Friday, February 15, 2013

National Defence Duty – A Brief Rebuttal

There were two main criticisms of my proposal: it is xenophobic, and it “cheapens” National Service placing a monetary value to its performance. Let me briefly deal with them.


Some label the proposal xenophobic because it is “populist” and “pandering”, and pits Singaporeans against others. The problem with this argument is that it makes the fundamental assumption that the situation we have now is already equitable and therefore any change can only be for populist reasons.

I think many will disagree with that. Indeed, the responses that have been posted debunk any suggestion of xenophobia – see my post “National Defence Duty – A Consolidation”. Most want a re-balancing, but in a principled way that will enable better integration and that those who come to Singapore simply for economic reasons should acknowledge that they are able to do so because of others who do National Service. I do not see that as being xenophobic.

The question is therefore simple: is the current situation equitable? If yes, we leave things be. If not, how can we make it fairer? And to answer this question, we need to have practical and effective solutions, otherwise the issue will not be resolved.


Having spent 2.5 active and many reservist years in the infantry myself, the last thing I want to do is to “cheapen” National Service.

Taxing foreigners to make up for their ineligibility to serve NS does not equate to putting a value on NS. Neither does giving monetary rewards. But we do that anyway, such as giving reservists a modest tax break every year. We all know it is symbolic and no one argues that it puts a value to, or cheapens, reservist duties.

Indeed, placing an economic value on National Service is not a new concept. As one commenter pointed out, in Switzerland, any person who does not fulfil his military service obligation must pay an exemption tax of 3% on his taxable income each year. It is not about valuing the service or buying your way out. It is about giving recognition to those who do their duty, and tax breaks, benefits and penalties are often used as a tool to facilitate that. We also do it for other causes too, like parent relief for our income tax. No one argues that values or cheapens the obligation of looking after loved ones.

I had in my first post talked about the real and significant economic cost which Singaporean men pay when they perform National Service. Most of us served because we believed in the cause, and we do not begrudge that cost. That is however, a separate issue from getting those who do not perform National Service, but benefit from it, to contribute like the rest of us, albeit in a different way.

As I said in my first post, it is not a perfect solution. But it will be difficult to find a practical and effective solution with universal appeal, as the many different views I have received amply demonstrate.

Thanks for reading.

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