Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean at the S Rajaratnam Lecture
Diplomacy and Defence in Singapore are twins. Prior to Independence, external relations and defence were in the hands of Britain, and then of Malaysia. Diplomacy and Defence for Singapore were born at the same time – when these two inter-linked new responsibilities were thrust upon us in 1965.
Defence and Diplomacy in the early days were shaped by the urgent needs of a new nation – recognition and survival as a sovereign nation, the space to forge our own future, and to grow and develop.
We were a new nation in a difficult region where conflict was rife and cooperation was not the norm. The Cold War manifested itself in our region as a raging hot war in Indo-China. The threat of Communist violence and subversion was real. As late as in 1974, two men from the Communist Party of Malaya died when one of the bombs they were transporting exploded prematurely in their car at Still Road. A third escaped with injuries. Three unexploded bombs were found at the scene, and another three more in North Bridge Road. Race riots and communalism were not a distant memory, but an ever present reality in Singapore and our immediate neighbours.
We learnt quickly that we had to fend for ourselves. The British announced their withdrawal from East of Suez, and departed in 1971. The Five-Power Defence Arrangements stood in their place. The US effort in Vietnam to hold back the tide of communism was not doing well. In 1975, the last US troops left Vietnam unceremoniously, and in 1978, Vietnamese troops crossed the border into Cambodia. It was a sobering reminder that we had to take the responsibility for our own defence very seriously. We had to rapidly build up the SAF. At the same time, we worked on the diplomatic front with like-minded countries at the UN. We also worked with our neighbours to strengthen ASEAN, at the time, comprising just the 5 founding members, and stood by Thailand.
Building the Foundations for Cooperation and Stability
In the midst of this turmoil, solidarity and cooperation with our neighbours slowly improved. I recall that in 1974, as a young Naval officer, our ship was ordered to prepare for the first ever military exercise to be conducted with Indonesia. We were told that this was an important exercise. We were to take this seriously and to make friends as this would set the tone for the future. President Soeharto had just made his first state visit to Singapore in August 1974. This reciprocated the visit in May 1973 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Indonesia, where he had sprinkled flowers on the graves of two Marines who had been executed for setting off a bomb that killed 3 people at MacDonald House during Konfrontasi in March 1965.
Cooperation in our region strengthened, gradually at first, then more rapidly and steadily.
In the defence arena, the initial interactions developed into cooperation and mutual assistance, for example in rescue and humanitarian missions. In May 1996, 9 hostages, including 6 foreigners, kidnapped by the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka), were freed by TNI special forces after a remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) from the SAF, deployed at the request of the TNI, helped to detect the group which had fled into the mountains. On 19 Dec 1997, SilkAir flight MI 185 crashed into the Musi River near Palembang. The TNI led the search and rescue efforts, and TNI-AL divers recovered the flight data and voice recorders after more than a week of strenuous effort in the swift currents and murky waters.
But even as relations improved with countries in the region, there were still episodes, when tensions rose, for example, over sensitive issues such as water or territorial claims. In those circumstances, the armed forces of each country had a duty to act to safeguard its country’s own interests. At the same time though, the many interactions that had taken place between senior officers and the armed forces of the countries proved valuable. The military leaders knew their counterparts, and were able to have a realistic appreciation of each other’s armed forces. This allowed the military leaders on both sides to provide the appropriate advice, and to calibrate their actions and responses so that relations remained on an even keel, and did not spiral out of control.
Maintaining relations through difficult times is important. I recall visiting Jakarta in 1998 to show our solidarity during the depths of the Asian financial crisis, by offering humanitarian assistance through the Indonesian armed forces. The Indonesian Defence Minister was present during my call on the new President who expressed how he viewed bilateral relations between a large Indonesia and a small Singapore. The long-standing defence relationship, which we continue to value, was a source of stability in our bilateral relations during that period which saw a rapid succession of leaders with less predictable policy inclinations taking the reins. The SAF continued to maintain its close relationship and interactions with the TNI during that period even when a number of other countries decided to discontinue their military relations.
ASEAN at the Core
As a founding member of ASEAN, we recognized early on, the importance of ASEAN in helping its members to collectively project a larger influence on the global stage, compared to what each individual country could achieve on its own. We also recognized that Southeast Asia is not a self-sustaining region and our survival depended on our success in developing friendly links with other countries and regions. Thus, we have taken the approach of keeping ASEAN at the core of an open and inclusive regional architecture, where we actively engage countries beyond ASEAN which have an interest in this part of the world, to pursue shared goals and support ASEAN’s role in maintaining regional peace and stability.
