Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence, Mr Heng Chee How, at the Total Defence Awards 2019

Speech by Senior Minister of State for Defence, Mr Heng Chee How, at the Total Defence Awards 2019

My Parliamentary colleagues,

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman,

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Mr Amrin Amin,

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development Ms Sun Xueling,

Permanent Secretaries,

Co-Chairperson of ACCORD Sub-Council Mr Tony Chew,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good evening. First, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)/ Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Home Team, I warmly welcome you to this evening's celebration. I am of course delighted to join you on this special occasion to celebrate the tremendous support that Total Defence has enjoyed through the years.


Total Defence was introduced in 1984 as a "national defence concept" to rally Singaporeans behind the SAF so that in the event of a military threat, we are able to respond correctly and effectively. And it was with that in mind that the 15th of February was chosen as Total Defence Day. Because on the 15th of February, 77 years ago, British forces surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. The people who were in Singapore then, lived through three years and seven months of terror and hardship. Total Defence Day serves as a solemn reminder for ourselves of the price of failure to defend our country.

The security environment today is complex and volatile. And it definitely goes beyond overt military conflict and outright war. The threats have expanded to terrorism, cyberattacks, disinformation and other subversive activities that lurk below the threshold of military conflict, and this is what we might now call hybrid threats. So let me share some examples.

We are regularly reminded of not only the reality but also the proximity of terrorism. Consider just this year alone, in 2019, and we already see headline grabbing terrorist attacks in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Indonesia. Think about Singapore – we are not immune to this threat. In fact, I think there is a good reason to believe that we are a prized terrorist target. Because if you recall the news, you will know that we, in Singapore, have people who have been radicalised and they would commit terrorist acts if they are not stopped in time.

As for how the use of the internet has been both a boon and a bane for societies, this again, I am sure that all of us will be keenly aware of how some key Singaporean entities and networks have proven susceptible to cyber-attacks, and how the power of social media and software applications can be leveraged to foment a breakdown of law and order in societies near and far.


As our security challenges evolve beyond conventional military threats, Total Defence becomes ever more pertinent. So what must we do?

First, we must continue to invest in all pillars of Total Defence, because now, the adversary is able to deploy Total Attack against us. One critical outcome of a successful total defence is our ability to continue to generate resources in a stable environment to meet the diverse and growing needs of our population. So again, if you were to think that a country, or a city, if you lose that ability to defend yourself, if you lose that stability to attract, retain and promote a good business environment for example, your economy goes down the drain, there goes the jobs, your livelihoods, your future. And it is very difficult to pick up the pieces.

Second, tackling non-traditional threats such as terrorism, cyberattacks and subversion via social media require a tightknit whole-of-society approach. Over the years, the SAF, the Singapore Police Force (SPF), and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) have conducted multiple island-wide counter-terrorism exercises to strengthen our emergency responses. SGSecure, an initiative launched in 2016, further strengthens our society's ability to respond well and to respond effectively to terrorist attacks. Continuing efforts by groups such as the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC), and other civilian critical organisations such as hospitals will keep strong our social fabric and our tactical emergency responses.

To tackle cyber threats, the Digital Defence pillar was added this year to Total Defence in order to give focus and impetus to developing plans and societal capabilities and reflexes in this emerging critical area. The government sector will no doubt have a big role to play but not an exclusive one. The work of the Cyber-Security Agency (CSA), GovTech and also the SAF's Cyber-Defence Group are specific examples of growing efforts within the Government and the demonstration of the Government's continued commitment to this stout defence of Singapore in this emerging area. But really, we require everybody to pitch in because you are as strong as the weakest link.

Therefore, third, we must stress that individual actions and vigilance make a real difference. 15-year-old National Civil Defence Cadet Corps (NCDCC) cadet Diniy Qurratuaini demonstrated quick thinking and conducted CPR for a woman who was hit by a bus, and saved her. Then you have Mr Yeo Hiang Meng who rallied hawkers and stores to recognise the contribution of NSmen during SAF Day.

I cite these two examples to show you how different they can be. It can be the unplanned that happens and you have the capability to save lives. Or it could be something that you feel deeply for, that is something important to your family that we nurture year after year and then you bring together your networks and persuade others to join you on this journey. Everything counts and there are a myriad ways that each of us can make a difference. The bottom line is, together, we are stronger.


This is a nice evening, I do not wish to prolong this speech and therefore I want to thank the organisers of this event and members of the Total Defence Award Evaluation Board for their hard work.

And my heartiest congratulations, of course, to our 167 recipients of this year's Total Defence Awards for your strong advocacy and outstanding example and contribution towards Total Defence and towards National Service.

Ladies and gentlemen, have the most enjoyable evening. Thank you.

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