What is Total Defence?
Total Defence was launched in 1984. It involves every Singaporean playing a part, individually and collectively, to build a strong, secure and cohesive nation that is prepared and able to deal with any crisis.
A response where everyone plays a part
Today, threats and challenges to Singapore can come in many unexpected shapes and forms. Innocent-looking civilians can disguise terrorist intentions. Travellers may unknowingly carry diseases. An insensitive deed or word can, directly or indirectly, spark off social tension. What began as a domestic economic problem elsewhere can turn into a global economic crisis that hits us, too. Natural disasters, climate change, scarcity of energy, water and food, piracy, illegal immigration, self-radicalisation, cyber-crime and information campaigns aimed at undermining the unity and resolve of our people are other examples of the wide range of threats we face today. Our response to such challenges requires every Singaporean playing a part – the young and the old, men and women, regardless of race or religion. Every small act counts – whether it is being vigilant against suspicious activities, being tolerant and respecting people of different ethnic backgrounds, taking care of our environment, showing support for our servicemen on duty at home or abroad, or simply looking out for one another. This is the essence of Total Defence – that when we each play our part, we help to strengthen the nation as well as ourselves.
The 5 Pillars of Total Defence
“Keeping Singapore secure”
We need a strong Military Defence to defend ourselves when attacked, or to deter foreign intervention and prevent ourselves from being attacked. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is a conscript armed force, depending on not only its Regulars but also the commitment of its National Servicemen with the support of their families and employers. To remain operationally ready, our servicemen keep fit, train seriously and keep abreast of the latest military doctrines and equipment.
"Taking care of our family, friends, and people around us in times of crisis”
During times of crisis or disaster, resources will be strained and we will need everyone to pitch in. If we know what to do, we can save ourselves and our loved ones, help others and ensure that life goes on as normally as possible. Learning what to do in an emergency before it happens – such as taking part in emergency exercises and attending first-aid and emergency preparedness programmes that the Singapore Civil Defence Force conducts – helps us respond more effectively in times of crisis.
The threat of global terrorism is real and security personnel cannot be everywhere all the time. Singaporeans can do our part to keep Singapore well protected by helping to look out for and reporting anything suspicious.
"Having a strong and resilient economy"
Economic Defence is about building up a strong and robust economy that can sustain Singapore through economic challenges and national emergencies. It means that the government, employers and trade unions work together during peacetime to ensure that we have good infrastructure and strong reserves, and our economy is competitive. Individuals also play a part by retraining and upgrading, and by keeping up with new technologies and new ways of doing things. When we do this, we help ourselves remain employable as the economy changes. Saving up for a rainy day and adopting environment-friendly practices are also ways to protect ourselves and our future generations.
To prepare for national emergencies, the government and businesses work together to put in place contingency measures to keep offices and factories running even after National Servicemen and equipment have been mobilised, and to maintain national stockpiles of essential items to keep the economy going. We are also taking steps to enhance our country's defences against cyber-attacks so that our critical infrastructure and data remain secure.
"Living harmoniously and looking out for one another”
Singapore enjoys social and economic stability because people of all races and religions live together harmoniously. We know what could happen if we allow extremist ideologies and racial prejudice and discrimination to endanger social cohesion and harmony. We befriend, accept and help people of different ethnicities.
We show consideration for one another, respecting and being sensitive to the needs and religious and cultural practices of others. We have meals together and invite friends to join in our festivities. Through such small efforts in our daily lives, we are able to better understand and appreciate the heritage, culture and practices of our fellow countrymen and strengthen our bonds as Singaporeans. We also contribute towards a gracious and compassionate society when we help the less fortunate and underprivileged among us.
"Being a resilient people”
While being prepared is the key to Total Defence, it is always the fighting spirit, the will, the resilience of Singaporeans that determine whether or not our nation will overcome a crisis. When each Singaporean is proud of our country and willing to stand up to defend what is ours, resolved and determined to overcome any crisis together, we can be assured of a secure future, regardless of the challenge.
Putting it all together
Total Defence has seen us through the fall-out from the 9/11 attacks, SARS, the economic crises of 1997 and 2008, and the haze in recent years. It has become a fundamental aspect of what makes us Singaporean and is shown in the things that we do on a daily basis – whether it is by fulfilling National Service duties, volunteering in Civil Defence activities, building community vigilance and resilience through SGSecure, working hard and contributing to a strong economy, strengthening community ties with one another regardless of race and religion, or staying committed to defending our home.
We commemorate Total Defence Day on 15 February every year, the anniversary of the British’s surrender of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, as a reminder of what could happen if we cannot defend ourselves. Our work in Total Defence is unceasing. The collective effort and resolve of everyone living in Singapore make up the total defence needed to keep our nation strong and sovereign.