That is actually a good policy and it can be packaged as a subsidy for citizens, since implementing a defence tax on non-Singaporeans can be rather hawkish.

    Anyway, you are right that most of us lump conscription and a large defence budget as one big complaint albeit conscription plus the maintenance of a 350,000 strong reserve according to some estimates can contribute to a higher defence expenditure. How much exactly I’m not sure but I presume buying, building and maintaining hardware burns up most of the defence budget.

    Toh – I agree here of course.

    “Each country’s defence policy needs to cater to its own unqiue security position, its surrounding political environment and the technicalities of military action.”

    What was irritating about the Ajax article was that in his articles on Singapore’s defence posturing, he raised Costa Rica and now New Zealand as counter-examples. What counter-example is he bringing up next in the rationale for “disarming” Singapore rather than slowing down the pace of arms modernisation, the Vatican City? If I was a paranoid hawk, I might speculate that Ajax is from a neighbouring country.

    January 5, 2011 at 3:43 am

  4. Tan Ah Kow

    I think you might have missed the point raised by Ajax. I must admit I did at first because I was distracted by comparison as it pertain to geography and politics. On that point Ajax might have been better to be more focus on the main thrust, which is “bang for the bucks”. That is: are we really really getting much from the big defence budget?

    If you read carefully, what Ajax wrote. Compared to the modest NZ defence spending, the SAF is not as deployable as an effective force as we might think. NZ was able to deploy combat forces in Afganistan and in the case of the SAF, no combat forces is deployed. NZ forces are not only deployed in Afganistan but in many more places.

    As for argument about the need for high defence spending as deterence, I am afraid apologist such as you have not really demonstrated with any conviction that our level of spending actually deter aggression – i.e. gettingmreal bangs for the bucks. The justification for our level of defence spending is often predicated on glib statement of being in a “troubled” region. Or facination with high tech weaponary than really appreciating if such weapons are really able to do the job.

    One fact often overlook is that a strong – in numerical and technological – force is really not going to deter a weaker one. Especially if the weaker force is so held bend on agression or is not prepared to be rational. Case in point is Serbia who despite the strength of NATO forces was still hell bend on attacking Bosnia. Take Japan in world war 2, rational thinkers would have avoided taking on the US but irrational forces prevail.

    In the Singapore context, the ugly truth is that the high tech forces we got are not going to deal with a determined foe if our neighbours chose to act. If I were commander of our neighbours, I don’t even need to deploy high tech forces to defeat Singapore. All I need to do is to use asymetric approach resorting to harbouring terrorist or even just posturing my forces enough to bleed Singapore dry economically. After all the SAF is so dependent on reservist, who in turn works for MNCs, who will be none the less no please if their work force keeps getring recalled for duties. Even the PAP themselves admit how vulnernable the country is by having to clamp down on minor threats – i.e. one man demonstration.

    So you see if you peel the noise generated by Ajax’s choice of iluustration will begin to see some semblance of rationality in his argument that is often missed when it comes to defence.

    Personally, m views on defence is neither disarmed or armed, the issue is really “bang for the bucks”. My view with the SAF as it is constituted seemed more focused on toys than really deterrence. Hence, I am of the opinion is that it is unduly bloated and I have reason to doubt its ability to deal with asymetric war fare. I am also not adverse to the notion of Singapore becoming a costa rica in military sense. After all Costa Rica is in an even more unstable region that Singapore is. However, I apreciate that some people need to have toys – F16 and F15 – to feel safe. So maybe we can have a military but I don’t have the illusion that the toys are really as effective for the amount we spend. Maybe we could trim back a bit.

    January 5, 2011 at 7:44 am

    • I would highly doubt that we do not possess the ability to project warfare and deploy our forces abroad in combat roles. We certainly do, and we were not represented in Afghanistan in combat roles due to politics. War is not an instrument we use in our Foreign Policy and we are not going to fight or participate in someone else’s war, especially when it has nothing to do with us. We have seen our troops assume combat-ready roles abroad since a long time ago, I believe shortly after the occupation of Cambodia by Soviet-backed Vietnam. Thailand was facing the threat of a Vietnamese invasion and we deployed our SAF along with the Thai forces in the border regions as patrols. Now that was a scenario which was of immediate concern to us and we played a key role and deterring Vietnamese aggression on Thai soil.

      I wouldn’t be quick to put down our equipment as toys either. Yes, we certainly do lack the size and with no significant strategic depth, we would be in loads of trouble enemy artillery gets within firing range of our shores. That alone will set us back all the way to the 60’s, our economy will be blown to hell. No, SAF’s defense doctrine is actually offensive with respect to the immediate neighbors, our only hope is in launching a heavy pre-emptive strike, gain total air-superiority, do as much damage as we can from the air, seize and hold enough territory to create a land-based buffer and call for help – USA, UK, Australia, NZ perhaps (and if the bad guy isn’t Malaysia, then of course Malaysia).

