SINGAPORE: Terrorism and "fake news" are among the security threats the world faces today, and governments need to find solutions that go beyond having military defences, said Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Jan 29).
He was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting, which sets the agenda for June’s Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum bringing together defence ministers and military chiefs from Asia Pacific countries.
Mr Ong laid out four security challenges: Developments in the Korean Peninsula, terrorism, deliberate online falsehoods and the retreat of globalisation.
Calling the issue of terrorism one of the region’s “most serious preoccupations”, the minister highlighted the siege of Marawi by Islamic State-linked militants as an example of a more deep-rooted problem.
“The Marawi siege was symptomatic of more fundamental issues that continue to persist – the increasing prevalence of a strand of exclusive and austere Islam that rejects the modern world as we know it, the stratification of societies along racial and religious lines, and religious intolerance which has facilitated the spread of radical ideology,” said Mr Ong.
He also cautioned that terror groups will operate across national borders with “increasing coordination and sophistication”, and continue to spread extremist ideas online.
“Groups have been using more sophisticated technology like encrypted communication platforms and cryptocurrencies to evade detection,” Mr Ong added.
DELIBERATE ONLINE FALSEHOODS
On the issue of deliberate online falsehoods, Mr Ong noted that the problem is increasingly undermining social fabric and national unity.
"Propaganda has never been this powerful, and automated. The only difference is that it is now used, including by foreign players, against national institutions," he said, adding that countries are recognising that there is a need to come up with legislation and safeguards in the short term to combat "fake news”.
For instance, France is looking to grant judges emergency powers to remove or block content deemed to be ‘”fake news” during sensitive periods such as elections.
In Singapore, a Select Committee has been set up to look into the problem of deliberate online falsehoods and recommend strategies to deal with it.
"Today, media as we know has been hijacked by something much more unpredictable and volatile. The fundamental condition for democracy has been weakened.
“Society will fight back, to restore our democratic institutions. This will be done through regulation, a likely drastic reconfiguration of the media industry, and an evolution of societies to become more discerning of what’s real and what’s false and malicious,” said Mr Ong.
“This is not conventional warfare, but a battle within all our societies. But it has important implications for global stability, as dysfunctional domestic politics created by misinformation and falsehoods, means messy external relations too.”
GOING BEYONG TRADITIONAL MILITARY DEFENCES
To deal with the key security threats he highlighted, Mr Ong said nations have to respond on both the domestic and regional front.
This means going beyond traditional military defences and investing in new capabilities such as cyber security as well as participating in economic integration and free trade initiatives.
Mr Ong also spoke about the need for ASEAN to remain relevant and constructive in contributing to global peace and stability. Singapore is chairing the regional bloc this year.
“ASEAN’s contribution is not in trying to be a regional power, but by maintaining its neutrality and centrality, to keep the regional security architecture open and inclusive, and providing a natural platform for major powers to engage each other,” said Mr Ong.
He added that where it matters, ASEAN will take a common stance such as in the joint support for the Philippines in its battle against terrorists in Marawi.