How can we keep Singapore safe and secure? Ministries unveil long-term plans

How can we keep Singapore safe and secure? Ministries unveil long-term plans

Every Singaporean has a part to play in the nation's security, say the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, as well as the National Security Coordination Secretariat in response to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's opening address to Parliament.

SINGAPORE: While defence capabilities must be enhanced and operational readiness improved, one of the keys to Singapore's continued security and sovereignty is the collective contribution by Singaporeans, four ministries said on Monday (Jan 18) in their addenda to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's address to Parliament on Friday.

"President Tan noted in his address that we can only remain sovereign if we are able to determine our own fate. Our geopolitical realities remain unchanged from 50 years ago, and Singapore can never take our safety and security for granted," said the Ministries of Defence (MINDEF), Foreign Affairs (MFA), Home Affairs (MHA) and the Prime Minister's Office (National Security Coordination Secretariat) in a joint release.

"Everyone has a part to play in keeping Singapore safe and deepening the trust between communities. This way, we will remain strong and united even when others seek to sow fear and division."

One of the key aims of the Government is keeping Singapore safe and secure, Dr Tan said on Friday evening as he opened the 13th session of Parliament. "If we cannot safeguard our sovereignty, we cannot secure our livelihoods," he said then.

On Monday, four ministries outlined their plans to enhance security in Singapore.


MINDEF grouped its upcoming initiatives under three main thrusts: Preparing for a wider range of threats to Singapore’s security; partnering the community to strengthen the National Service (NS) system; and strengthening the regional security architecture.

Given the wider range of threats Singapore faces today - with high-tech military technology was increasingly falling into the hands of less advanced militaries and non-state actors, and cyber criminals finding more avenues to potentially destabilise Singapore - the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will develop new fighting concepts and pursue technological advancements in areas such as unmanned systems and robotics to make the SAF "more potent and flexible", Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said. It will also develop new capabilities to defend against threats in the cyber realm.

The added benefit of such technology is the ability to reduce manpower, enabling the SAF to adapt to a shrinking workforce, Dr Ng added.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle pilot LTA Sheena Ng (left) and ME1 Keith Lin, Assistant Analyst, Air Imagery Intelligence Expert, in front of the Heron 1 UAV. (Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY)

He also noted the need for a sustainable approach to defence spending. "MINDEF recognises the importance of good stewardship in ensuring prudent spending, and takes a long-term view in developing the SAF’s capabilities and will spend only what is needed to build up the SAF’s capabilities," he said on Monday.

MINDEF will also continue to improve the NS experience, through measures including gift vouchers as performance rewards, insurance coverage for NSmen, and the launch of the NS Mark to recognise companies supportive of NS efforts. In 2017 - the 50th anniversary of National Service - a series of NS50 activities is being planned to show the country's appreciation of NSmen and the wider community.


On the international front, Singapore will also continue to work closely with neighbouring countries and regional partners to enhance stability in the region, Dr Ng said, such as through defence cooperation agreements with China, the United States, India and Australia. "An open and robust regional security architecture is key to enhancing strategic trust and regional cooperation, to ensure continued peace and stability in our region," he said.

Singapore will keep working with partners to grow multilateral platforms, such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus Maritime Security and Counter Terrorism Exercise involving all 10 ASEAN countries and eight key partners, which the Republic will host in May this year. Singapore will use its chairmanship of the ADMM in 2018 "to foster a rules-based security architecture that underpins the peace and stability in our region", said the Defence Minister.


Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said that the MFA will focus its efforts on three key thrusts: Maintaining Singapore’s relevance to the world and expanding its international space; creating opportunities overseas for Singaporeans through economic, cultural and public diplomacy; and supporting Singaporeans living and travelling abroad through community outreach and consular assistance.

"Singapore must aspire to be an extraordinary nation by strengthening our bilateral, regional and international relations and our international standing. We must be cognisant of our vulnerabilities, yet constantly search for fresh opportunities to enhance our relevance and expand our political, economic and diplomatic space," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"MFA will work closely with other Government agencies, private sector organisations as well as our fellow citizens to safeguard and advance Singapore’s interests in an interconnected world."

