Military is no place for foreigners

I am of the view that non-Singaporeans should be prohibited from being members of our security services, especially the military.

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.

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.

The solution

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.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

31 thoughts on “Military is no place for foreigners”

  1. WTF are you talking about. Unlike you and a few hundred thousand other boys, these men chose to spend two years of their life serving our country. I’m embarrassed something a fellow Singaporean could write something as xenophobic as this. Having been a second-gen PR, I’ve devoted my life to serving Singapore. And having lived abroad for a while, I understand what it’s like to be an outsider wanting to be in. A little compassion goes a long way by way of diplomacy. We live in a global world. Get over it.

  2. And second-gen PRs not of the male kind aren’t allowed to take up citizenship unless they work in Singapore. I think it’s a fair enough ruling. The males are forced to give up their PR status. They MUST become citizens.

  3. They are being prepared for the front-line battle with the Malaysian,battle hard soldiers.

  4. What Gerald had pointed out is very genuine concerns. I seriously wonder what is happening to our military.

    We were supposed to keep to ourselves the confidential,secret & top secret info we had access to during our Army days,now they are giving it freely away thru these non-citizens officers!

    The proposed solution of National Service under other less sensitive organisations such as healthcare is a very good one. Thanks for sharing your view Gerald!

  5. who in the right mind wants to be a singapore citizen these days? if I were a 2nd generation male PR, it would be easier to go abroad for US education (US is cheap these days),give up the singapore PR, jump to Hong Kong to work for a few years and return to Singapore as a PR again. you return to Singapore richer than all your peers and still treated like a foreign talent. great way to be a free loader if you ask me. It can be done and I have known people who did exactly that.

  6. Hi Gerald,

    I just wish to point out there are several nations which permit and even encourage foreign nationals in the military.

    The French Foreign Legion is the most well known, but the US military ‘fast tracks’ US citizenships to residents (and sometimes even illegal aliens) who join the armed forces.

    But most pertinent is the role of the Nepalese Gurkhas. The Gurkhas have served with distinction in many armed forces, including Singapore. The loyalty of the Gorkha is not a subject for debate.

    Granted, the PRs serving NS are not ‘mercenaries’ but there is nothing wrong in making them participate in an integral part of the ‘Singaporean Experience.’

    Without NS, a future Singaporean male has missed out on an experience which helps forge links among all Singaporeans.


  7. the true test of loyalty will only be in times of trouble.

    there will be PR who become “fifth column” ,there will also be singaporeans who desert army,of course majority will stay and fight.

    As for military secrets, there are security clearance unless it is just wayang.

    even so, we must heed the warning of roman empire which in its last days recruit lots of “foreigners” into its army.

  8. Many of us have served NS with PRs who chose to do NS to earn their citizenship. I will gladly fight as a comrade with these new citizens. There is no shame in giving citizenships to these men who have chosen to bear arms for their new country.

  9. The very act of a PR committing himself to serve 2 years of full-time NS should alone be enough to grant that fella an *option* to convert his PR to full Singapore citizenship. It should not be forced! Citizenship is a very sensitive issue, and forcing someone to renounce his citizenship is like trying to force our fast-tracked foreign-born sportsmen to renounce their old citizenship to represent Singapore at the Olympics – pure stupidity and cheapens Singapore citizenship.

    It is definitely awkward that Singaporean Malays are not allowed to join certain combat vocations in the SAF. Rather than them, all PRs should have lower security clearances… But to exclude them from the military altogether or positions of higher authority is just ludicrous. There is no meritocracy in that because it’ll just erect glass ceilings where there should be none, at least in terms of NS rank. No NSF is privy to very sensitive military information anyway, so it can’t be that bad for PRs to serve as 2LTs or LTAs even in the SAF.

    And finally, PRs should not be required to be Singapore citizens before serving NS. It is nonsensical to assume that PRs will necessarily want to take on Singapore citizenship in addition to the NS burden. PR is not some kind of transient status. It means *permanent* resident because it is a status specifically reserved for *non-Singaporeans* who wish to reside in Singapore *permanently*!

    It is technically not meant for some gold-digging foreigner to work in Singapore for a couple of years, get PR status, buy a HDB flat, resell it at $100-200k profit, and return to his country of origin.

  10. Gerald,

    You have erred in bringing out the SAF pledge. The SAF pledge is just an aspiration.

    Thank you.

  11. Singaporean –

    “Unlike you and a few hundred thousand other boys, these men chose to spend two years of their life serving our country.”

    I’m not sure what YOU are talking about. I served not 2 years, but 2.5 years of NS plus 7 years (and counting) of reservist. It’s nothing to do with being xenophobic. This is a national security issue.

    TT Tan – Thanks!

