Political unrest in the Middle East is the closest thing to the Domino Effect coming true.
After leadership changes in Tunisia and Egypt, the spotlight is now on Libya with the country gripped by civil unrest. The kingdom of Bahrain also pops up in the media with its on again/off again political violence that pits Bahraini against Bahraini.
In recent weeks, we have seen Egyptian security forces lack the will to shoot unarmed Egyptians. But their Libyan neighbours have hired guns to do the state's dirty work.
African mercenaries are said to be prowling key cities with shoot-to-kill orders. Reports from Libya claim that the brutality of these hired guns has in turn prompted some Libyan soldiers to turn on the regime, fuelling a spiral of violence that is tearing the country apart.
The role of mercenaries in keeping the peace by waging war on civilians appears to have bought the embattled Libyan regime some time. It may die soon, but there is little denying that mercenaries have put the regime on life support.
It would appear that when ordered to open fire on civilians, thinking soldiers do reason that they are not paid or conscripted to shoot the very people they train to defend. The reluctance of citizen soldiers, who are mainly conscripts and reservists, to pull the trigger when ordered to do so will cast doubt on the role of the military during a national uprising.
Mercenaries have no such moral dilemma.
Mercenaries/hired guns/private military contractors are loyal to whoever signs their pay cheque. Many will have no compunction using deadly force against unarmed gatherings. This lack of moral compass and their dependable nature during times of strife will make mercenaries sought after as life insurance by regimes worldwide.
To those familiar with Singapore's national security apparatus, the relevance of the points just raised will be obvious. But more on that in a bit.
The security situation in Bahrain sends mixed signals to defence and security watchers around the globe. Authorities there are said to have unleased military and security forces to gun down Bahrainis. But the response from the United States, which has based its 5th Fleet in the Arab kingdom, has been limited to restrained tongue wagging.
There was no Tiananmen redux after blood flowed in Bahrain. The muted response from Western leaders raises the poser whether a country can get away with shooting its own people so long as the bodycount does not hit a trigger point. And if so, despots would no doubt be keen to know that magic number.
One imagines that if a country is a major destination for American weapons makers and a host to US military forces, then the government of the day can get away with
This brings the discussion back to Singapore.
The city state has enjoyed 45 years of peace, progress and prosperity - this after a tumultous start to nationhood which has been hailed as the Singapore story.
In a worst-case scenario, a freak election result could boot out the government of the day. If Singaporeans unwittingly vote in a rogue government, a would-be despot would find that he (or she as the case may be, since there are many bad tempered and scheming Singaporean women out there) has at his/her disposal a host of instruments to muzzle dissent.
In this nightmare future, the new government of the day would also find that Singapore's importance to the US military presence in the Pacific Rim is a useful trump card. As with the case of Bahrain, this trump card is likely to buy the Republic some breathing space should the rogue government find a need to beat down protestors.
At present, the number of Nepali mercenaries in Singapore outnumbers that of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units on standby as an Alert Red force.
The Nepalis form the Gurkha Contingent - an innocuous sounding set up that counts a brigade strength unit of highly-trained police officers. The GC is equipped with wheeled armour and has its own special forces unit with all the bells and whistles one would expect a SF team to possess.
The hard truth is that if a rogue government takes power some day, Singapore's citizens army will be powerless to stop an oppressive regime from clamping down on dissent using brute force.
Unlike National Service armies in Israel, Sweden and Switzerland, Singaporean NSmen are not allowed to bring their personal fire arms home. This means that a rogue government has little to worry about should it want to impose harsh measures against Singaporeans.
Placed in a similar conundrum as warfighters in the Middle East, SAF officers are unlikely to tolerate a situation should a rogue government order the GC to open fire on civilians. One can imagine a situation where SAF NSFs and NSmen deployed for "civil contingency operations" refuse to obey orders to open fire on unarmed protestors.
Even if the SAF plans to mount a counter strike, the forces at the disposal of Singapore's military can be quickly neutered by the GC. The Gurkhas have superior numbers vis-a-vis SAF standby forces in peacetime and, more importantly, have access to intelligence that alerts the powers-that-be of murmurings of dissent.
The value of intelligence in aiding the fight cannot be under-estimated. Astute information gatherers who can break into the SAF's decision making cycle can rein in the citizen's army before it mobilises for action. The LTIOV for internal security and civil contingency operations is short and the ability of Singapore's internal security apparatus to gather, process and act on time-sensitive intelligence makes it less likely the SAF can hatch a plot under the nose of a rogue government.
Singaporeans who have seen Gurkhas on duty at events such as the Singapore Air Show, Shangri-La Dialogue and high profile international conferences held in Singapore (IMF World Bank Meeting, APEC) will probably agree they stand out as disciplined professionals. Off duty, those you bump into during runs at Mount Vernon or at the East Coast Park are as friendly as they come.
But it is precisely this steel discipline, the fact that they are hard wired to follow orders without question, that worries me.
If the men in white are one day replaced by men in black (i.e. rogue government) who have nefarious intentions, street protests of the kind we have seen in the Middle East are unlikely to result in a change of government. Indeed, civil disobedience in Singapore is likely to be brutally suppressed.
I am unaware of any circuit breaker that could muzzle internal security forces such as the GC so long as Singapore's Prime Minister gets into his Parliament seat by the ballot box.
The elected President might be the people's saviour. But remember that this office was designed more to safeguard the Lion City's massive financial reserves than to hold back
This nightmare scenario is unlikely to pan out anytime soon and is as likely to come true as the nightmare scenario of Malaysia invading Singapore.
Still, the SAF trains hard to defend Singapore against a full threat spectrum.
And defence aware Singaporean netizens should likewise be mindful of internal security scenarios that could trip up our fragile nation.