In the defence arena, for example, we have the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting at the core, and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus to discuss defence and security issues. Meanwhile, the ASEAN Regional Forum helps to foster constructive dialogue on political and security issues of common interest and concern. These platforms took some time to develop. There was a network of long-standing bilateral defence interactions in the region, but it was not till 2006 that ASEAN Defence Ministers met together for the first time. Things moved quickly from there, and within four years, the inaugural ADMM Plus meeting involving the ten ASEAN Member States as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the US was held in 2010. The Ministers agreed to focus on five practical areas of cooperation, where we can all learn from one another, and work together to promote regional peace and stability.
In addition, Singapore has hosted the Shangri-La Dialogue every year since 2002, bringing together participants from more than 25 countries to discuss current as well as emerging regional security concerns. Besides the scheduled sessions, the annual gathering also provides a useful setting for informal interactions between defence ministers, heads of defence ministries, military chiefs, policymakers and strategic thinkers.
Bilaterally, we also have long-standing defence relationships with partners from beyond the region. For example, in 1989, during a visit to Singapore, US Senator Richard Lugar asked then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew how the US could remain engaged in the region, in the event the United States had to leave the Philippines. This led to the 1990 MOU between the US and Singapore to give US ships and aircraft access to Singapore’s facilities. In 2005, the US and Singapore signed the Strategic Framework Agreement for a Closer Cooperation Partnership in Defence and Security. The SFA characterized the US and Singapore as Major Security Cooperation Partners, but with no treaty obligation for either party to come to the defence of the other in case of being attacked.
The SAF has also conducted exercises with India since 1994, and signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement in 2003. With China, we signed an Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation in 2008, and conducted our first bilateral exercise in 2009.
The SAF also builds strong relations by training with the armed forces of many other countries including our ASEAN neighbours, Australia, Britain, Germany, and New Zealand, in bilateral as well as multilateral exercises such as RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise), Cobra Gold, and SEACAT (Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism). The SAF conducts over 35 joint exercises a year, involving 20 different partners.
This provides opportunities to build confidence, understanding and inter-operability which will stand us all in good stead should we need to work together. For example, the SAF was able to easily interface with other armed forces in the UN operations in Timor Leste, as well as in the Indian Ocean tsunami relief operations because we had trained together with many of the armed forces who were deployed for these missions.
A Changing World Order
Military thinker Carl von Clausewitz said in his 19th century treatise “On War” that “War is the continuation of politick by other means.” To him, the use of, or threat of the use of force, was part of a continuum of actions which could be used to bend others to one’s will.
His views were shaped in an era where the European powers jostled for power and supremacy. This was the age of spheres of influence, balance of power, and competition for colonial territories and possessions. There was no international framework or recognized body of international law for countries to resolve their differences and disputes.
In short, might was right. This was a ‘bare knuckles’ brand of diplomacy with force as the ultimate arbiter. Great wars were fought between the European states, and in the first half of the 20th century, two world wars. At the end of each of these two wars, first the League of Nations, and then the United Nations, were established with the lofty ideal to end all wars, and to have differences settled by peaceful means and fair adjudication according to international law. The International Court of Justice was also established in 1946.
But the UN system was not able to achieve the lofty goals set out. Its processes and rules made concerted global action difficult. Paralysis was often the result, especially when crises were seen through the lens of a divided Cold War world.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world has changed. We no longer live in a bi-polar world characterized by two contending blocs representing diametrically opposed world views which were not reconcilable. Indeed, we do not want to see a repeat of the Cold War. There is an opportunity for the world to work towards a cooperative and collaborative future.
ASEAN too has grown and now encompasses all the countries of Southeast Asia, both archipelagic as well as continental Southeast Asia, with countries working for regional unity across the old colonial and Cold War divides. ASEAN has grown not just in geographical coverage but also in the depth and breadth of its cooperation. In 2003, ASEAN leaders signed the Bali Concord II to establish an ASEAN community with three pillars, namely political-security, economic, and socio-cultural cooperation. The ASEAN Charter, which was adopted in 2007, helps to strengthen the legal and institutional framework of ASEAN. In 2011, ASEAN concluded the Bali Concord III, which committed ASEAN to develop, where possible, more coordinated positions on issues of common interest and concern. More recently, Leaders launched negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in November 2012 to strengthen economic linkages between ASEAN and our Free Trade Partners. These developments will contribute to the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015.