    Imran – Thanks for your comment. Are you sure the US army allows in foreigners? Even if they do, I don’t think they make them officers, like we do here. Anyway, I think your understanding of the purpose of NS in Singapore is not quite right. NS was never intended to be a national integration / ‘Singapore Experience’, unlike the Malaysian NS. It was and is for national defence, full stop. Any other benefits of NS like “making men out of boys”, racial integration and what not are just incidental. I think my third suggestion would serve the ‘Singapore Experience’ purpose just fine.

    cy – Security clearance, yes. But the first criteria for security clearance should be that the person is a citizen, no?

    contrarian – This article was not meant to be an attack on PRs/new citizens. I was criticizing the policy, not the people. I have no argument with granting citizenships to men who have already served NS. They deserve it, I agree. But my argument is that they should get their citizenship first, then serve NS.

    Chee Ken Wing – I don’t think anyone is being forced to take up citizenship. I disagree that no NSF is privy to sensitive military info. I have been privy to that for much of my NS life, and so have some PRs and new citizens serving alongside me.

    “PRs should not be required to be Singapore citizens before serving NS. It is nonsensical to assume that PRs will necessarily want to take on Singapore citizenship in addition to the NS burden.”

    We cannot allow PRs to freeload — not at the expense of our local boys. Yet security concerns dictate that PRs should not have access to military secrets.

    singa – My bad. I forgot that we all just *aspire* to defend this country with our lives. :)

  12. At the end of the day, the SAF is chartered to protect the sovereignty of the state. If SAF fails when we need it to deliver, we cease to exist as a sovereign state. It is as simple as that.

    There are traitors among citizens, and there are patriots among non-citizens. (My definition of patriot in this case is a little stretched, perhaps even oxy-moronic, but you get the idea.) If the powers that be decide that it is worth the gamble to have foreigners in the SAF, then I guess we have to go with them, or voice our dissent in one way or another, and ultimately through the ballot boxes if it really means so much to us. History will decide whether this gamble turns out to be another Changi Airport (where LKY, inspired by the Logan airport, went against the counsel of international experts), or a fiasco fresh out of Ho Ching’s investment playbook.

    I’d like to note that the CIA, NSA, FBI, Secret Service and other federal apparatus deemed critical to US national security do NOT hire non-citizens at all. Even NASA does not directly hire non-citizens (from what I was given to understand).

    Do I consider the SAF to be lesser than FBI-CIA-NSA on the grand scheme of things? No.

    Would I stake my nation’s security on a game of chance? I would not; for if I had lost, I’d have betrayed the faith my citizens have placed in me. Besides, the history books will not be kind when describing my exploits, especially when the mighty Roman empire has left us a lesson.

    Do I have a suggestion or alternative? Not really, but I’m sure there is no shortage. You just need to look at the blogosphere to tell. Besides, I’m not paid top dollars to solve the problem… if we are getting trivial solutions to address complex problems of national importance, I start to wonder if it is meaningful to be paying top dollars for the top talent we supposedly have in our government.

    I think words like “xenophobic” have no place in this discussion. Gerald has stuck to critiquing the policy so there is no need to critique him. Point out the flaws in his reasoning (if any) but leave out the name calling. It actually diminishes your stature, and weakens your argument. This is a forum for concerned citizens to respectfully discuss issues close to their hearts.

  13. I agree with gerald, in no time, we will have espionage incidents happening in singapore.

    there are other alternatives, national service does not mean serving the millitary only. are we not also require firefighters, a post, a post just as noble? can we also bring back the ‘white mouse’ – vigilante corp, maybe to realign their duties to assist the shortage of patrolling constables.

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  15. I am an American-born Chinese (ABC). My mother is from – SINGAPORE. From my mother’s side, I have a family that consists of an auntie, grandmother, grandfather, grandmother’s siblings, as well as second cousins that all live in Singapore. Despite growing up in the USA, I remain very close to my family there. Culturally, I behave more like they (Singaporeans) do than the average ABC. If I were able to join the SAF, I would more than likely do so, because I am serving not only my family members there, but also to the people of Singapore I feel close to since I grew up according to this culture. In no way, would I ever disclose secrets about Singapore to any non-Singaporean nation if I were told about it. After all, if I did this, I would be hurting my family of 9+ relatives there.