      That being said, the immediate neighbor to the north who’s also our closest cousin, is in no way a threat. Those to the south are, capable of fielding a large military with plenty of combat experience. They would be able to hold out more than a fortnight and that in itself will kill our economy.

      June 29, 2012 at 9:38 am

  5. Fox

    @Tan Ah Kow,

    “In the Singapore context, the ugly truth is that the high tech forces we got are not going to deal with a determined foe if our neighbours chose to act. If I were commander of our neighbours, I don’t even need to deploy high tech forces to defeat Singapore. All I need to do is to use asymetric approach resorting to harbouring terrorist or even just posturing my forces enough to bleed Singapore dry economically.”

    Really? You won’t need high-tech weapons to threaten Singapore? Pray tell, why does Malaysia buy toys like attack helicopters, rocket artillery,submarines, main battle tanks, etc?

    Also, there is a good reason that the Malaysian Armed Forces do not deploy any significant military assets too close to Singapore: they’ll be too vulnerable to any first strike by Singapore. Malaysia’s leaders and military planners are not stupid, you know. There is no point provoking Singapore militarily. While Singapore certainly will lose in a long drawn-out military conflict with Malaysia, it can take down Malaysia with it. Let’s put it this way: do you think the balance of Singapore-Malaysia relations will not change if we were to disarm ourselves?

    Singapore has to have a military edge over Malaysia simply because it does not have space to trade if there were to be a land-based military conflict between the two. Malaysia is able to conduct an elastic defence; Singapore cannot. This does not mean that conscription in its present form is the best way to maintain that military edge.

    January 5, 2011 at 10:08 am

  6. Fox

    “Case in point is Serbia who despite the strength of NATO forces was still hell bend on attacking Bosnia.”

    Actually, Serbia never attacked Bosnia for fear of retaliation and UN resolutions which would have been enforced by NATO. They ‘only’ armed the Bosnian Serbs. Also, even the support for the Bosnian Serbs stopped almost immediately after NATO bombed the hell out of Serbia in 1995. Doesn’t this prove the advantages of high tech arms?

    January 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

  7. Tan Ah Kow

    @fox

    I think you have mis read what I am trying to say. The thrust of my argument is that if our neighbours had any intention of aggression, they will. The point is aggressors don’t almost invariably act with any rationality. They will act even if the foe is stronger as in the case with Serbia, Japan in WWII, and countless other example.

    So strength is not a deterrace per se. Strength only gives you the opportunity to react that’s all. But just as strength gives you the means to react you need to react rationally. Otherwise, as in Judo your opponent can use your strength to its advantage.

    As for your argument about having first strike capability, the question is when can it be used? As I have indicated, IF (and the word is IF) I were a nasty Malaysia decided to cause mischieve and just park military assets in Johore but don’t shoot first, what can SAF do?

    Start bombing pre-emptively? Sure we can but if the rest of the world start to think we are the aggressor an embargo can be applied and all our overseas assets will be seized. Remember at least one third of our military equipment is park outside the country and that can easily be withheld.

    Even if you do bomb malaysia’s high tech equipment what next? You are going to need to invade at least Johore to keep low tech artillery from lobbying bombs – as is the case with Isreal enemies. That alone is going to draw your manpower away from your economy and drain you economically. With Singapore so dependent on MNCs do you think these companies are going to stay?

    Again let me emphasise again that aggressive parties typically don’t think rationally. Fortunately, our neighbours are rational. Also aggressive actions don’t necessarily need to be high tech to win. Think Vietnam-USA or USSR Afganistan. Or more recently Isreal-Lebanon. So don’t go with the idea that hi tech weapon is going to make you safe they don’t. Such weapons can only give you the means to react that’s all. Use it wrongly it can backfire – draining your economy.

    January 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    • @Tan Ah Kow – Yes you are right, high tech weaponry will not keep us perfectly safe. No war is the best thing for us any given day. I think that is a point every Singaporean understands well. Regardless, having a high tech defensive capability which has the ability to launch devastating attacks as well on enemy soil is better than not having any at all. The idea behind it is to ensure that our neighbors understand the losses their own societies would face in the event of war with Singapore. Whether we win or lose, they would stand to lose alot more than they gain, making any such misadventure on their part pointless. It’s not a guaranteed win for us, yes, but even if we don’t win, we will not make it easy for them. That alone with deter any potential threat from them. Our superior military capabilities also ensure THEY wouldn’t be able to saber-rattle us into giving ridiculous concessions. Pedra Branca wouldn’t be with us. It probably wouldn’t have even made it to International courts. They would have dropped Paratroopers on the island we would be scared shitless. We were able to win on that one because Malaysia didn’t have much choices but to take the diplomatic approach. In this day and age where saber-rattling is employed actively as a tool in Foreign Policy, it is vital to maintain a credible force with an edge over any potential threat. And no, Malaysia isn’t dumb enough to do any major troop movements in the south. They desire good relations with us and are not willing to risk threatening us. Their defence forces are primarily concerned with the defence of the North and also East Malaysia. This has been discussed and brought up on many defence websites.