Today’s world is quite different from the world that Clausewitz lived in. There is a larger body of international law and international norms. Countries, whether big or small, are expected to abide by these rules and norms. But I would add a caveat here, that all countries must also have the opportunity to take part in building and shaping these rules and norms, so that they “own” them and are prepared to subscribe to them. With the end of the Cold War and the rise in capability and influence of a range of other countries, the UN and other international organizations require reform to reflect the realities of the world today.
New Challenges and Strategies
In today’s increasingly interconnected world, continents and cultures are linked by rapid flows of information, trade, investment, and people. Air travel allows a terrorist to get to the other side of the world in just 18 hours; or a deadly virus, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003) to quickly jump across national borders, oceans and continents. A computer virus can be developed in one country, launched in another, and bring down computer systems in many countries instantly, via the Internet.
Security has become much more multi-faceted, and far more intertwined. The world is thus faced with new challenges. The age-old skills of diplomacy are still required, and so too the application of military capabilities, but in non-traditional ways, which require new collective approaches.
Let me talk about some of these new challenges and approaches, including peacekeeping, terrorism, humanitarian and disaster relief, maritime security and cyber security. Many of these new challenges are at the interstices between states, where state power overlaps, is diffused or weak.
Peacekeeping and Stabilisation Operations
In the early days, Singapore had little capacity or expertise to contribute to peacekeeping. It was only in 1989 that the SAF embarked on its first UN peacekeeping mission in Namibia. Since then, Singapore has continued to contribute, in accordance with its capabilities. The SAF and the Singapore Police Force have sent more than 2,500 officers to more than 30 overseas missions such as UNAVEM II in Angola, MINUGUA in Guatemala, and UNIKOM in Iraq and Kuwait.
In 1997, Singapore went one step further and signed the Memorandum of Understanding on UN Standby Arrangements. We were the seventh country to do so, committing ourselves to placing planning officers, military observers, medical personnel and police officers on standby to support UN peacekeeping missions.
Our contributions are certainly not large compared to what bigger countries can offer. But they are in accordance with our small size and capacity. More importantly, our contributions are a reflection of our belief that if we want an international system that works in the interest of all states and not just the big states, then all states, including small states, must be prepared to play a meaningful role in accordance with their capabilities in shaping the international system or keeping peace in the world.
Besides stepping up our contributions on the defence front, Singapore also stepped up its efforts on the diplomatic front. Singapore made a bid, for the first time, to be a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council. We were successfully elected and served on the Council from 2001-2002. During our term on the Security Council, we sought to bring the perspective of small states to the work of the Council and to reflect the concerns of developing countries. We also sought to improve the working processes, effectiveness and responsiveness of the Security Council, to create, in the long run, a norm-based system where the interests of all member states are better served by the Council. Even now, Singapore continues to work towards this goal at the UN.
Singapore has also participated in UN-sanctioned stabilisation and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 990 SAF personnel and 38 Police personnel served in Iraq; and from 2007 to date, more than 350 SAF personnel were deployed to Afghanistan. We contribute in niche areas such as construction and medical, RPVs and Imagery Analysis, and artillery location, where we have some expertise and can make a useful operational difference to the overall effort.
Terrorism is a threat that clearly does not respect national boundaries. On 31 January 1974, four terrorists from the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked the ferry Laju, and held five crew members hostage. After several days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to release the hostages in exchange for a party of guarantors to ensure their safe passage for Kuwait. In 1991, four Pakistanis hijacked SQ 117 enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. During the rescue operation by SAF counter-terrorist forces, the four hijackers were killed, and all passengers and crew rescued.
The events in Afghanistan illustrate once again the global tentacles of terrorism. Several of the JI operatives who were arrested in Singapore since 2001 had trained in Afghanistan; and a copy of the JI reconnaissance video of the vicinity of Yishun MRT station was found in the house of a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Kabul. The difference from the Laju and SQ 117 incidents was that most of the JI operatives arrested were home-grown, but radicalised by external influences. This illustrates why we need a collective approach to security. Events in what appear to be far-away and remote places, can have a direct impact on the security of all of us.
Beyond the security concerns, we are sharing experiences with other countries to tackle the social dimensions of extremism and terrorism. Muslim leaders in Singapore took early ownership of the problem of extremism, and formed the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to counsel detainees on their misinterpretation of religious concepts. Thanks to the work of the RRG, three-quarters of our detainees have undergone rehabilitation and are reintegrating into society. Representatives from many other countries have expressed interest in the RRG. In March next year, the RRG will be holding an international conference on Terrorist Rehabilitation and Community Resilience in Singapore to share experiences. Speakers and participants from Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the US, as well as European and ASEAN countries are scheduled to attend.