  16. I like your statement and I am in agreement. I am actually from the US and I live in Thailand. Singapore has always been and always will be one of my favorite countries in Asia but enough of the praises I want to share why I agree with this. With that said, I am of the firm belief that if a forigner is going to live any place with the intention of either A) Perminently stay there as a first gen PR B) Work there or C) start a family there ( either way you want to stay there) then they need to prove themselves like everyone else and the first thing to do to prove themselves is change the citizenship and begin that process and it needs to start the 1st opportunity they get not the 2nd or even the 10th, if they want to live there then they have to allow themselves to be assimilated among the people there ” When in Rome do as the Romans do”. The 2nd they cant skip on service they have started out as guests just like staying as a guest in someones home its polite to return the kindness. Your country is showing the forigner a motherload of courtesy, hospitality, they have a job, they have a house maybe their kids are going to school they need to pay it back no questions asked they have to show their appreciation for it and NS is the best way to do it and they cant just say they are thinking about doing it they should go to the recruiter say what they want to do and do it ( to the forigner reading this -and get yourself on your way to being a citizen and swear allegiance to your new home too so you dont end up being a freeloader and if your an American pulling that crap then you need to start wearing a Mexican hat cuz you’ve made yourself the town Mexican. Your buddies at home are criticising those guys making an honest living and your doing the same thing so you deserve to be called a freeloader the most) If any forigner is unwilling to do this for any reason then they seriously should rethink staying in Singapore. They have to do the right thing and dont involve themselves with the NS or their people. If their just there for work then they should seriously consider what I am saying these people are showing you hospitality but they are taking advantage of their kindness. If these people are working then they shouldn’t be given high positions in any industry until they do these things. In America our biggest complaint is when foreigners dont do this and even my countrymen are doing this in Singapore and everywhere else and its hypocritical.
    I will confess it right now I do want to live in Singapore. I have a family too and we are going to get a PR together and denounce our current citizenships. I have nothing against my country but I chose to live in this part of the world, and I am going to set the example for others I am going to move to singapore the right way going for citizenship, I also want to join NS and join my brothers in arms cuz I am not going to freeload and not prove myself to be one of you. I will swear allegeance to singapore alone and as far as the US is concerned I have no obligations to them. Thank you for reading this if other foreigners also read this I hope they will take it to heart especially if they are American and if they are I hope I will meet you there and join the NS together as Singaporeans.

  17. Gerald Giam 严燕松 –

    “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?”

    Considering how every able bodied male Singapore citizen upon reaching 18 must complete National Service, what about those who have already completed NS and have obtained citizenship elsewhere and relinquished Singapore citizenship. Wouldn’t these former Singapore citizens who have now become foreigners know about the SAF’s secrets? If foreigners should not be allowed to join the SAF on the grounds that they are foreigners, would it not be the same if a Singaporean had joined the SAF and then became a citizen of another country. After all, he is now a foreigner with information about the SAF.

  18. Definitlely screen and limit every foreigner. But for many jobs it wouldnt matter because military doctrine and tactics change so often that anything vital they learn would be completely usless in just a short time. Believe me. From experience. Just as you start to get the hang of how something is done, they change it. Again and again and AGAIN. Now obviously you wouldnt want someone coming right out of china working in counter-intelligence. Or someone from Iran working in the Ammo depot. That might not be politically correct but the military’s job is to protect lives, not feelings.

  19. @Steve: Lives are important because we have feelings. Otherwise people would not care about others dying.

  20. I am an American, 15 years of service in the U.S. Army. Indeed, we enlist foreigners who fight along side us and die for our nation.

    I will let you in on a little secret: when it comes to military and security, no country worth it’s grain of salt lives in isolation. Strategic alliances are paramount and indeed, foreign nationals serve in armed forces all over the world. This is not unique to Singapore, especially in officer positions and non-commissioned officer positions.

    You can trust one thing: every one of those foreign nationals serving Singapore has been scrutinized and are serving there with the right intentions. You should be thankful for their service and in many cases, for their expertise. After-all, it is YOU who they are protecting.

    Singapore has agreements with Russia, China and other nations who citizens may serve in the SAF. This is not simply POLITICS. IT goes far deeper than that.

    Rather than writing an article on a topic you know nothing about, perhaps, you should research far deeper before forming conclusions.

  21. This is stupid.

    I’m pretty sure the Americans know all our military secrets already.

    We already buy so much military equipment from them and other nations, it’s no surprise if they know what we plan to do with them, and our agenda and tactics.

    Americans got their Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that is able to track down the movements of every major terrorist, and terrorists are naturally hard to find. The SAF is already established, so there would be no problem for their CIA to crack into our secrets.

    And in case you did not notice, Americans know the military secrets of the South Koreans, Taiwan Chinese, and the Japanese. Foreigners cannot serve in the military of these nations, but the Americans know their military agenda, tactics, and secrets very well.

    One of the reasons is that these nations buy military equipment from the US. The US has to authorize a certain nation before selling military equipment to them. Some nations like Iran and North Korea are barred by the US from being sold American military equipment. The US is a major leader in world politics, and if they know someone is buying their weapons, they probably know what this nation is going to do with them, because the US would know their political motive, and their military capability.

  22. No one wants to go to this shit hole called Singapore, filled with immoral and rude Chinese jackasses.

    I’m glad I’m not Chinese or stuck in this red dotted shit pot.


  23. U know what?? Singapore will be in deep shit anyway if an invasion were to take place. First of all Singapore is a tiny country surrounded by waters. Enemy can burn ur ass from every corner. When come to loyalty i am sure many of those so call “REAL SG CITIZEN” will snub and run away. No doubt your country trained all male with able body well in your NS. But i honestly doubt what they really can do when a firearm were to be given to them during real combat situation. Frankly speaking and sorry to say that those who have the same thinking as Gerald i think they should be leaving in caves due to their shallow mind set. I am really ashamed and disappointed that there are so many people like Gerald are leaving among us in Singapore.

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