      June 29, 2012 at 9:51 am

  8. Tan Ah Kow

    @fox

    “Really? You won’t need high-tech weapons to threaten Singapore? Pray tell, why does Malaysia buy toys like attack helicopters, rocket artillery,submarines, main battle tanks, etc?”

    If you read carefully, I said IF I were.. I am not THE Malaysian government.

    The fact that the Malaysian government are so facinated with high tech weapons does not invalidate the threat can also be exercise with low tech ones. Does it not?

    After all as I have indicated the fact that the Singapore government in the form of the PAP can feel so threaten by a one man protest makes you wonder whether all the high tech military equipment is worth while or not. If I were and I am not the Malaysian goverment, I certainly would bother with hi tech weapon to threaten.

    January 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm

  9. Fox

    “As for your argument about having first strike capability, the question is when can it be used? As I have indicated, IF (and the word is IF) I were a nasty Malaysia decided to cause mischieve and just park military assets in Johore but don’t shoot first, what can SAF do?”

    Actually, signs of military preparation that point to intention of military action can be construed as signs of imminent attack. You don’t have to wait for an actual attack to respond. Technically, in certain legal circles, you are justified to launch a pre-emptive attack in self-defence. And many countries will support your right to do so.

    Thus, it is very stupid to park all your military assets in one spot, leaving them vulnerable to a first strike, given the legal ambiguities of a pre-emptive strike. If you were the Malaysian defence planner, parking the bulk of military assets close to Singapore would be extremely foolhardy. Essentially, you’re banking on Singapore not launching any pre-emptive strikes in ALL possible conflict scenarios. That is NOT why Malaysia disperses its military forces.

    And if Malaysia defence planning is really based on Singapore not being the first mover in any conflict, why does it continue to upgrade its military in parallel to Singapore’s? Unless it is planning on being the one conducting the first strike, in which case Singapore is perfectly justified to retain the option to perform a first strike…

    January 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    • Tan Ah Kow

      @Fox,

      “And if Malaysia defence planning is really based on Singapore not being the first mover in any conflict, why does it continue to upgrade its military in parallel to Singapore’s? Unless it is planning on being the one conducting the first strike, in which case Singapore is perfectly justified to retain the option to perform a first strike…”

      First of all, this conversation is about what Malaysia choose or not choose to do. The conversation, as raised by Ajax is whether our defence spending really offer a deterrence or not. Or more specifically is spending so much on defence (i.e. military) component really a effective form of defence. Or are we focusing on the wrong sort of threat.

      As you have demonstrated in your argument, much of it seemed to centre on potential threat but what about the real or more likely ones such as low tech ones? Are we prepared for it? Given our economy is so reliant on foreign contribution (as compared to Isreal) can the economy really withstand shock in the event of a shooting war? If not should we not be shifting to a less foreign dependencies so we can be more resilient?

      Those are the kind of more holistic questions that we need to answer before we start being seduced by gadgets. Fine if having answered all those questions and the answer is we must have expensive gadget than so be it. But as can be seen in many debate about defence and as demonstrated by your respond, it is often reduced to High Spending == good, Low Spending == bad, simplistic formula.

      January 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm

      • Fox

        Do low tech ones affect Singapore a lot? By how many points did the stock market drop when Mas Selamat escaped?

        As to whether our military capabilities are presenting an effective deterrent: You don’t see Malaysia parking their military assets in Johore, right? Malaysia is also constantly upgrading its military force, buying tanks, rocket artillery, submarines, etc . Why would they bother to do that if they believe that Singapore has an impotent military force and does not pose a credible threat?

        Even if you believe that Singapore is overinvesting in high tech capabilities, some explanation is due on why Malaysia also invests in high tech military stuff.

        January 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        Sorry this

        “First of all, this conversation is about what Malaysia choose or not choose to do.”

        should be replaced with

        “First of all, this conversation is NOT about what Malaysia choose or not choose to do.”

        January 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      • Fox

        “First of all, this conversation is NOT about what Malaysia choose or not choose to do.”

        Well, it does matter what Malaysia does. If Malaysia does not upgrade its military while Singapore continues to invest in more high tech military capabilities, it would mean that Singapore’s investments are unnecessary. But that is not what you see in the real world. It does try to keep up with Singapore and this suggests that Malaysia does take Singapore’s high tech military capabilities seriously to some extent.

        January 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @Fox,

        “Do low tech ones affect Singapore a lot? By how many points did the stock market drop when Mas Selamat escaped?”

        So you are saying low-tech IED has no impact? Yes low-tech weapon may not have immediate impact but if opponent can sustain it long enough it can drain you.

        North Vietnam use low tech weapon and still defeated the Americans and
        South Vietnam. What about Afghanistan and USSR and now NATO?

        Let’s be clear when that kind of low-tech war occur all your hi-tech weapons will be rendered impotent. For example, USAF now investing in low tech propeller driven plane because their F-16 and f-15 can’t do the job!

