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Archive for March, 2012

A contribution from a reader, June Olsen. Many thanks to June for this.

Transitioning back to living a civilian lifestyle is just one of many challenges veterans face upon returning from active service. Many veterans enter the military when they are young, with dreams of serving their country, but likely also without having thought out a rewarding career path beyond their military service. The Montgomery GI Bill and post 9/11 GI Bill taken together represent a tremendous incentive for veterans to explore academic subjects and career instruction that were not available to them while on their active duty station, or alternately to pursue careers which take advantage of the aptitudes they discovered while serving, so they can seek out civilian analogs to their military careers.

It is possible that to meet their educational needs and the demands of the civilian labor market they will have to look farther afield than their local public schools to get the best value from their benefit.

The Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI Bill both presented different solutions to the problem of veteran education, with the primary difference being how (and to whom) payment goes to. The Montgomery GI Bill paid a set monthly rate that varied in value according to the type of training or education and how much time is dedicated to it each month (i.e. full time, half time) up to a set maximum yearly benefit amount. The sum was paid directly to the veteran. The 9/11 GI Bill, however, will instead pay the full amount of tuition/fees for all in-state students of public schools. Veterans who choose to attend private schools have their benefits capped at $17,500 per year under the 9/11 GI Bill and whatever education provider is chosen, public or private, all benefits are paid directly to the school the veteran is attending.

The problem with the 9/11 GI Bill is that it provides no housing benefit for distance learners, it also may not cover the full cost of tuition for private online schools that have the most desirable, cutting edge class offerings and training that employers want to see on the resumes of potential employees. Many private online universities have recognized this problem and pledged their support to the Yellow Ribbon Program, an initiative that removes the veteran’s obligation for tuition/fees in excess of the $17,500 yearly benefit cap by “splitting the difference” between the accredited online educator and the Veterans Administration.

Online education made possible by the Yellow Ribbon Program presents a unique opportunity for veterans to further their education or career training while readjusting to civilian life in the comfort and familiar surroundings they know best. A veteran returning to civilian life may feel that, if he or she is no longer of typical college age, that they no longer “fit” in with campus life. They may also prefer to study online so they can work full time while maintaining open lines of communication with a supportive community, especially one composed of fellow veterans who may be returning to their homes in other states.

According to Accredited Online Colleges, the Yellow Ribbon Program presents a unique opportunity for veterans to further their education or career training while readjusting to civilian life in the comfort and familiar surroundings they know best. A veteran returning to civilian life may feel that, if he or she is no longer of typical college age, that they no longer “fit” in with campus life. They may also prefer to study online so they can work full time while maintaining open lines of communication with a supportive community, especially one composed of fellow veterans who may be returning to their homes in other states.

The purpose of the two GI Bills was to not only reward veterans but to also tie them together in the crucial time following their discharge when many veterans lament the loss of a collective purpose and the camaraderie born of their shared mission of national defense. A veteran’s education can approximate the same pride of mission they had while serving, and encourage them to carry that with them as they move on with their lives and careers.

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Something that a friend, Adam Lowther, published with The National Interest, which can be accessed here. On the specific issue of China’s nuclear forces, Adam attempts to address several critical questions: Who is targeted? What is the objective? When will it happen? Where will the Chinese deploy it? And why and how will they do it? Well worth a read!

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Two recent analyses of defence spending in East Asia, which would seem to suggest the region is starting to spend more. The first is something from SIPRI, which can be accessed here. The second, which comes from The Economist, can be accessed here.

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Something from former colleague Samuel Chan, who argues that people are at the heart of the defence of Singapore. Many serve with distinction and at times go beyond and above the call of duty. Time and administration must not be a barrier to the recognition of such distinguished acts of the past. Samuel’s commentary can be accessed here.

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Yesterday’s debate in Parliament over the defence budget got me thinking about whether or not the size, scale and specifics of Singapore’s defence budget has got it right.

The debate started off with a point from opposition MP Pritam Singh, who argued that given the robust nature of Southeast Asia’s security architecture, the prospects of armed conflict in the region are extremely low. Inasmuch as that is true, he argued further, then surely the defence budget can be reduced somewhat. In response, the Defence Minister argued that defence spending is already as efficient as possible, that savings are maximised where possible (such as refurbishment and upgrading rather than replacement with new weapons systems). So far, so good, or so it would seem.

Before anyone accuses me of being unduly negative, I should point out that over a 20 year period, Singapore’s defence budget can be seen to be economically very prudent. The World Bank’s figures (below) show, for instance, that the defence budget has never exceeded 5.3% of Singapore’s GDP. This makes it certainly within the 6% of GDP limit that Singapore first Defence Minister, the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee had set for defence expenditure.

1991: 4.5% 2001: 4.9%
1992: 4.5% 2002: 5.0%
1993: 4.1% 2003: 4.9%
1994: 3.8% 2004: 4.5%
1995: 4.2% 2005: 4.4%
1996: 4.3% 2006: 4.0%
1997: 4.5% 2007: 3.7%
1998: 5.3% 2008: 3.9%
1999: 5.3% 2009: 4.2%
2000: 4.6% 2010: 3.8%

In comparison to other countries such as Oman or Saudi Arabia, both of whom have had defence expenditures regularly in excess of 10% of their respective GDPs over the same time period, the statistics here certainly suggest that Singapore’s defence expenditures have not been in any way extravagant.

That having been said, I think it is fair to say that certain expenditures might be at best quizzical, at worst possibly irrelevant. Defence scholars typically portray Singapore’s defence expenditure as largely rational and strategically sensible. By and large, in other words, what the SAF acquires tends to be consonant with what capabilities are needed. Or more accurately, what are perceived by military planners and policy makers to be needed.

Where I think more serious thinking ought to go into is therefore the specific perceptions of strategic need. Why did, for instance, the Singapore Navy need submarines, if its stated mission is the protection of sea lines of communication and the maintenance of open seas for the maritime trade upon which the Singapore economy is so utterly dependent? Submarines are typically understood as a counter-force weapon, and their stealthy nature renders even more complicated any potential hostile naval operation in Singapore waters. But that then presupposes the potential for hostile naval operations in the first place. As Pritam Singh noted, the likelihood of armed conflict in Southeast Asia is generally regarded as very low. And I don’t think there are many people who would necessarily dispute his assessment.

I think there ought to be more specific questions about the line items of the defence budget, to encourage more debate, and importantly more informed and intelligent debate about Singapore’s defence expenditure. I do not discount the possibility that what the SAF acquires is genuinely what the country’s defence needs; but our policy makers should not simply say they are needed and not explain what exactly they are needed for.

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