Singapore will work to strengthen its relationship with immediate neighbours, including forging closer cooperation with Malaysia, and expanding the "mutually-beneficial cooperation" with Indonesia, following President Joko Widodo’s introductory visit to Singapore in July 2015, said Dr Balakrishnan.

With Singapore set to assume the ASEAN chair in 2018, the Republic will host a series of high-profile meetings, including the ASEAN Summit, ASEAN Plus Three Summit, and the East Asia Summit (EAS). More efforts to promote ASEAN awareness among Singaporeans are planned, along with year-long celebrations to mark the chairmanship.


Boosting economic and people-to-people ties with other ASEAN member states is another priority, said the Foreign Affairs Minister, such as by working to enhance the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) programme in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam to accelerate their economic integration into ASEAN. Singapore will also seeking to strengthen bilateral cooperation in economic as well as security areas such as counter-terrorism and cyber security with other key partners such as China, the United States, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

The Republic will continue to play a constructive role in various multilateral fora, such as through its convenorship of the Global Governance Group. Singapore will also extend technical assistance with other countries through the Singapore Cooperation Programme; since 1992, more than 100,000 foreign officials have been trained through this programme, Dr Balakrishnan noted.

Finally, the MFA will continue to engage Singaporeans living and working overseas, with the aim of fostering a sense of belonging and national identity among overseas working overseas. The ministry will also leverage modern technology and expand its diplomatic network to work with other governments to render consular assistance, given the increasing occurrences of natural disasters and other emergencies worldwide.


Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam emphasised the need for the long-term transformation of the Home Team to deal with evolving challenges, including the increasing terror threat, the role of transnational syndicates and increasing cybercrime.

"The Home Team will maintain a high level of operational excellence and preparedness, even as we embark on our long-term transformation efforts. We will strengthen community resilience, and ensure that our society remains cohesive and united. We treasure the trust and confidence that Singaporeans have placed in us. Together, with the community, we will keep Singapore safe and secure," said Mr Shanmugam in his ministry's addenda to the President's address.


In response to the evolving terror threat, border security capabilities will be strengthened, while more police cameras could be installed in HDB estates and other public areas, said the Home Affairs Minister. The police will also work with commercial and private establishments to enhance their security, while also building on the Community Engagement Programme to up community vigilance against such threats.

Members of the Home Team taking part in Exercise Heartbeat in 2015, where a terror attack was simulated in the heart of Singapore. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

Community partnerships will also be "taken to a higher level", he said, for example by crowdsourcing among mobile phone users for real-life crime reporting and leads.

The Home Team will be strengthened through deeper integration of various departments, and by stepping up recruitment efforts. It will also review its operations and use data analytics to cope with increasing demands and manpower constraints, said Mr Shanmugam. "We will adopt a data-driven, tiered and differentiated frontline response model to serve the public better."


Over the coming term of Parliament, the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS) will work with relevant government agencies and stakeholders to develop plans to tackle new and emerging threats, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

"While we have built up our social resilience and strengthened our security forces, our national security can be undermined in many ways, including a terrorist attack, a virus whether medical or cyber, food contamination, and social fissures. Online self-radicalisation and spread of terrorist methods enable copy-cat attacks," said Mr Teo, who is the Coordinating Minister for National Security.

"In the event of a crisis, it is not just the security agencies that will be called to respond. Our society as a whole will also be tested. We must ensure that we can bounce back from any incident, and emerge stronger and more united."

To this end, the NSCS will use public feedback to shape the next phase of the “Let’s Stand Together” campaign, now in its third year, while also working with Government agencies and community groups from the social sector to develop a stronger understanding of the factors that affect social resilience, he said.

The Secretariat will also study the links between various critical infrastructures across sectors such as energy, water, health, infocomm, banking and finance, and transport, to identify and address potential vulnerabilities, he said. It is also working with various ministries and agencies to develop practical solutions for cybersecurity and InfoComm Technology (ICT) challenges.

"While we can never be certain of where the next security threat may emerge, we need to prepare ourselves and develop robust plans that can be adapted for different threat scenarios. Standing together, we stand a better chance of ensuring our national security," said Mr Teo.

Source: CNA/mz