        January 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

      • Fox

        “But as can be seen in many debate about defence and as demonstrated by your respond, it is often reduced to High Spending == good, Low Spending == bad, simplistic formula.”

        I’m a little perplexed. When have I ever said that high defence spending == good? I simply suggest that Singapore has legitimate military needs, like any other country in the world, which may require investment in things like tanks, artillery, fighter jets, etc. What these needs are is certainly up for grabs.

        January 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @Fox

        “Well, it does matter what Malaysia does. If Malaysia does not upgrade its military while Singapore continues to invest in more high tech military capabilities, it would mean that Singapore’s investments are unnecessary. But that is not what you see in the real world. It does try to keep up with Singapore and this suggests that Malaysia does take Singapore’s high tech military capabilities seriously to some extent.”

        Are you not contradicting yourself here? You are now saying that Malaysia is upgrading to Catch Up with Singapore. Does it not mean that, by your argument, we are the aggressor? In which case are we not just chasing our own tail?

        January 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    • Tan Ah Kow

      @Fox,

      “Actually, signs of military preparation that point to intention of military action can be construed as signs of imminent attack. You don’t have to wait for an actual attack to respond. Technically, in certain legal circles, you are justified to launch a pre-emptive attack in self-defence. And many countries will support your right to do so.”

      Maybe so in an ideal world. But in practice who is prepared to support your action boils down to politics.

      When an independent panel concluded that South Korea’s ship was sunk by North. Did China side with the US to condemn the North?

      When other countries says Isreal current border is illegal did the US side with the rest of the world and condemn Isreal?

      You see having first strike capability is a double edge sword. It maybe effective if applied correctly but if not you could end up cutting yourself.

      If you want my opinion, I am either for or against first strike. What I am for is for such a capability to be used carefully. So in a sense, I don’t find having such a capability any more reassuring that we have it or not. More importantly is if we do exercise such an option we must be prepared for the consequences that flow from it. That part I am not assured by SAF ability.

      January 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm

  10. Fox

    “Again let me emphasise again that aggressive parties typically don’t think rationally. Fortunately, our neighbours are rational.”

    Well, you can be aggressive and rational but you can also make strategic miscalculations. Being rational simply means that your actions are decided through calculating the outcomes of various scenarios. It is entirely possible for one party to miscalculate the outcomes.

    I would say that Israel is aggressive and rational but it made a mistake in attacking Lebanon in 2006. It is entirely possible for the Malaysian govt to make strategic miscalculations. That’s what military defence is for. It is an insurance. In the unlikely event that things hit the fan, we are prepared.

    January 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    • Tan Ah Kow

      @Fox

      “That’s what military defence is for. It is an insurance. In the unlikely event that things hit the fan, we are prepared.”

      Fully agree with you it is an military defence is an insurance. But an insurance cannot deter aggression. When you buy your life insurance does it stop you from dying? No. All it does is to compensate your designated beneficiary when you die! Military defence is like that, all you get is the ability to hit at someone, which you might have to do, that’s all. It cannot guarantee you will not be hit!

      Also not all insurance is useful and there is a danger of over insuring. If you were a single person with no family, is there any point in buying a life insurance that only pays out when you are dead! Won’t it be better to buy an insurance that will be useful should something happens, e.g. unemployment, hospitalisation, etc? The last thing you want to do is to insure on events that are least likely to happen than something more likely to happen and that you can benefit from the payout?

      Take the case of military defence. Is it more effective than spend on expensive equipments or spend on making it less profitable to go to war? Or spend on making people more resilient in times of war or have expensive equipment but fair weather citizen who will give up at the first sign of trouble?

      January 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

      • Fox

        “Take the case of military defence. Is it more effective than spend on expensive equipments or spend on making it less profitable to go to war? Or spend on making people more resilient in times of war or have expensive equipment but fair weather citizen who will give up at the first sign of trouble?”

        FYI, NZ also has a brain drain problem. In fact, it is worse than Singapore’s. 20.7 percent of their university graduates emigrate vs. 15.2 percent for Singapore.

        There is no evidence that high social welfare transfers is any effective in stopping people from leaving the country.

        See:
        http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1199807908806/Singapore.pdf
        http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPROSPECTS/Resources/334934-1199807908806/NewZealand.pdf

        January 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @Fox,

        “FYI, NZ also has a brain drain problem. In fact, it is worse than Singapore’s. 20.7 percent of their university graduates emigrate vs. 15.2 percent for Singapore.”

        Not sure what this line of argument has to do with current discussion. This discussion is about whether our current spending on defence is really giving us security or not — and as you seemed to have argued seemed to have the opposite effect.

        So either you are trying to scrap up some crazy argument just to win points or you have forgotten what all these argument is about?

        The point about taking New Zealand’s argument is as Ajax points out is that maybe – I say maybe here – the Kiwis have somehow calibrated their defence needs more than accurately than we do. So maybe it is worth looking at that or maybe not.

        “There is no evidence that high social welfare transfers is any effective in stopping people from leaving the country.”

