In a 2019 Singapore Perspectives lecture, retired diplomat Balahari Kausikan made it very clear that Singapore needs a “strong deterrent capability” and to achieve that there has to be ‘realistic training.’
The remark was in response to a request posed by a member of the audience asking him his views about the death of Aloysius Pang, the actor who died on Jan. 23 from injuries sustained while performing reservist duties in New Zealand.
From the audience, Angie Chew said, “Our young men are being put on alert whenever the governments are arguing. And with the recent loss of Aloysius Pang, I would like to share that as a parent, we are all very concerned about the safety of our children, especially our boys…. And leadership comes with accountability. And what is your view in terms of accountability both in terms of words are spoken and the lives of our young men being put at risk. Not for war, but for practice. And this has been ongoing, many lives have been lost.”
She added that “transparency” is of utmost necessity.
According to Bilahari, with the existing tension between Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia due to “inherent contradictions,”
he emphasized that Singapore is “going to need a strong deterrent capability. To have a strong deterrent capability, you will have to have realistic training.” He believes that with the current environment that Singapore is in, there is “no substitute” for deterrence.
He emphasized though that he was not making light of training accidents, but that they occur despite precautions being taken.
Highlighting his remarks regarding the ongoing tension with Malaysia, Bilahari said Singapore has to demonstrate that there are limits to where Malaysia can go. He stressed that without Singapore being able to demonstrate that restriction from time to time, in a broader context of having a strong deterrent force, things are more likely to get out of hand, not less.
Commenting on Pang’s death, Bilahari with conviction says, “I don’t think MINDEF has been untransparent about this last or previous incidents. But this tragedy just happened, quite recently, I believe a Committee of Inquiry will be instituted, and I think the results of that Committee of Inquiry will be made public.”
To Ms. Chew who voiced out her concern, Bilahari asked her to reserve judgment and not to confuse two things that are “quite separate” and further asserted: “National Service policy, realistic training is vital, because without that, there is no deterrence. If there is no deterrence, bilateral tensions will get worse, not better.”