This line from the NSP's manifesto is a likely crowd pleaser as few full-time NSmen or Operationally Ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) would argue with that. It is a dangerous line to argue because a botched approach to defending Singapore poisons whatever the NSP intends to roll out in terms of education, healthcare, economic affairs and so on.
Indonesian and Malaysian defence watchers are also likely to give it a hearty thumbs up, as the NSP's populist view will weaken Singapore's defence posture.
The ones who will suffer from the NSP's nonsensical policies are Singaporeans who will be left with no insurance the day the NSP's approach to defence planning strips Singapore of its deterrent edge.
NSP = No Sensible Policies... but who is the Enemy?
Paragraphs 23 to 26 of the NSP's manifesto state that the NSP would downsize the Singapore Army and "restructure the Army to conduct counter terrorism operations during peacetime".
With terrorism the threat du jour, this line addresses a present day danger to Singaporean lives and property while leaving the 40km long by 20km wide Lion City vulnerable to diplomatic pressure.
Such pressure was applied during the visit by Israeli President Chaim Herzog during his state visit to the Lion City in 1986. His visit infuriated Malaysians even though the Israeli head of state did not step foot in Malaysia. Some Malaysians staged demonstrations (more lively than NSP election rallies) with chants of "Potong! Potong!" - nothing to do with opposition stronghold Potong Pasir but more to do with cutting the water supply pipelines from Johor to Singapore. Potong is the Malay word for cut. The city state relied on raw water from the Johor river for about 60 per cent of its fresh water supply and has since reduced its dependency on Malaysian water by sourcing water incountry.
We felt this in August 1991 during an exercise called Malindo Darsasa 3AB when Indonesian and Malaysian warfighters practised a scenario that keeps Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) planners awake at night. The war games that year saw Indonesian and Malaysian military joining forces for operations against Singapore.
During the exercise, airborne troops from both countries staged an airdrop on 9 August 1991 - Singapore's National Day - with the drop zone some 20km away from Woodlands. If the timing of this airdrop wasn't provocative enough, the codename for the exercise left little to the imagination of the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF. It was called Pukul Habis, a Malay phrase for Total Wipe Out.
In more recent times, disagreements between Singapore and Malaysia over the status of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) facility on land owned by Malaysia's KTM contributed to a period of tension (POT) between the SAF and Malaysian Armed Forces in late 1998. This POT was related to me by a MAF officer during a discussion on Singapore's security posture, who mentioned the episode as an example of how defence relations between the two countries must be carefully calibrated to prevent misunderstandings.
And prior to the settlement of the dispute over Pedra Branca (a rock outcrop called Pulau Batu Putih by Malaysia) in May 2008, the rock on which Horsburgh Lighthouse sits was the area of operations for numerous brushes between Singaporean and Malaysian warfighters. At one point in time, SAF Commandos armed with ATGMs were deployed to Horsburgh to protect Singaporean installations there should Malaysian special forces attempt to land on the island.
NSP = Nicole Seah Politiking
NSP candidate Ms Nicole Seah's politiking for the Marine Parade GRC seat is unlikely to mention these episodes. She was too young to experience and remember the tension of the period. What's more, rally time is designed to whip up sentiments so voters will support one's party. People are there for political entertainment, not a lecture on defence policy planning and capability development in the SAF.
Let us be clear that Indonesia and Malaysia are not about to invade Singapore, nor are these countries our enemy. To be sure, the physical and historical links with Malaysia can be seen on Singapore's state crest which features both the Malayan Tiger and Singapore Lion together.
But the military might of neighbouring countries, coupled with the tendency of some political leaders to wield military muscle to force down their argument, makes it sensible that Singapore retain a strong, balanced and integrated SAF. Past Indonesian Presidents, Gus Dur and Habibie (who coined the catchphrase Little Red Dot) are striking examples of the real politik in Singapore's neighbourhood. And need one even mention Malaysia's Dr Mahathir Mohamad?
Few NSP supporters would sleep behind an unlocked main door though statistically speaking, the likelihood of a burglar hitting one's home is small. And yet, we are being persuaded to strip down the Army for an upsized Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The absence of any apparent conventional threats to our national security has persuaded the NSP that the SAF's combat capabilities can be whittled down.
Such incredible naivette ignores the military necessity that air and naval bases have to be protected. Warplanes and helicopters, however lethal, are merely targets when on the ground. They become weapons only when they are in the air, armed and fuelled for action with competent pilots in command and a superiority in electronic warfare that puts enemy aircrew at risk even before RSAF warplanes come within visual range.
