Is the Total Defence concept a set of lofty ideals that is impractical for youths on a personal level? Is racial harmony in Singapore forged by politically correct behaviours rather than authentic acceptance? These were some of the questions raised by participants at “Total Defence – A Critical Dialogue”, held on 25 August 2022 and organised by the National Security Studies Programme at RSIS in partnership with NEXUS, Ministry of Defence of Singapore.
The RSIS Dialogue saw undergraduate participants and a panel of four speakers engaging in discussions about the relevance of Total Defence to Singapore and its youths. A range of contemporary issues related to Total Defence and its domains were addressed during the dialogue – Ms Lin Suling, Director of Economic Policy at NTUC, highlighted the need to invest in skills in preparation for a lifetime of many careers; Mr Yik Jiawei, Director of Strategy and Planning at the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, spoke about the challenges involved in building deterrence in the digital domain and the importance of practising cyber hygiene; Ms Nazhath Faheema, founder of youth-led advocacy organisation, hash.peace, pointed out the need to understand the philosophy and process for how we have responded to race and religion issues in order to arrive at a Singaporean definition of multiculturalism; and Mr Sulaiman Daud, Deputy Political Correspondent at Mothership.sg, emphasised the tripartite roles of the government, media, and readers in building trust and facilitating national conversations on critical issues.
A key theme that came up over the course of the dialogue is the question of whether Total Defence resonates with Singaporean youths today. Ms Faheema commented that Total Defence is often seen as a state-run programme supported by state-related agencies, while Ms Lin observed that it is hard for the younger generation who grew up in a fairly successful Singapore to identify with a survival and siege mentality. Ms Faheema suggested that it is perhaps time to rethink the communication of Total Defence, while Ms Lin encouraged participants to think about the “new brand” of Total Defence that would appeal to the generation of youths today.