If Singaporeans will not or cannot defend Singapore, there is no backstop: Ng Eng Hen

if singaporeans will not or cannot defend singapore there is no backstop ng eng hen

Defence is a long term business, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament (28 Feb 2024) during the Committee of Supply debate.  You cannot decide that you are going to have your defences up.

“Steady long-term defence spending enables platforms and capabilities to mature over the necessary timelines to enhance synergy and reap efficiencies,” he said. 

Here’s an edited excerpt of Dr Ng’s speech:

Two weeks ago, I was at the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC). They have titled this 60th MSC “Lose-Lose?”, because everywhere they turned to analyse the situation, and in every scenario that they talked about, both sides lose, and the world also loses.

In 2014, I attended the 50th MSC. There was a special session organised. I will never forget it. On stage were Henry Kissinger, Helmut Schmidt, former French President Valéry d’Estaing. 

The mood was one of celebration, and I remember President Valéry d’Estaing saying that Europe had eliminated the concept of war. It was just one decade ago. All those dreams have been decimated. I can assure this House that surprises and unintended consequences are in store, some linked, others completely out of the blue.

The risk of regional and even global conflict even in the next decade has become non-zero. I do not make this assessment lightly.

The most important question is what can Singapore as a small country and Singaporeans do realistically to prepare ourselves as best as we can for disruptions and unintended consequences? Because there will be disruptions and unintended consequences. We can be sure of that.


We cannot pretend to know what will come, and yet we have to prepare. How do we prepare Singapore for this uncertain future?

First, we should recognise that Singaporeans have more to protect, and with more resources to do so, compared to the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations. Some Singaporeans may remember the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. Among the justifications for the invasion, Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing oil. There was a particular field called the Al-Rumaylah oil field, which straddled both states across the borders. Wealthy small Kuwait with its rich resources was a tempting and lucrative victim. Wealthy small Singapore can be a very lucrative target, without a strong defence.

In that invasion, the US came to the rescue of Kuwait, and led 42 countries to join forces in an air and ground war. The SAF provided support for casualties. We deployed a 30-member medical team to that region.

I want to make clear here, that if ever something similar happens to us here in Singapore, this government, MINDEF and the SAF do not plan on the basis that we can depend on another country to come to our rescue. If Singaporeans will not or cannot defend Singapore, there is no backstop. That is the simple truth. A strong SAF acts as a deterrent against aggression towards us and keeps adventurism at bay.

We do spend precious dollars consistently on defence, money which could have benefited other causes. But we know that without security, there can be no progress.

Singapore was ranked the sixth most peaceful country in the world in the latest Global Peace Index. I do not know, and do not want to find out, what our ranking would have been if we had not put in the necessary investments to build a strong SAF. I think that experiment would be too costly.


On Key

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