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What The Discussion On NS Should Really Be About

On Monday, I wrote about my experience at the second focus group discussion organised by the Committee to Strengthen National Service on The Breakfast Network (here):

Yet, absent from the discourse were questions or segments that encouraged participants to challenge the very existence of NS in Singapore. Conscription was introduced pragmatically decades ago, but is it still relevant today? Are we (still) convinced by its objectives?

Implicit in the name of the committee – to “strengthen” NS – is the notion that conscription is here to stay, and these engagement sessions therefore discourage views that argue otherwise. The structure of the focus group discussion adhered very strictly to the stated objectives of “motivating”, “helping”, “strengthening”, and “promoting”, and the set questions guided the flow of the conversations. Interestingly enough, when ST interviewed two panel members from the first session (“Ideas to make NS more engaging, June 23, 2013), they said they hoped to “correct people’s misconceptions of NS”.

The question: what are some of these “misconceptions”? Not the openness and the level of exchanges many were expecting, unfortunately. I might be convinced by the principles of defence and deterrence, but how can we be so sure that the servicemen are in agreement too? Should we conveniently take this as a given?

Perhaps individuals who were not convinced of the significance of NS did not see the need to turn up. After all, why spend three hours dwelling upon such drivel? If that is the case, it would be useful to make it explicit – during the introductory address – that participating soldiers should challenge the very existence of NS. If that does not happen, future participants should for the sake of a more balanced and meaningful debate, not be confined by the stated questions, and play the devil’s advocate to question.

As I wrote, I’d still encourage more servicemen to sign up for the upcoming sessions. The interactions are intriguing, and knowledge of how the discussions would be structured would now allow more to ask the fundamental question: why serve?

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


10 thoughts on “What The Discussion On NS Should Really Be About

  1. Hi Quan

    I believe in small island state, there should be conscription for NS. However, I have always disagreed with the duration of 2 years. Decades ago, I may submit to the necessity due to the political climate in SEA. Although I detested the manner of which we were treated.

    Honestly, you will hear more negatives from those who had already gone through with this obligation or they would just block out those 2 years from their memory and will not comment further for fear of any ramifications.

    Have the authority ever considered conducting a consensus with the ROD personnel to determine how the NS program can be redesigned? For the better of course.

    In my opinion, conscription to cover Basic training should be sufficient with on going annual training just to ensure the NS men are adequately ready if there is a need to be mobilized (hopefully not). And of course, I am sure many young abled men are capable and interested to pursue a career in the ARMY and I think they will excel provided the incentives and remuneration measure up.

    The issue to be addressed is why NS needs to prolong the agony of young men for 2 years without any significant outcome when dedicated professions can do a better job who also enjoy what they are doing. Let the young men pursue their dreams if the army is not their calling.

    Posted by Asim | June 26, 2013, 3:35 pm
    • The challenge, unfortunately, is recruiting an all volunteer force (100% regulars). Taiwan, for instance, has reduced conscription to just 4 months BMT, with the aim of having an all volunteer standing military, but has faced great difficulty in recruiting the necessary numbers. Few want to sign on, even if the pay is good. It’s serious enough challenge for the defence ministry to delay the actual “end of conscription” there by at least a year. In Singapore, I’m also not convinced many will want to sign on as “men” either. It’s the whole PMET career aspiration that we Singaporeans tend to have. We see this challenge in other professions, such as in healthcare.

      Ultimately, it’s the country’s defence policy that will determine the SAF’s orbat / force requirements, and therefore the form and function of NS.

      Posted by Shu Huang | June 27, 2013, 4:12 am
      • Do you happen to have an article on the Taiwan situation, or more on the figures? I think the situation in Sweden, where there are genuine security fears emerging after the abolition of conscription, is interesting too.

        Still, where are the people who are against conscription? Would love to hear what they think (especially if they are to-be / current servicemen), because that would tackle the very root of “motivation”, methinks.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | June 27, 2013, 11:34 am
    • Thanks for this.

      I think that is one of the intent of the CSNS, to find a good representation of servicemen (beyond the army, NSFs, and NSmen). A lot of our perspectives are shaped by personal anecdotal experiences, so it was great listening to different views.

      To be fair, MINDEF has sought to make NS more “meaningful” to the servicemen. But I don’t think that should preclude discussions on whether we need NS in the first place. I’d love to hear from others who argue otherwise.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | June 27, 2013, 11:32 am
      • I’m afraid I don’t have any material on the Taiwanese situation which I can share. A friend of mine, a senior officer in the Taiwanese military, is actually finishing up his PhD on a comparative study between the end of conscription in Taiwan and Sweden. If he makes his dissertation available I’ll definitely share the link with you.

        I’ve seen some of his data though. The transition’s proving to be a real challenge, largely because the decision was motivated by domestic politics which failed to take into full consideration the practical realities of such a transition. It was a populist decision and the military’s really struggling to make it work. It’s a case of the public being against conscription without fully appreciating what they were asking for. I think that’s what military men fear the most – citizens making uninformed decisions.

        And that brings us back to the larger topic – maybe the only way for the public to make informed decisions is to discuss defence policy publicly. You certainly can’t go too far but neither can you keep it a black box.

        Posted by Shu Huang | June 28, 2013, 4:03 am


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