The NSP's call to "build up" the RSAF and RSN is welcome as it acknowledges that Singapore's continued and free access to air and sea lanes is vital to our nation's survival. Without such access, the supply of food, fuel and raw materials needed to keep Singaporeans gainfully employed will be choked off.
Without the SAF, it is likely that political games by neighouring countries to withhold supplies of sand to Singapore may have been extended to other seaborne supplies so vital to Singapore's economy. Sand supplies were withheld on the pretext of preventing environmental damage, which was a politically expedient way of masking economic warfare by other means.
It is the proposal to streamline the Army that is deeply disturbing. The NSP's proposal says: "Normally a defender is a third the size of the attackers. Downsize the Army and restructure it to be deployed in Singapore to defend against conventional attack during wartime."
The NSP is foolish to assume any attacking force would settle for such odds. This statement is a self-serving intepretation of military thinking that recommends an attacker should have 3:1 numerical superiority against a defender. This means that the attack plan would take the size of the defending force and multiply it by three for the baseline size of its attack force. This is not an easy option because attacks against the SAF have to guess how far and how much MINDEF/SAF will mobilise during a POT.
The NSP does not say who these "attackers" could be, but one assumes their idea of a "conventional attack" entails a landward thrust from Malaysia or perhaps an amphibious landing from the Singapore Strait. In any case, their leap of logic about the attacker:defender ratio is ill-informed.
It is foolhardy to assume Singapore can be defended with the Army "deployed in Singapore".
* Where would heartlanders evacuate to?
* Why endanger Singaporean homes by turning urbanised areas into battle grounds?
* How and where would the SAF deployed on home ground manoeuvre?
* How would the NSP respond should "the attackers" decide to bombard Singapore with rocket artillery munitions and destroy its air and naval bases before mounting a "conventional attack"?
Would Nicole Seah's politiking be wielded as Singapore's secret weapon to sweet talk and dazzle malignant Malaysians in Jalan Padang Tembak with her net appeal and tens of thousands of Facebook "likes" the next time we come under military pressure?
Though voters may have a beef with some PAP policies, defence-aware Singaporeans would probably feel safer with a strong national security posture instead of NSP's dreamland alternative.
Singapore's deterrent edge comes from a forward defence strategy which calls for detecting, engaging and destroying aggressor forces as far away from heartlanders as possible should diplomacy fail. Hostile elements know that their way of life will forever change with SAF manoeuvre forces unleashed on their territory. It is a tricky balance of diplomacy and military power than has kept Singapore steady despite open as well as unpublicised attempts at military coercion.
Mind you, from the time Singapore formed its then Top Secret Special Operations Force in 1984 till the day they shot and killed four Pakistani terrorists on 26 March 1991, any idiot could have blamed Singapore for spending too much on counter terrorist training. This was the pre-9/11 era. There were no terror threats to the island and no airliner had been hijacked in Singapore since Vietnam Airlines Flight C589 in 1977.
The Commandos who put their lives on the line when they stormed Singapore Airlines Flight SQ 117 in March 1991 against terrorists could not have done the job without strong and sustained support over the years which ensured HQ Commando was provided the tactics, techniques and procedures for a decisive takedown.
The NSP's manifesto writer may also have forgotten that piracy to Singapore in the 1980s meant attacks on mainland Singapore from Tuas to East Coast Park. Strong investments in the RSN and coastal surveillance network crimped pirate attacks. That their rudimentary understanding of defence matters embraces a strong navy is welcome as our sea borders are routinely tested, though no sea robbers/pirates have successfully breached the maritime security screen.
It is disingenuous to assume that terror threats are all the SAF has to deal with. To gain political mileage at the expense of a balanced and integrated SAF with a high level of defence readiness to deal with a range of defence scenarios puts Singaporeans at risk from future shocks. It is political opportunism that we can do without.
Singapore is not some South Pacific paradise, lonely and isolated from potential threats. One only needs to think about how Chinese Indonesians were treated in 1998 during race riots in Jakarta to realise how much of an oddball this Chinese majority city state is perceived smack in the midst of a Malay sea.
No Sound/Picture in Marine Parade GRC
It is strange how the NSP is prepared to peddle its election manifesto with big picture issues (albeit poorly considered) when concrete plans for things that matter to heartlanders are patently absent.
In particular, the NSP's team contesting the Marine Parade GRC seems some way behind in sharing with voters there how picking the team would enhance their lives.
Without a plan for estate management - let's not even talk about estate renewal - the NSP's lack of a plan for Marine Parade GRC only adds to election wags who say that NSP stands for No Sound/Picture.