Is Singapore over-spending in its defence?

By: Kojak Bt

The issue here is not about doing away with defense but how much one wants to spend on defense.

So, for example, if one wants to protect his house from intruders and trespassers, he might buy a Chubb alarm system and perhaps get a guard dog and install some good fencing around his house. That would be considered adequate for all practical purpose in protecting his house. But if he also pays CISCO to get a platoon (30) of security guards, housing them in the back of his house, that would be considered excessive by most people.

With this analogy in mind and speaking as a Singaporean, it is my view that perhaps we are currently spending too much in defense, “over-defending” ourselves.

It is interesting to note that in terms of the Global Militarization Index, Singapore is currently ranked 2nd in the world after Israel:

List of countries by Global Militarization Index – Wikipedia

1 Israel
2 Singapore
3 Armenia

The Global Militarization Index essentially depicts the relative weight and importance of the military apparatus of one state in relation to its society as a whole. It takes into account of:

* comparison of military expenditure with its gross domestic product (GDP);
* comparison of military expenditure with its health expenditure;
* contrast between the total number of (para)military forces with the number of physicians, and the overall population;
* ratio of the number of heavy weapons available and the overall population.

If one is to look at the 10 countries above, all 9 except Singapore have been involved in some kind of serious arm conflicts with others before, involving large number of troops in recent history:

* Nagorno-Karabakh conflict 1988-94 (Armenia: 45,850, Azerbaijan: 66,940)
* Six-Day War 1967 (Israel: 264,000, Egypt: 240,000, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq: 307,000)
* Yom Kippur War 1973 (Israel: 400,000, Arabs: 1 million)
* Korean War 1950 (South Korea: 600,000, UN: 350,000, North Korea: 270,000, China, 1.4 million)
* Gulf War 1990 (Kuwait with Coalition Forces: 956,600, Iraq: 650,000)
* Turkish invasion of Cyprus 1974 (Cyprus: 12,000, Greece: 2,000, Turkey: 40,000)
* Age old feud between Greece and Turkey (Greek War of Independence from Turkey 1821, Greco-Turkish War 1897, First Balkan War 1912, First World War, Greco-Turkish War 1919 and the Aegean territorial dispute almost led to outbreak of military hostilities between the two in 1987 and in early 1996).

Hence, given the sociopolitical background, it is understandable that the 9 would want to invest more in their military so as to be ready for the next fight. Singapore, on the other hand, lives in relative peace when compared with the 9.

As said, I am not saying that Singapore should do away with defense altogether. In fact, it is only right that we should spend money in defense as a sovereign country so as to adequately protect ourselves against potential aggressors. I guess the question is to what extent would one want to spend in defending oneself?

In this regard, we can look at the actual defense spending in SE Asia region:

Military spending in 2015 by South East Asian countries (in US$ Million)

Brunei – 460
Cambodia – 278 (2014)
Indonesia – 8,071
Laos – 23 (2013)
Malaysia – 5,300
Myanmar – 3,187
Philippines – 3,893
Singapore – 10,213 <<<<<<<
Thailand – 6,101
Timor Leste – 37
Vietnam – 4,581

Not surprisingly, we see Singapore leading in military spending in the SE Asia region. The next country in SE Asia which spent substantially in defense in 2015 was Indonesia. However, if one was to look at the whole decade from 2006 to 2015, we see that Singapore actually spent twice as much as Indonesia did:

(US$M)

  • Indonesia – 52,769
  • Singapore – 97,050

In fact, for the whole decade, Singapore’s defense spending equals to the combined spending of Indonesia and Malaysia (US$M 47,770 for Malaysia), the 2 closest neighbors of Singapore.

Meanwhile, in terms of healthcare spending, Singapore is the worst when compared to all other first world OECD countries (Singapore always deems itself to be a first world country). The link gives the percentage of healthcare expenditure incurred by the Govt over the country’s healthcare expenditure in 2015.

(OECD Average = 73)

So, on average, for every dollar of healthcare expenditure incurred in their country, OECD countries are spending $0.73 leaving the private sector including its citizens spending only $0.27.

But in Singapore, the govt only spends 42% (2014), leaving the private sector (i.e, the citizens) paying for the majority of healthcare cost.

Prior to the 2011 General Election, it was even worse at 35% (2010). So, even though Singapore has increased its healthcare expenditure since 2010, it is still far below that of any OECD countries’. The OECD countries have been spending at least about 50% and above, paying for the majority of the healthcare expenditures.

Again, it’s the right of any sovereign countries to spend money in military defense to protect oneself. But when basic requirements like healthcare spending is lacking, one must start to question if it’s wise to continue to channel large amount of money into defense, especially for Singapore living in a relatively peaceful region (do compare Singapore to the situation which the 9 countries above are in).

For it was Dr Martin Luther King who once said: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

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