How Singapore Became a Tiny Military Superpower
Singapore, a country 0.01% the size of the USA, is a mere blip of a nation at 283.1 square miles (733.1 km2), and yet it has a surprisingly potent military. You can run across Singapore in a couple of hours, and yet, it’s quite a military powerhouse. Today we’re going to see just how powerful and attempt to understand why it’s so focused on maintaining a robust military presence. This island nation and city-state announced a defense budget for 2023 of $13.4 billion,
with a projection for 2030 of $16 billion. This was a 10% increase over 2022’s budget and a 5.6% increase of the original 2023 budget that was first put forward, a sizable amount for the 176th largest nation on Earth. It’s estimated that the nominal GDP for Singapore in 2023 will hover around $432.9
billion, so the defense budget will be about 3 percent of the GDP. That’s pretty high on a global scale, not as high as the USA’s 3.85 percent but higher than the UK’s 2.09 percent and Australia’s 1.99 percent.
The majority of nations in the world expend less than Singapore on defense. The country said the money will mostly go to military salaries, military equipment, and the maintenance of that equipment. Recent reports state that Singapore will spend big on a number of Lockheed Martin F-35Bs, which will replace its F-16s sometime in the 2030s. This alone is impressive when you consider just how small Singapore is. It only measures 31 miles (50km) from east to west and 17 miles (27km) from north to south.
We’ll talk more about F35Bs and other high-tech equipment later. For centuries, this little island has been an important trading port. Back in the 14th century, it had bustling trade routes with the Siamese (Thai) kingdom and the Majapahit Empire (Java). Back then, Singapore was known as Temasek.
In the 1600s, the seafaring Dutch built a trading post on the island, understanding the location could be an important strategic trading base because of the trade routes that cross through the nearby areas. Portugal was another nation with its eyes on Temasek. Prior to the European conquests, the Johor Sultanate also had frequent skirmishes on this precious island with the neighboring Riau-Lingga Sultanate.
Both Portugal and the Netherlands vied for supremacy in what was then the extremely lucrative spice trade, and Temasek was caught in the middle of a fight. Passage through the Strait of Malacca was critical for European trade. Neither country, though, was able to establish a permanent settlement there. It was the British who did that with the help of a man named Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles. It was he who made some deals with the island’s chief, Temenggong Abdul Rahman, all in the name of protecting British commercial interests in the region.
After taking advantage of some power struggles on the island, he managed to secure a permanent British settlement for the British East India Company. It was the 1819 signing of the Singapore Treaty that we call the founding of modern Singapore, despite all the history we’ve just told you about. The name Singapore comes from the Malay words “Singa” (lion) and “Pura” (city): It’s literally the Lion City. Raffles knew he’d got his hands on a prime location.
He once called the island “the most important station in the East; and, as far as naval superiority and commercial interests are concerned, of much higher value than whole continents of territory.” Don’t forget this statement as we go along in this video today. It was then that the Brits got around to building new roads and facilities.
In just a few years, the population went from 1,000 to 5,000. This reflected what a successful trading port Singapore was. Various settlements were built for all the diverse communities that you can still see today. Raffles drafted a fastidious town plan.
The rest is history. Singapore, the powerhouse economic hub, was born. The new nation needed protection, so the Singapore Volunteer Rifle Corps was born, which later became the Singapore Volunteer Artillery Corps, whose claim to fame was being the first British Empire unit to use the fast-shooting Maxim gun. This small corps grew in size to become the Singapore Volunteer Corps, which served in WWI. During WWII, 85,000 men of various nationalities and ethnicities fought against the Japanese in what would become known as the Fall of Singapore.
Yep, the Japanese won. Even though they were fewer in number, they planned well and had more experienced soldiers in general. The Singapore military was known as the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force, fighting alongside troops from Britain, Australia, and India. Around 80,000 troops were taken as POWs and experienced hell on Earth in those Japanese camps. At the same time, the Japanese engaged in a heinous massacre of Singaporean Chinese civilians, killing between 25,000 to 50,000 of them under the benign-sounding plan of the “Implementation Guideline for Manipulating Overseas Chinese.”