        So what are you implying here. That New Zealand should spend as much on defence as we do to stop the brain drain?

        Or that the Kiwis are leaving the country because they fear they are not well defended?

        January 6, 2011 at 4:44 am

      • Fox

        Given the context, where Ajax was comparing NZ to Singapore, the implicit suggestion was that if we shift spending from defence to social welfare, people will become more resilient. Whether poeple are fairweather or not does not depends on the amount of social welfare spending, or at least there is no evidence for that.

        January 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @fox

        “Given the context, where Ajax was comparing NZ to Singapore, the implicit suggestion was that if we shift spending from defence to social welfare, people will become more resilient. Whether poeple are fairweather or not does not depends on the amount of social welfare spending, or at least there is no evidence for that.”

        First of all I am not Ajax so I can’t vouch whether there is any implicit meaning in his article or not. All I can say is I don’t see his article having any meaning in that way you put it.

        Secondly even if implicitly if he was suggesting a shift of resource, how has that got to do with brain drain? Where is the link between brain drain and defence spending?

        Thirdly, my reading of Ajax article, and I don’t profess to speak for him only put my interpretation, is that he seemed to be pointing out that maybe the Kiwis have got their sums right in terms of calibrating their defence needs. For example, the Kiwis have come to realised that spending on fighter planes don’t add to security and at the risk of being a laughing stock decide to abandon having fighters for their Air Force. And that the saving from that loss of capabilities could deploy resources to areas where there is real threat. Maybe we could learn from the Kiwis and be much more critical of our spending and ask critical question about our defence needs and priorities differently. That is how I read what his trying to say. But again I don’t speak for him only interpret.

        January 6, 2011 at 11:48 am

  11. Fox

    @chemgen,

    NS actually helps to bring down the national defence budget. In reality, when we have conscription, we shift the part of the economic cost from the state (all taxpayers) to the conscripts (a fraction of taxpayers). NS is an implicit tax. There is nothing wrong with taxation for the common good (citizens, PRs and foreign workers) but NS just happens to be a tax that imposed on a fraction of the tax-paying population and is inherently unfair. The unfairness of it was not so great in the past because the freeloaders were mostly our family and friends. However, with the dramatic increase in foreigners and new immigrants, it is no longer fair to let others freeload.

    In fact, a one percent hike in taxation to shift the cost back from NSmen will not necessarily have a negative economic effect, if any at all. This is not a welfare transfer because we can reasonably assume NSmen are equally productive workers as non-NSmen.

    January 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm

  12. Tan Ah Kow

    @Fox

    “As to whether our military capabilities are presenting an effective deterrent: You don’t see Malaysia parking their military assets in Johore, right?”

    Again, I am not the Malaysian government and I do not speak for what they chose or not choose to do.

    What I would say is that the option for Malaysia to threaten Singapore don’t have to rely on hi tech weapon. As I have indicated is an option that is available. Whether the Malaysian government choose to do so or not is best answered by them. Not me.

    Fact is that option exists. And if you think it can easily be resolved by military capabilities of Singapore, it is a naive way to think. In the real world politics the ability to use your first strike capabilities is not as simple as you think. Unless you want to suffer even greater strategic set back.

    “Malaysia is also constantly upgrading its military force, buying tanks, rocket artillery, submarines, etc . Why would they bother to do that if they believe that Singapore has an impotent military force and does not pose a credible threat?”

    So what are you saying? That Malaysia’s spending is triggered by Singapore’s spending? So it then brings us back to the question of whether High Defence spending is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy than an insurance?

    January 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    • Fox

      You’re the one who asserted that Singapore’s military capabilities are useless since they cannot be deployed. Well, the Malaysian government disagrees with you. Malaysia is spending because it believes Singapore poses a threat to Malaysia with its high tech capabilities.

      You have to either believe that the governments of Singapore and Malaysia are foolish in investing in high tech stuff (Singapore for trying in the first place and Malaysia for responding to Singapore’s actions) or that there is some actual reason behind maintaining a reasonable balance of military capabilities.

      January 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        First of all, you are the one using the word “useless” not me.

        Secondly what I said was in Ajax argument, when it comes to having a Armed Forces that is combat deployable, the SAF is not comparable to NZDF. That is partly because according to Ajax argument is that we are encumbered by conscription. If you wish to extend that to mean I “assert” Singapore’s military capabilities are “useless”. That’s your prerogative.

        Thirdly, much of my argument is about bangs for the bucks – i.e. there is a danger that we are investing in the wrong kind of insurance so to speak. You may disagree.

        Forthly, I don’t hold too much store in high tech weapon as necessarily effective just because they are hight tech and expensive. They are basically tools for the trade. Nothing more.

        Fifthly, I don’t speak for the Malaysian government about what the do and do not do. Nor I expect the it care about my views. If they want to believe that sending on that weapon is really useful as a means of threat to Singapore, my, not the Malaysian view, is that they are wasting time and money. If they chose to do so that’s their prerogative.

