Think Tank (6/2021)
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05 Oct 2021
Ian Li

The Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers (APPSMO) is the flagship conference of RSIS, and 2021 marks the 22nd edition of the annual series. Providing a platform for leading senior military officers to meet and establish personal relationships as well as share developments of professional interest, APPSMO contributes to the fostering of peace and stability in the region.

APPSMO began as a summer camp for senior military officers in 1999, under the auspices of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), now a constituent unit of RSIS. Hence it was fitting that APPSMO commemorated the 25th Anniversary of IDSS this year by hosting Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, at its Distinguished Speaker’s Lecture. Professor Freedman was one of the speakers at the first iteration of the summer camps and has since been associated with both IDSS and APPSMO for many years. He spoke on “Strategy and Command in an Age of Extreme Uncertainty”, arguing that in view of the strategic challenges that states were facing today, a new understanding of civil-military relationship is needed.

The theme of this year’s conference, “The Evolving Security Environment in the Asia-Pacific and its Challenges”, brought academics and practitioners together to discuss the current state of security challenges and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific today. Ironically perhaps, the 22nd APPSMO reflected the uncertainties in the region: it had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.  by shifting to a virtual format. Held from 5 to 7 Oct 2021, the conference was attended by 46 senior military officers and defence officials from over 20 countries, spanning the entire Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

The keynote speaker, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Heng Chee How spoke on the evolving challenges to peace and stability in the region, focusing on the impact of technology as a disruptive force. He highlighted that while technology has transformed our lives for the better, it has also opened up new vectors through which hostile actors could threaten our security. In this regard, today’s conflicts often circumvent geographical and national borders, operating outside conventional arenas. Mr Heng stressed that militaries would have to review their doctrines, structures and capabilities to more effectively deal with the emerging threats, and called for greater multilateral cooperation among defence and military establishments to deal with these transnational challenges.

Over the course of the programme, APPSMO participants attended a series of panels discussing the geopolitical uncertainties of great power rivalry, the changing nature of conflict in a hybrid environment, and the challenges of maritime security in international waters. To conclude the conference, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC), spoke as APPSMO’s Distinguished Speaker on “Singapore in Transition”, providing a Singaporean perspective on the challenging geopolitical situation of the region today.

In his closing remarks, Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman, RSIS, reminded participants that the region must continue to be vigilant against religious fundamentalism. Thanking them for their active participation, he encouraged them to build long-lasting friendships with one another so that there could be better mutual understanding and cooperation.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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