Singaporeans were left with a bad taste in their mouths, even after the Japanese occupation ended in 1949. The Singapore Military Forces was later formed and was employed with other British Commonwealth nations from 1963 to 1966 in the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation that was fought around the Malay Peninsula and Borneo. Ten Singaporeans were killed in action. What’s notable in regard to this show today is what brigadier-general Winston Toh said in a memorial in 2016 about this conflict. His words, in short, were, never forget how vulnerable Singapore is.
He warned: “We need to brace ourselves to respond to an attack on our soil. As many have said, this is no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ All of us need to be alert and vigilant and develop the means to respond quickly and decisively when a crisis hits. Everyone has a part to play to keep Singapore strong and secure.” More so because Singapore, by that time, had been an independent nation for decades.
It gained its independence from the British in 1965, and in 1971, the British military pulled its forces out of the country. A few soldiers were left behind, belonging to the British, Australian, and New Zealand forces, but barely enough to consider a defensive force. Then over the years, even those forces trickled out, leaving this incredibly wealthy but unbelievably tiny nation to pretty much fend for itself – well, kind of. It has allies, of course. Notably, Singapore split from the Federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1965.
It had been a part of the Federation just less than two years. There are many reasons for this historic breakup, but one main reason was Singapore wanted more autonomy while the United Malays National Organization was set on a central government. There were plenty of ideological disagreements and ethnic differences, with some economic factors in the decision, but thankfully, the split was peaceful.
What’s of high importance here and what seemed to propel Singapore’s economy into the global spotlight was its focus on having a super modern, industrialized economy. That wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t left the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who served as leader from 1959 all the way to 1990, had high ideas for Singapore, and he actually turned those ideas into gold. You can’t talk about Singapore’s success or its military without knowing a fair bit about this guy.
He helped totally transform the nation. Singapore might have been naturally gifted in terms of its strategic location, but when Yew took hold of the reins, it was still a very poor country. As one journalist wrote, he “raised a poor port from the bottom rungs of the third world to the first world in a single generation.” Singapore’s GDP per capita in 1965 was $500, on par with Mexico and South Africa. In 2015, it was $56,000, similar to the USA and Germany.
Mexico’s that year was $9,753, and South Africa’s was $6,204. Singapore’s economy had hit warp speed over the years. Lew has widely been called a visionary who manifested his grand designs for Singapore.
He sewed magic beans into Singapore’s soil and reaped golden eggs by the dozen, cutting off Singapore’s dependence on other nations with a swing of his intellectual axe. He called Singapore a level playing field where everyone should have ample opportunities to prosper, and he made that a reality to some extent. He also focused on building a strong military, once saying, “Suddenly, we're on our own. We have to defend ourselves.
You have to build an army, navy, air force, control, and command systems, early warning in the sky, and so on.” To do this, he had to make Singapore wealthier, and he certainly did that. Sure, he was a strict disciplinarian, but he argued that discipline was needed over democracy. He created a pro-business environment, embraced economic diversification, made Singapore the very picture of efficiency, and put much emphasis on creating a highly skilled workforce. The strategic location also helped, but Singapore under Yew had much more than that, which is why polls these days say about 85% of the citizens in Singapore express great pride in where they live.
It’s no utopia, of course. It’s very expensive, and many people have struggled of late with rising prices, but it’s still a veritable Cinderella story many of its people are proud of and want to protect. In 2023, it ranked 1st in the Index of Economic Freedom. In 2021, it was 3rd in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index. It also consistently ranks in the top ten healthiest and most innovative nations on Earth.
Singapore has come a long way from the days it was a swamp-invested dot on the map of British colonies. Presently, there are 5.98 million people living on a land mass of 283.1 square miles (733.1 km2). About 20,200 people are living on average on every square mile of this glittering nation: mostly Chinese (73%), Malay (13.5%), Indian (9%), of whom are mostly Buddhists (31%), Christians (18%), Muslims (15.6%), Taoists (8.8%) and Hindus (5%), that get along just fine most of the time.
Singapore has a really low crime rate, one of the lowest in the world. In 2020, there were just 10 reported murders in the country and only 16,634 reported cases of property crime, likely similar numbers to what you might find on one street in Baltimore. Singapore is a very peaceful mish-mash of people. However, given Singapore’s history, and given it still sits in such a strategically important place, as Mr. Toh said, it has to remain “alert and vigilant” in terms of outside threats.