        Sixthly, if a monkey see and monkey do approach does not necessarily vindicate each other. Besides I am more concern about our defence investment is not one that is causing a self fulfilling prophecy.

        January 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @Fox

        “You have to either believe that the governments of Singapore and Malaysia are foolish in investing in high tech stuff (Singapore for trying in the first place and Malaysia for responding to Singapore’s actions) or that there is some actual reason behind maintaining a reasonable balance of military capabilities.”

        I don’t have to think that either is foolish. My view is that there is a danger that blind believe in high tech weapons as being more capable than they really are is more possibly driving such investment than really a clear appreciation of military needs. If you want to think that is “foolish” than it’s your prerogative!

        January 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm

  13. chemgen

    Tan Ah Kow

    “Secondly what I said was in Ajax argument, when it comes to having a Armed Forces that is combat deployable, the SAF is not comparable to NZDF. That is partly because according to Ajax argument is that we are encumbered by conscription. If you wish to extend that to mean I “assert” Singapore’s military capabilities are “useless”. That’s your prerogative.” @ 7.00pm

    Why is the SAF’s deployment capabilities not comparable to the Kiwis? Yes the Kiwis are perhaps deployed in more peacekeeping theatres but that does not mean that it has better deployment capabilities than the SAF. The SAF might have the capabilities but chooses not to deploy. Whether the deployment is shackled by conscription in terms of not sending sons of Singapore to sort out other people’s problems, perhaps. However it is a matter of political will in deployment, not capabilities in deployment. Besides, Flying Eagle is an example of SAF deployment, humanitarian, but deployment nonetheless.

    “Thirdly, much of my argument is about bangs for the bucks – i.e. there is a danger that we are investing in the wrong kind of insurance so to speak. You may disagree.” @ 7.00pm

    I totally agree with you here. If the $11.46 billion allotted to defence in budget 2010 is bang for buck and not some SLA staff scam, I’m fine with it more or less. Still, buying used Leopards and pre-owned Archer class subs can be seen as Singapore being frugal and having bang for buck – cynics can of course say that Singapore bought lemons, but at least Mindef didn’t get an aircraft carrier only to mothball it like a regional friend. Also when Singapore bought the F15SG, the arms industry and other buyers watched Singapore’s every move as Singapore is often seen as a picky buyer so that can be seen as Mindef wanting bang for buck.
    http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/press-coverage-2005/december-2005/singapore-to-buy-12-f-15-fighter-jets-/

    Nonetheless I think we both agree that Mindef could have scaled down on its purchases. As a layperson, I ask whether the Seahawks are really necessary now?

    “My view is that there is a danger that blind believe in high tech weapons as being more capable than they really are is more possibly driving such investment than really a clear appreciation of military needs.” @ 7.20pm

    Naturally high tech weapons alone don’t win wars, but do they give a serious sharp edge and reach. The first Gulf War where Russia, China and other military competitors to the US were stunned by the US’ high tech one-two punch to the hardy Iraq veterans is an example of the importance of high tech weaponry . Gone are the days where guts and a bayonet charge after the whistle blows is the main condition for victory. Mindef knows that.

    January 6, 2011 at 2:14 am

    • Tan Ah Kow

      @ChemGen

      “Why is the SAF’s deployment capabilities not comparable to the Kiwis? Yes the Kiwis are perhaps deployed in more peacekeeping theatres but that does not mean that it has better deployment capabilities than the SAF. The SAF might have the capabilities but chooses not to deploy. Whether the deployment is shackled by conscription in terms of not sending sons of Singapore to sort out other people’s problems, perhaps. However it is a matter of political will in deployment, not capabilities in deployment. Besides, Flying Eagle is an example of SAF deployment, humanitarian, but deployment nonetheless.”

      None of SAF deployments are combat related. That is a key difference. Even in the case of East Timor the SAF had difficulty raising even a company strength as compared to the Kiwis ability to raise an almost battalion size combat battalion.

      You are right if we wanted to deploy for combat role it is a matter of political will. But evidence are such that deploying conscript presents more difficulty. The French for instance relies on their foreign legion to do the job not their conscript component. Even the Israelis rely on their relatively independent professional brigade to spearhead most operations.

      In the case of NZDF, it could be said that they motivation to participate is possibly to buy strategic goodwill in particular from big powers such as the US and even Australia. Just like the Brits when they choose to fight along side the Yanks.

      If you want to say whether SAF will fight in the event of invasion by our neighbours, there is a good chance people will. The question that whether such an event is a likely prospect. And thus requiring a large standing force as we do now. in any case in the event of a full blown invasion. The fact to the matter is we are going to need the support of the US or any other countries, which should be clear cut if it could be clearly established that the aggressor is by other party. But in order for other countries to “boys” to shed blood your country you must be seen to be willing to shed yours too. As is the case of NZDF and South Korea in Vietnam. Or you have such a overwhelming strategic interest to the participant country.

      However, small scale threat from our neighbours is more likely. And as I have indicated to Fox, the large standing Army we got is not really going to do much good. Under such circumstances a different approach is going to be needed.