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Another area of military and security cooperation in the new world is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). Population increases in areas vulnerable to natural disasters, as well as an increase in such events, place a higher demand on international assistance.
To date, the SAF and SCDF have mounted over 40 emergency relief operations in countries such as Indonesia, New Zealand, Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand.
The most significant HADR effort in our region was for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day. Entire coastlines were inundated, whole communities were swept away. No country on its own could deal with a disaster on such a vast scale. Many countries rushed aid to the affected countries. Due to our proximity to the disaster zones, and the availability of suitable capabilities, the SAF and SCDF were able to quickly deploy substantial assistance to Aceh (Indonesia) which was the worst affected, and to Phuket (Thailand). In its largest HADR deployment so far, the SAF dispatched heavy helicopters, landing ships and more than 1,500 personnel to Aceh.
It helped that we deployed officers who had trained at staff colleges in Indonesia, and many others had exercised with their counterparts. They were thus familiar with the language and cultural nuances, and could work closely with the Indonesian authorities from the start.
On the diplomatic front, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supported Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s initiative to convene a Special ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting in Jakarta. PM Lee was the first foreign leader to visit the disaster zone in Meulaboh and Banda Aceh on 4 January 2005. His first-hand account of the devastation and the relief efforts required added considerable weight to the deliberations at the Summit two days later, which was attended by leaders of 24 countries and nine international organizations.
Relief efforts when Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in 2008 causing widespread flooding in the Ayeyarwady Delta posed a different set of diplomatic and operational challenges. As ASEAN Chair at that time, Singapore led delicate and sensitive discussions with the Myanmar government to persuade them to allow international assistance teams into the country. Eventually, the Myanmar government agreed to the formation of an ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force and the Tripartite Core Group, comprising ASEAN, the UN and Myanmar, to oversee recovery efforts. The Tripartite Core Group was instrumental in facilitating trust, confidence and cooperation between Myanmar and the international community in the urgent humanitarian relief work following the devastating cyclone.
These examples demonstrate how no country, however big, can build up sufficient capacity to cater for extreme events. The surge in demand for humanitarian and disaster relief is so high that victims in the affected country will almost certainly benefit from additional resources and support from external sources.
Climate change will also increasingly be a risk multiplier. In Singapore, we have already observed rises in ambient temperatures and increasing frequency of high intensity rainfall. Changes in weather patterns can have far-reaching implications. There could be increased migration, new pandemics, and significant food and water shortages. We have to work together to address climate change; and also build up our national and collective capabilities to better respond to these challenges.
Maritime security is another security challenge where diplomacy and defence are intertwined. On the diplomatic front, Singapore played an active role in shaping the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS for short. Ambassador Tommy Koh chaired the UNCLOS III during the final two years of the negotiations leading up to its conclusion in 1982.
UNCLOS was able to strike a delicate balance between the interests of coastal states and the navigational interests of the international community such as the freedom of navigation and overflight.
UNCLOS also established a dispute settlement mechanism for states to resolve their differences peacefully through bilateral negotiations, arbitration or at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or the International Court of Justice. We hope that the countries with overlapping claims in the South China Sea will resolve their differences peacefully in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS; and that freedom of navigation will be maintained.
Sea lanes are inter-connected, so a problem in one segment will quickly disrupt the flow elsewhere along the route. No country can protect all the sea lanes everywhere in the world on its own, no matter how powerful it is. Hence, all countries have to do their part and act collectively to ensure that the sea lanes remain secure and free for navigation. For Singapore, this is critical, since trade is about three times our GDP, and most of it is carried by sea.
Singapore plays a role in our own region especially in the key Malacca and Singapore Straits, where we have useful and practical agreements such as coordinated sea patrols, and “Eyes-in-the-Sky” arrangements with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Since November 2006, Singapore has hosted the Information Sharing Centre for the Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). To date, 18 States have become Contracting Parties to ReCAAP, with the US announcing its intention to join just ten days ago.
In 2009, information sharing in the maritime domain was further boosted by the establishment of a new Information Fusion Centre (IFC). Since mid 2009, 13 countries have partnered the IFC by sending International Liaison Officers to be attached at the Centre, at the invitation of the Republic of Singapore Navy. Bringing together our partners from these countries enables the pooling of resources and expertise to identify security trends. The information can then be disseminated in a timely manner to IFC’s partners, including the international shipping community.
We have also contributed to maritime security beyond our region by deploying ships and surveillance aircraft to the Gulf of Aden and command teams for the multinational Combined Task Force 151. While the Gulf of Aden may appear to be far away from Singapore, it sits on one of the major sea lanes of the world, connecting North America and Europe to East Asia, through Singapore.