Singapore prides itself on being a 3rd Generation Fighting Force. It’s one of the most technologically proficient nations in the world, and its military reflects that. For the Army, Air Force, and Navy, technological sophistication is the name of the game, rather than brute force. Singapore’s Ministry of Defense employs many of this small country’s best scientists and engineers.
At the same time, Singapore’s excellent education system – especially where science and math are concerned – regularly churns out people who are mentally equipped to deal with third-generation military technology. 5% of the defense budget, or thereabouts, goes to research and development, while another 1% goes toward experimenting with novel technologies. Advanced hardware is important to Singapore since its military is obviously very small.
As far as the country’s most advanced tanks go, reports state that over the years, Singapore has amassed around 170 German Leopard 2 tanks, with reports in 2017 saying a new batch of these tanks was imported from Germany under a $93 million acquisition plan. Some of these tanks have been upgraded with AMAP composite armor. There were rumors a while back that Singapore had bought some Leopard A7s, but the country denied that was the case. If it’s not true, Singapore’s Leopard 2s are still a great piece of machinery, not long ago outperforming the American M1A2 SEP, the British Challenger 2, and French Leclerc, during international tank challenge competitions. Another matter of pride for Singapore’s military is its Hunter AFV armored fighting vehicle. These were homegrown, created by ST Engineering along with the country’s Defense Science and Technology Agency.
Singapore said the Hunters carry much more firepower than any armored vehicles the army had in the past. Technically, they are about as smart as an armored vehicle can get. They’re reported to have excellent survivability and top-notch mobility.
The Straits Times newspaper called it the “centerpiece of the next-generation army” that will replace a large fleet of decades-old Ultra M113 armored fighting vehicles. The Hunters have the smartest digital technologies Singapore has to offer on board, made for soldiers who are ready to fight in next-generation warfare. The 30mm cannon and 7.62mm machine gun, plus the eight 76mm smoke grenade launchers and two anti-tank guided missiles, are controlled by various touchscreens. At the same time, a special digital steering system should make life easier for the vehicle’s occupants.
A spokesperson for the army told the Straits Times, “So the way we drive and the way we fight have been fully digitalized. That's what we mean when we say it is a fully-digitalized platform.” The number of these vehicles currently ready to run is classified information. What started out as three engineers working for the Singaporean Singapore Armed Forces and Defence Technology Community is now a team of 5,000 scientists working on state-of-the-art weaponry. Much of this development is hush-hush, as the country’s President explained when he said: “We must develop indigenously [to] have a technological edge. And this has to be developed secretly – in strict secrecy – so that nobody knows the kinds of defense-related technology and capability that we have developed.”
As you know, the country has the technological advancements to back those words up. Some other home-grown weapons include the SSPH Primus self-propelled howitzer, which has been in service since 2002. It also developed a number of tracked armored fighting vehicles that fall under the Bionix family and consists of a large number of vehicles with varying degrees of sophistication. We’ll come back to total army strength soon, but first, let’s have a look at Singapore’s pride and joy, its navy. One would think, given Singapore’s well-known strategic location intersecting various waterways, that their navy would be at the top of the list of military concerns. Just recently, National Interest said that Singapore’s navy, the Republic of Singapore Navy, should be taken seriously, given the country’s proven technological aspirations and the money it has set aside for its military.
The article explained that not many people are aware that Singapore’s navy has been an active contributor to the security of the whole region, especially its navy. It’s been ranked in the top five of Asian navies. Its vessels and weapons are highly sophisticated, and its personnel are well-trained.
We’re going to talk about possible conflicts soon, but we’ll just say for now that there are many potential enemies swimming in the waters near Singapore. That’s one reason for its recent submarine force renewal program, which was reported as including the acquisition of four German-made Type 218SG submarines. Also known as Invincible-class submarines, Singapore ordered custom-designed attack subs to replace its Challenger-class and Archer-class submarines.