      January 6, 2011 at 3:58 am

      • Fox

        We don’t have a large standing army. We have a large reserve army. Our standing army is smaller than Malaysia’s or Indonesia’s.

        January 6, 2011 at 9:34 am

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @fox

        “We don’t have a large standing army. We have a large reserve army. Our standing army is smaller than Malaysia’s or Indonesia’s.”

        Looks like we are entering into the territory of playing with words rather than appreciating the crux of the argument of the argument which certain kind of forces are simply not effective.

        So let me rephrase my standing to reserved army. Is that better for you?

        January 6, 2011 at 11:27 am

      • Fox

        I can’t read the minds of Mindef’s planners so I don’t know if a large reserve army is necessary. My personal inclination is to say no.

        If it were a question about equity, I would be against a large reserve army since its economic burden falls largely on NSmen. If it were a question of economic efficiency, then I would also say no.

        If it were

        January 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    • Tan Ah Kow

      @ChemGen

      “I totally agree with you here. If the $11.46 billion allotted to defence in budget 2010 is bang for buck and not some SLA staff scam, I’m fine with it more or less. Still, buying used Leopards and pre-owned Archer class subs can be seen as Singapore being frugal and having bang for buck – cynics can of course say that Singapore bought lemons, but at least Mindef didn’t get an aircraft carrier only to mothball it like a regional friend. Also when Singapore bought the F15SG, the arms industry and other buyers watched Singapore’s every move as Singapore is often seen as a picky buyer so that can be seen as Mindef wanting bang for buck.”

      First of all I won’t attribute public announcement of Singapore picky-ness as anything more that polite speak when any commercial deal is done. Or that other people watch our buying habit because we are such a worthy model. After all the Korean bought the F-15 before we did and sales of the air plane did not rocket after we bought them – the oh Singapore bought them so it must be good! Come on let’s get real about that.

      Secondly, yeah we can buy 2nd submarine but that by itself does not represent bang for the bucks. Just because we bought it second hand. The question is apart from sending it for exercises, can it really be used in any of the threat situation we are likely to be confronted? Subs are useful for sending special forces for maritime recon but are they really good for say terrorist attack, which is more likely? Can they really be that useful in shallow waters in the straits of Malacca?

      January 6, 2011 at 4:11 am

      • Tan Ah Kow

        Oh forget to add. I have no aversion to high defence spending. But often I am not convinced by the argument for pro high defence spending. My concern is are we investing in the right kind of stuff or are we simply seduced by technology for technology sake?

        Ok I can buy the argument that if we buy equipment that we don’t militarily need but to say curry favours from the US for other strategic consideration — i.e. make sure US vote in our favour. Then so be it.

        January 6, 2011 at 4:16 am

      • Fox

        Submarines and fighter jets are necessary for interdiction of vital sea lanes, not necessarily for confronting direct existence threats to Singapore. For example, any belligerent party – Indonesia and Malaysia – can do an Iran and close the Malacca Straits to Singapore-bound shipping. Of course, this would be illegal but would you want to wait for the UN council to do something about it?

        It’s an open secret that a limited degree of force projection is built into Singapore’s military planning. Our military is not just built for repelling invasion threats. You can argue if that is necessary but I’m just saying how things are.

        January 6, 2011 at 9:41 am

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @fox

        “Submarines and fighter jets are necessary for interdiction of vital sea lanes, not necessarily for confronting direct existence threats to Singapore. For example, any belligerent party – Indonesia and Malaysia – can do an Iran and close the Malacca Straits to Singapore-bound shipping. Of course, this would be illegal but would you want to wait for the UN council to do something about it?”

        First let me say you are entitled to your opinion to the necessity of figthers and submarines. But again you are missing the point, which is about whether what we spend on is really worth the investment – i.e. bang for the bucks. Chemgen argument is that since we are frugal in our spending – i.e. not buying 1st hand buying 2nd hand – we are getting bangs for the buck so to speak. My contention is that frugal spending does not equate to effective spending – i.e. bang for the bucks. To deterine one investment is worthwhile we must first ask whether the investment can do the job or not in the first place. Even if you managed to buy something cheaper it does not imply you have invested wisely. That is the point I am getting at.

        Secondly the submarine argument was meant to illustrate a general point about bang for the bucks not specifically about waiting for UN vote before we act. What I was saying is that I am not adverse to investing in things that have no direct military effectiveness but can have strategic value line of argument as part of the larger bang for bucks justification. For instance, instance wining friends in the UN as an example of strategic value. Not as you put it wait for UN to vote.

        January 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      • Fox

        I agree entirely with you on this point in principle. Who can be against getting bang for bucks?

        January 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    • Tan Ah Kow

      @ChemGen

      “Naturally high tech weapons alone don’t win wars, but do they give a serious sharp edge and reach. The first Gulf War where Russia, China and other military competitors to the US were stunned by the US’ high tech one-two punch to the hardy Iraq veterans is an example of the importance of high tech weaponry . Gone are the days where guts and a bayonet charge after the whistle blows is the main condition for victory. Mindef knows that.”