Another emerging strand in global security is cyber security. Cyber attacks, cyber espionage and cyber crime are usually launched from outside the target country, anonymised through multiple hop points in various countries. Civilian as well as defence agencies in many countries are being asked to take on this task of cyber security and defence.
Not every country may have the capability to ensure its own cyber security. Yet, one weak link may affect others in the global system. Singapore hopes to play a catalytic role through the new INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation which will open in Singapore in 2014. It will facilitate cyber research and innovation, provide cyber security training and operational support for law enforcement agencies around the world as well as house the INTERPOL Digital Crime Centre that will focus on cyber crime and digital forensics.
The “might is right” world of the 19th century is not the kind of world that we would like to see. In the new global order, and given the new inter-related challenges that the world faces, there is an imperative, and the opportunity, to build a cooperative and collaborative world.
But that does not mean that defence and armed forces have become irrelevant. We are, unfortunately, still some distance yet from reaching this ideal state. Countries still need armed forces, so that they are able to defend themselves and avoid tempting others. Many of us still remember how in 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was able to overpower and take over Kuwait literally overnight – in just two days.
If we extend Clausewitz’ axiom and apply it to the current context, the use of military forces is an extension of politics but with a much wider interpretation of the use that military forces can be put to. It extends to non-traditional roles such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and creating the conditions for capacity and institution building. It also extends to peacemaking or peacekeeping, where acting under an international mandate or sanction should be the norm. This will help ensure that the action taken is for a collective global or regional good, rather than merely as an extension of any particular country’s foreign or security policy.
Defence and Diplomacy – Principles for Singapore
Let me extract three principles which have served us well.
From the start, we sought to make friends with all who would be friends with us. We built up ASEAN as the core. This is important, because whenever ASEAN has been united and cohesive, the region has enjoyed peace and stability. Whenever ASEAN has allowed itself to be pulled apart by external forces, or been disunited, we have seen a rise in tensions and contention. ASEAN must also stay united so that each member country, and ASEAN collectively, can speak credibly and exercise greater influence on the regional and international stage.
We also look beyond the region to make friends in the developed and developing world. We have to make ourselves relevant to these countries politically and economically so that they have an interest in cooperating with us. The sharing of our developmental experience is one way for Singapore to demonstrate our willingness to support the development of our friends in ASEAN and other regions. Each year, we train close to 7,000 government officials in some 300 courses under the Singapore Cooperation Programme.
Defence cooperation and interactions also help build mutual understanding and confidence, and inter-operability.
Second, we work for a multilateral system that is fair and equitable to countries, big and small. For small states, it is critical that the world be governed by the rule of law, with avenues for peaceful resolution of differences. This gives countries assurance that their interests will be taken into account, rather than be subject to a situation where “might is right”; or where global decisions are left in the hands of just a few big countries. This is why we played an active role in the negotiations leading up to UNCLOS, why we contribute to international operations, and why we support UN reform to enable the UN to be more effective.
As a small state, we seek out like-minded partners to magnify our collective voice. For example, in 1992, together with several other countries, we initiated the Forum of Small States (FOSS) at the UN, bringing together small states with populations of less than 10 million. Today, the FOSS has 105 members. It has become a useful forum for discussing issues of common concern from the perspectives of small states. More recently, Singapore helped establish an informal Global Governance Group or 3G, with other like-minded small and medium-sized states. The 3G now stands at 30 members and seeks to engender a constructive dialogue between the G20 and the wider UN membership, so that smaller countries have a greater role in shaping the global agenda.
Finally, we must always maintain the ability to protect our sovereignty and defend what is critical for our survival. The primary role of the SAF remains to defend Singapore, and to be the final guarantor of our sovereignty. For we cannot depend on others for our survival, and must be able to take our fate and our future in our own hands.
We have come a long way, in the forty-five years since independence when our defence and diplomatic capabilities were new-born twins. Over time, our defence and security capabilities have deepened and broadened. A strong economy, accumulated knowledge, expertise and assets have also increased Singapore’s standing and relevance to the world.
Today, Singapore is in a position where we are not only able to safeguard our sovereignty and security, but can contribute to regional and international peace and security, and help ensure a safer and more secure world for all.
As we face the new and multi-faceted challenges of the future, deft diplomacy, and a strong and versatile SAF will still be required, to enable us to create the space for a stable, secure and prosperous Singapore.
Source: Ministry of Home Affairs