Archive for March, 2011

More thoughts on this issue (granted, highly unstructured ramblings):

Some military organisations at least have a military history behind it, so that at the very worst, it can fall back on how the organisation performed in wars past. For peace-time armed forces, who have almost literally NO military history (glorious or not), their reputations, their standing in their respective societies, how their respective citizens regard the organisation and the people in uniform who make it up – all these things are dependent on the messages that are being sent, whether by the armed forces or by its people. When the actions of even one of this armed forces’ people comes to be perceived as silly by the very public the organisation serves, it does nothing to enhance the standing and reputation of that organisation in the eyes of the nation it serves. Maybe the point is being overstated right now – it was after all only one incident. I believe that to write off this incident as just one isolated case is to start down a potentially slippery slope.

This is not the first time the SAF has been involved in a pretty embarrassing public relations incident. Some people may remember a couple of years back, some SAF soldiers put on youtube.com a video of them horsing around. The act of horsing around itself probably was not that serious: I can think of no armed forces whose soldiers, when bored or not properly led, do not horse around.

What was so potentially disturbing about that youtube.com incident was the apparent lack of awareness that these soldiers had in the potential political and strategic ramifications of their actions. The wrong camera at the wrong place and the wrong time, and the SAF can actually find itself in a genuine public relations disaster. Do we really want that? In this latest case of the maid carrying the NSF’s back-pack, that NSF ought to have been aware that his actions in public – especially since he was still wearing the uniform and therefore an official representative of the SAF (even if he was off duty at that time) – could have led to the public viewing the SAF in a negative fashion. Whatever it may be, such incidents therefore seem to suggest that if these soldiers are not aware of the ramifications of their actions, then surely some blame for this lack of awareness has to fall on the organisation for not having educated their soldiers properly on the potential strategic and political effects of their actions.

No doubt, some NSF and NSmen might at this point say, what the public has to say or believe of the SAF is not their problem. I’m sorry, it is their problem. These men, by virtue of their gender, have to serve the nation. Most of us who did National Service never asked to be born as males in Singapore, but that is pointless, since we can do next to nothing (beyond go for gender reassignment surgery, ok, sex change operations). When we don the uniform, we are official representatives of the organisation, and we should therefore carry ourselves in public in a manner that is fit and proper for that organisation.

I know many people who have served thier National Service have less than charitable views of their time and experience in National Service, and certainly do not therefore maintain very positive views of the SAF. But that is not the point. Whether right or wrong, whether genuine of otherwise, the SAF purportedly defends the island against the possibility (however remote) of external aggression. The nation therefore needs to hold this organisation in high regard. For the SAF, without a military history to its name, it too needs this reputation.


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So an SAF soldier was caught on film walking down a path while another woman (looking like a domestic helper, aka domestic ‘maid’) was carrying what looked like his full-pack! Big deal, right? Well, judging from the public furore, it seemed to have been a big deal. You know what, the public furore was absolutely right!

The sad reality is that this was merely one image that was captured on film and shared with the public. All anyone has to do is to go the the White Sands shopping mall on any Sunday evening, and you will see any number of sad-looking SAF recruits wandering around the mall, as if they were enjoying the view (young women) and the air-conditioning for one last time before they (the SAF recruits, that is) had to make the arduous journey back to BMT in Pulau Tekong. What is really disturbing about this latter image isn’t that they are seen by the public wandering around enjoying the view and the air-conditioning, it is what they are very often dragging on the floor – their duffle bags, which are a far cry from the canvas duffle bags older generations of SAF NSmen had to carry in their time. The present duffle bags come with a pair of rollers, which thus facilitates these soldiers dragging their bags on the ground.

Why should this be a big deal? For that matter, why should the picture of an SAF soldier walking down the path while another woman was carrying what looked like the soldier’s full-pack be a big deal? The short answer is that it IS a big deal, and something that we should all be concerned about, at the very least.

I am no cognitive psychologist, but I suspect that the visual images (and the messages we interpret from these visual images) are about as important for our perception of the world around us as the sounds we hear. In other words, what we see is as important as what we hear or are told.

These young NSFs are supposed to form the active defence of Singapore. If a threat emerges tomorrow, there is probably not enough time to mobilise the NSmen (okay, let us be honest, reservists!). The full-time NSFs are therefore the first line of defence that Singapore has. If this first-line defence comprises soldiers who cannot carry their own kit, then I propose that they are not going to inspire any degree of confidence in the public.

Maybe the SAF (and these NSFs who seem unable to carry their own kit in public) is a genuinely capable armed forces, more than able to adequantely defend the island in times of sudden threat. That is not the message that these images are sending out. Sure, some poeple will think that it is easy for me to say these things, I am after all no longer an NSman. Clearly, based on the public furore that this latest incident sparked off, I am not the only one. All I know is that the SAF’s Public Affairs office better do something to repair the damage that this incident may have caused to the SAF’s public image!

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Stratfor CEO George Friedman explores the strategy behind the European-led coalition in Libya in this commentary. While it’s still too early to determine whether the current air campaign precedes a land invasion, Friedman is optimistic of a coalition success in the conventional phase of the war. However, he raises the spectre of a potential post-war insurgency in Libya, particularly if the holy triangle of politics, strategy, and operations is not carefully managed.

The full commentary can be accessed here: http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20110319-libyan-war-2011

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In this RSIS Commentary Mr Kwa Chong Guan looks at the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) ratified by Russia and the United States, and contrasts this development with Asian nuclear powers. The continued build-up of nuclear arsenals and their delivery systems in Asian nuclear weapon states, particularly states that have not declared a no first use policy, is a particular concern for the rest of Asia.

The full commentary can be read here: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/publications/Perspective/RSIS0382011.pdf

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Fergus Hanson, a Vasey Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum, analyses China’s growing interest in the South Pacific in this commentary. Despite some concerns about Chinese intent, he concludes that it is far from supplanting the dominant Western influence in the region.

The full commentary can be accessed here: http://csis.org/publication/pacnet-15-china-and-south-pacific-no-cause-panic-yet

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Professor Shunji Hiraiwa from Kwansei Gakuin University comments on the inherent challenges of multilateral cooperation in dealing with the North Korean regime. He discusses the North’s national ambition of “opening the door to a strong and prosperous nation” by 2012 and looks at the steps the regime is taking to achieve that goal. He then looks at the importance of multilateral cooperation between regional stakeholders, asserting that a functional relationship between these parties is key for regional prosperity and stability.

Professor Hiraiwa’s full commentary, republished here through the courtesy of AJISS, can be accessed here: http://www.jiia.or.jp/en_commentary/201103/03-1.html

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US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently commented that: “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

Dr John Friedman, CEO and founder of geopolitical consultancy STRATFOR, provides his take on Gates’ comments by looking at  the US military’s unsuccessful land wars in Asia from Korea to Vietnam. He then assesses the issues with past American strategy for those failures and suggests an alternative to the application of force in Asia.

The full commentary, republished with the permission of Stratfor.com, can be read here: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20110228-never-fight-land-war-asia

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