      I have no doubt that that maybe so in the case of the Gulf war but that kind of wars are not the only ones. If you put all your basket in those type of war you could find it difficult to fight ones that really small scale but can have strategic impact. For example, as I have indicated to fox the USAF invested so much in super expensive planes they now find themselves unable to fight the new war. So much so that they have to now buy Brazilian made propeller driven plane to do the job.

      Yes gone are the days when strategic wars are won by bayonet but nevertheless it is not entirely gone. The brits for example in Afganistan are now finding that simple low tech IED can have just as much devastating effect as your ultra modern SAR rifle.

      You speak of victory in war as if it things are so clear cut. Historically, victory is not as clear cut as in the case WWII. Many conflict are likely to be the case where proclaiming victory is easier than reality on the ground. Remember when Bush declared mission over in Iraq? Was it over?

      In the case of Singapore-Malaysia all out war, do you honest think it is going to be a simple case of we win you loose or vice-versa. Let says we defeated Malaysia militarily but is that a victory? Don’t we have to occupy the country after defeating it militarily?

      Whether Mindef knows are not, well only they can answer. I don’t pretend to know what they think. My only concern is from what I can tell is that lots of money is spent on gadgets.

      January 6, 2011 at 4:33 am

      • Fox

        “In the case of Singapore-Malaysia all out war, do you honest think it is going to be a simple case of we win you loose or vice-versa. Let says we defeated Malaysia militarily but is that a victory? Don’t we have to occupy the country after defeating it militarily?”

        So, we should unilaterally disarm ourselves? Or have only enough military forces to ensure that we won’t have at least an even chance in the event of a military conflict with Malaysia?

        Just replace Malaysia and Singapore with N. Korea and S. Korea. Maybe S. Korea should disarm itself since it would have to occupy N. Korea after defeating it.

        January 6, 2011 at 9:49 am

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @fox

        “So, we should unilaterally disarm ourselves? Or have only enough military forces to ensure that we won’t have at least an even chance in the event of a military conflict with Malaysia?”

        I think you are scapping the bottom of the barrel again.

        What I am trying to say in this context is that you cannot define military victory clearly. In the case of Singapore Malaysia all out war when is victory declared? When you militarily defeat malaysia? Or when you occupy it? After you occupy it you can still loose.

        I didn’t suggest whether Singapore should or should not disarmed. Suggest you read carefully. My respond was about definition of victory.

        Now to answetr your off topic and strawman point. Well let me put my respond this way? Tell me how do you define victory in an all out Singapore Malaysia war? After you answer that ask yourself how much forces you need to ensure victory as you define it? If we are the guarantee victory as you defined it, is our defence spending sufficient? Should we spend more or less?

        By framing your question as simply whether to armed or not armed is basically a naive and somewhat childish way of scoring points. Life is not black and white!

        January 6, 2011 at 11:19 am

      • Fox

        “Let says we defeated Malaysia militarily but is that a victory? Don’t we have to occupy the country after defeating it militarily?”

        Victory depends on what your military objectives are.

        For example, I think that Singapore has a pretty good chance of carrying out a crippling aerial pre-emptive first strike.

        I also think that the Singapore navy has a pretty good chance of defeating any attempts by to blockade the Malacca Straits by Malaysia.

        I can’t read the minds of Mindef’s planners but I presume that these goals are achievable without necessitating the wholesale defeat and occupation of Malaysia.

        I don’t know why you keep bringing Iraq up. There are plenty of military scenarios which do not require overthrowing the government in Malaysia.

        January 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm

      • Tan Ah Kow

        @fox

        “Victory depends on what your military objectives are.”

        Yes that’s the point I have trying to get at.

        However meeting military objectives and by implication victory is one thing. Fulfilling it in real life is another thing and altogether less predictable.

        When I brought up the case of Iraq it was a clear illustration complex this notion of military victory is in real life. When Bush declared mission accomplished in the the 2nd Iraq war, for all intent his military objectives were met but was it a victory?

        Just like when you talk about defeating Malaysia militarily but would that constitute a victory?

        Yes, probably you don’t have to take over Malaysia to meet military objective. But in real life things don’t always pan out neatly?

        You talk about first strike. Yes we can do it but can you predict the consequence following from that?

        If you are lucky it will end there if not we could get ourselves in a quarmire.

        However, don’t turn this argument into implying that I am for disarment.

        On the contrary, what I am saying is that if you want to have first strike capability as an military insurance you must also have the will to deal with the worst case scenario that flow from your initial action!

        January 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm

  14. chemgen

    Fox

    “I would say that Israel is aggressive and rational but it made a mistake in attacking Lebanon in 2006. It is entirely possible for the Malaysian govt to make strategic miscalculations. That’s what military defence is for. It is an insurance. In the unlikely event that things hit the fan, we are prepared.” @ 4.40pm

    Exactly, well said.

    January 6, 2011 at 2:28 am

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