Photo of NS recruit from Facebook

In response to a student’s question on abolishing National Service (NS) in Singapore at the Yale-NUS forum, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that Singaporeans still have NS because “we want to be fair”:

“The number of countries with such military conscription have dwindled, and Singapore is one of the few countries that are able to continue with it. The reason why it’s been very difficult for other countries (to do so)… is that you can only maintain the commitment to national service if you are fair to everybody. As such, it would be hard for Singapore to do what others have suggested: Enlist men for the army and bring women in to make them nurses or teachers. I find it very hard to tell people or (for) any government to say to its population, I want you to subsume your individual needs for a need other than military defence.”

There is however no mention of national security and the current threat level in South East Asia. NS was created in 1965 shortly after Singapore’s independence due to the heightened military threats in Malaysia and Indonesia then. The conscription was also effective in addressing the high unemployment rate and enforcing obedience on the population that were resistant to PAP rule, often punishing citizen conscripts using military laws that do not require a fair trial.

Today, NS is a major disruption to a citizen’s life with yearly reservist training putting Singapore citizens below priority on hiring when it comes to employment. NS is also a major inequality contributor in Singapore as new citizens and permanent residents reap similar citizenship rights and benefits without having to enlist NS. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Minister of State Janil Puthucheary did not enlist in NS, but manage to enjoy million dollar ministerial salaries due to their loyalty to the ruling party.