Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the 113/18 Officer Cadet Course Commissioning Parade on 15 June 2019.
“A Strong SAF for a Strong Singapore”
Our newly commissioning officers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening. Congratulations to each one of you on parade today. You have shown the dedication and determination, the commitment and values needed to lead our soldiers to defend our nation. Soon, you will pledge to accept this heavy responsibility - in front of your parents and your loved ones, your peers and your friends, those who matter most to you, and those whom you will pledge to defend.
We also welcome and congratulate officers from our partner countries who are commissioning today.
A World in Flux
Most of the fathers here today would have served the nation when they were called to do so. Now, it is the turn of our sons, and our daughters, to do so.
I was commissioned 46 years ago from SAFTI, like you. That was an earlier, different era. Our region was in flux: superpower rivalry between the US and Soviet Union divided our region, and uncertainty prevailed as the US began to withdraw from the tragic war in Vietnam. ASEAN was a fledgling organisation, barely 6 years old, made up largely of young countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, and Thailand – who were also facing internal challenges. Several of the five countries had only recently set aside disputes of varying intensity with one another, and the differences had not fully healed.
As a young nation, we recognised the importance of being able to stand up for ourselves and defend our sovereignty. We built up the SAF, and introduced National Service. National Service allowed us to mobilise the entire capacity of our small nation to provide us the strength to protect our sovereignty, give us the freedom to chart our own future, and build the resilience, unity, discipline and strength of our people. It provided a stable and secure foundation for our economy to thrive and prosper. As we slowly and steadily addressed our daunting challenges with determination and commitment, our belief and confidence in ourselves also grew. Others saw our resolve, and became more prepared to partner us and invest with us for the long term.
Five decades on, we are in a different era. But some fundamentals remain the same. We are still a small country which has to make an extra effort to make a safe and secure place for ourselves in an uncertain world.
We once again see a world in flux. Competition between major powers – this time between the US and China – is threatening to divide our region and the world. We remain hopeful that the two major powers can build a constructive relationship. We hope that all countries, big and small, will reaffirm the need for an equitable multilateral approach to security, trade, our oceans and seas, and other global issues such as climate change – where we all work together peacefully for collective benefit. In a divided and fractious world – with fractured production chains, less trade, and lower economic growth – we will all be worse off. In such a world, the chances for competition to flare into conflict will be heightened. Small countries, like Singapore, will certainly be affected, and could also be drawn in.
We are also witnessing new trends in extremism and terrorism. The recent attacks in Christchurch and Sri Lanka are somber reminders that no place is safe from these threats. These attacks occurred in places of worship, which should have been sanctuaries of peace and comfort. These despicable acts of violence show that we can never take Singapore’s security, nor our inter-racial and inter-religious harmony, for granted.
So, how do we chart a course amidst this uncertainty and volatility?
First, we take a stand based on principles. We seek to strengthen our relations with all countries, and do not take sides. We work for Singapore’s national interest, and speak clearly and objectively on matters of importance to Singapore. We encourage engagement and frank dialogue among all parties. When we are able, we can also be a neutral and secure venue for others to meet, such as the Xi-Ma meeting in 2015, the Trump-Kim Summit in 2018, and most recently when the Chinese and US Defence Ministers met during the Shangri La Dialogue two weeks ago.
Second, we maintain a high degree of operational readiness and vigilance in the Home Team and the SAF. The SAF’s role is all the more important today, to provide us the strength and confidence to face down threats, defend our sovereignty, and keep us secure. A strong and combat-ready SAF also lends weight to our words, and substance to our proposals, by allowing us to make a serious and meaningful contribution to help maintain regional peace and security, and to respond to crises. More than 6,000 SAF servicemen have been deployed for overseas operations – these include international peace-keeping missions, and humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
The SAF today is a much more capable force than before. Our servicemen are better educated and motivated. We are equipped with better weapons and systems, with more integrated and better trained forces that can be mobilised at short notice. We have invested in automation, data analytics and Artificial Intelligence, and developed leading-edge capabilities. We have built strong links and partnerships with other armed forces. We conduct some 20 bilateral and multi-lateral exercises with our foreign friends every year.
Notwithstanding these advances, the fundamentals of the SAF remain the same. We have friends, but ultimately we must ourselves defend Singapore, and not depend on others. Machines and missiles are merely the tools. Whether a nation and a people will prevail in a crisis is fundamentally a matter of will – to stand up united for ourselves, to overcome adversity and to emerge victorious. This spirit is demonstrated most clearly in times of adversity, but it needs to be honed every day in times of peace. We forget this at our peril.
Today marks the beginning of your journey as Commissioned Officers of the SAF. You will be entrusted with the lives of your soldiers, to guide and shape them into men and women who will always be ready, and never hesitate to defend Singapore.
Lead by example through your character and competence. Engage and inspire them. Care for them. Keep them safe. Build strong teams that will fight for one another, and look after one another.
Always make the safety of your soldiers a top priority even as you train them hard. If your soldiers know that you look after them and value each one of them, they will be prepared to follow you to make the ultimate sacrifice when you call upon them to do so. This is the key difference which places the highest demand on leadership in the armed forces.
Equally important to the strength of the SAF is the unwavering support and encouragement that all our family members, friends and loved ones give to our soldiers. We care for each one of our sons and daughters who serve in the SAF, and we know the importance of the national duty that they perform.
For the past five decades, generations of Singaporeans have done our duty and served the nation, to keep our country safe and secure. This responsibility now rests on a new generation of Singaporeans, like those standing before us on parade today. Rise to the challenge. Lead, Excel and Overcome. I am confident that you will do so. Let us hear you pledge, loudly and proudly, that you will do so.
Congratulations once again! Thank you.
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