Today’s newspapers were flush with stories of foreigners who are serving in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The Straits Times highlighted some Russians, Chinese and Indian nationals, as well as Malaysians, who are serving in various leadership capacities in the SAF.
This uniquely Singaporean quirk has come about because our law requires children of first generation permanent residents (i.e., second generation PRs) to serve their National Service (NS) or forfeit their PR status. With the influx of foreigners into Singapore over the past 10 years and the liberal way in which PR status is dispensed to so many foreigners, it is inevitable that we are seeing many more foreigners donning camouflage green uniforms these days.
I feel that non-Singaporeans should be prohibited from being members of our security services, especially the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). I know I am treading on sensitive ground by saying this, especially in the context of the debate between the privileges and obligations of citizens and foreigners in Singapore.
For the purpose of this discussion, let us divorce the “foreigners vs locals” debate from national security issues.
From a national security perspective, it is of utmost importance that anyone who serves in the military should be a citizen of the country he is serving. These individuals have been tasked with the sacred duty of defending their country from foreign invasion. Here is what every soldier in Singapore has pledged in the SAF Pledge:
We, members of the Singapore Armed Forces, do solemnly and sincerely pledge that we will always bear true faith and allegiance to the President and the Republic of Singapore. We will always support and defend the Constitution. We will preserve and protect the honour and independence of our country with our lives.
The SAF Pledge clearly obliges our soldiers to commit to doing certain things that would be too much to ask of a non-citizen. They are supposed to bear allegiance to Singapore and its President. They are expected to defend our Constitution. Lastly, and most importantly, they are expected to defend Singapore in times of war — even if it means sacrificing their lives.
Can we really expect foreigners to do this?
Beyond philosophical notions of loyalty and allegiance to country, our soldiers are also entrusted with very sensitive state secrets like knowledge of the SAF’s military doctrine, battle procedures, how the weapons are deployed and employed in the battlefield, and the morale and psychological preparedness of the soldiers on the ground.
Would the SAF reveal all this information to foreign agents? If not, why are they willing to reveal them all to non-Singaporean soldiers?
Lastly, it has been mentioned by our leaders before that Malay Singaporeans are usually not sent to “sensitive” units because their loyalty during the heat of the battle may be compromised by ethnic and religious allegiances. (For the record, I think this is racial stereotyping and wrong, but I will not discuss this issue further in this article.) It is a fact that Malays are posted in disproportionately large numbers to the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), rather than the SAF. It is not hard to put figure out why. But now we see foreigners in the SAF, even in the officer ranks. Does this mean the Singapore government trusts foreigners more than it trusts its own Malay citizens?
Why should our country divulge state secrets and place entire units of men under the command of foreigners?
The answer possibly lies in the fact that our policy makers have allowed national security concerns to be overshadowed by political considerations. The government requires PRs to serve NS for the sake of equity, so as not to anger Singaporean men like myself who have sacrificed so much in fulfilling their NS obligations. If these PRs don’t serve NS, they will have a two-year headstart when entering the job market and in many cases end up as the bosses of our local boys. This would be politically untenable.
Effectively then, our political leaders have compromised national security just to save their political skin. This is unacceptable.
What then is the way around this problem? Do we just let these foreigners skip NS and reap all the benefits of being a Singapore PR? Most definitely not! I believe the policy can be tweaked to ensure that there are no free loaders, but without compromising national security.
Firstly, all PRs should be required to renounce their foreign citizenship and take up Singapore citizenship before enlisting in the SAF or the police force. Currently, I believe second generation male PRs are not granted citizenship until after completing their NS. This needs to be changed.
Secondly, second generation PRs who choose not to take up citizenship before they reach 22 years of age should automatically lose their PR.
Thirdly, PRs who want to defer their decision to take up Singapore citizenship could choose to serve NS by serving full-time for two years in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, prisons, family service centres or other social service organisations that help the needy but lack manpower. After serving these two years, they will get to retain their PR status. (Actually I feel all PRs should be required to either take up citizenship or give up their PR status after a certain number of years. But that is for another debate.)
These alternatives will ensure the same degree of equity between PRs and citizens in terms of NS obligations, yet without compromising national security by giving foreigners access to Singapore’s military secrets.