The role of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has evolved from ‘rising to the defence of Singapore’ in the First Generation years of the 1960s to the ‘full-spectrum force’ of today. In official parlance, the present day SAF is currently in the third spiral of its transformation journey – hence the Third Generation SAF nomenclature. In peacetime, the Third Generation SAF is expected to respond flexibly to the spectrum of Operations Other Than War (OOTW) contingences ranging from Peace Support Operations (PSO) to Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR). Indeed, if the increased participation of the SAF in overseas Stability, Transition and Reconstruction (SSTR) and HADR operations is anything to go by, it indicates that the armed forces of small states such as Singapore are taking on a greater if not more visible role – often within a coalition environment and the confines of the same theatre of operations. This phenomenon glaringly highlights the inherent complexities and changing character if not nature of international missions that armed forces of small states find themselves progressively engaged in. At the strategic level, the objectives of such operations are often amorphous and shifting – and primarily dictated by the requirements of the lead coalition partners. In the context of small states such as Singapore, their limited contributions in operational terms suggest that at the political level, small states are also restricted by those same limits. Why then do small states actively participate in international OOTW missions – particularly PSOs? This paper will address the above question in the specific context of the Singapore experience and rationale.
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