All four of them should be good to go by 2024. The machines will be employed for guarding sea lines of communication (SLOC), intelligence-gathering (ISTAR), and various special operations. They have many unique functions superior to Singapore’s older fleet of submarines, including the ability to stay submerged 50% longer. They have a Horizontal Multi-Purpose Airlock, and there is the option to add a Vertical Multi-Purpose Airlock.
As you would guess, these submarines also have a high level of automation on board, meaning the human crew has to do less. These machines can, of course, be used for destroying targets in times of war, but right now, Singapore’s main concern will be conducting surveillance – which the new fleet is highly adept at. Working with a French company, Singapore’s military also picked up six “Formidable-class multi-role stealth frigates” from 2002 to 2009. All are currently active. Much older are the country’s 6 Victory-class multi-purpose corvettes, made in Germany back in the 90s. While they might be dated, Singapore has invested in several Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs), as well as new Multi-Role Combat Vessels (MRCVs).
But according to various military pundits, Singapore’s most exciting move concerning its navy, notwithstanding the new subs, is a fleet Joint Multi-Mission Ships (JMMSs). So far, the ink hasn’t dried in deals with the US, and the JMMS story has been shrouded in secrecy. What we do know is that when they arrive, they’ll be able to function as small aircraft carriers since they have a large landing deck. This will mean they’ll be able to hold possibly five medium helicopters or two heavy ones on their flight decks.
But better than that, at least where conventional warfare is concerned, they will be suitable for F-35B fighter jets. This brings us to the Singaporean Air Force, the Republic of Singapore Air Force. One of the reasons Singapore can throw a lot of money at its air force is being such a small country with already very developed infrastructures; money that could go to infrastructure and other conventional sectors can instead be threaded into the defense budget. In short, there aint much to fix on the small island nation compared to other countries with big GDPs. Singapore has signed a deal with the US to buy 12 very expensive F-35B Joint Strike Fighter planes – the cream of the crop…when they are working, at least.
We could write 12 essays on the trouble these next-generation aircraft have had, but we won’t go into that today. But if Singapore is to update its air force, it will need to do what it plans and retire its 60 F-16 Fighting Falcons, which it’s had since 1998. Singapore is also the owner of 40 F-15E Strike Eagles.
The deal will mean buying F-35B jets, which are an upgrade from the standard F-35As. The F-35Bs can take off from shorter runways (good for those JMMS) and can land vertically. Congress approved the deal back in 2020, and Singapore was set to buy four with an option to buy another 8. It seems the deal has gone through, which will cost in the region of $115 million a unit (F-35A’s are $95 million a unit).
Singapore is also in the process of building a short runway on one of the small nearby islands just off the coast of the country. The main island already has five airports. It just seems deliveries will take a few years, and its older fleet won’t be fully retired until the 2030s. So soon-ish, Singapore will become one of the few countries in the region to have these F-35s, joining Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Another procurement of late that got a lot of press was that of the Orbiter 4 Close-Range Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a multi-mission drone made in Israel that has all the latest surveillance and reconnaissance features. If we look at overall numbers, according to Global Firepower, Singapore has 248 aircraft, 186 of those aircraft stated as ready to go.
This number, we presume, doesn’t include the 12 F-35Bs on the way. 100 of the planes are fighter jets. 83 are helicopters. Singapore’s navy contains 40 assets. 6 frigates, 6 corvettes, 5 submarines, 15 patrol vessels and 4 mine warfare. In terms of land forces, the country has 170 tanks, 19,134 armored fighting vehicles, 49 self-propelled artillery, 89 towed artillery, and 24 rocket artillery.
As we are sure you know, it’s not always the size that counts, but the quality of your machinery and its battle readiness, plus the ability of the people using it and giving orders. We’ll talk more about Singapore’s general military strength on the world scene soon. One very important matter where military strength is concerned is the amount of manpower you have.
As you know, Singapore isn’t a very populous nation with just less than six million people – fewer people than live in New York City but more than live in Los Angeles. Singapore has around 2.5 million people who are fit for service, with its total military personnel being around 310,000. 60,000 of these people are active, 240,000 are reserves, and 10,000 are paramilitary. 45,000 work for the Army, 15,000 for the Air Force, and 9,000 for the Navy.
Importantly, Singapore has national service conscription due to the Enlistment Act of 1970. At the age of 16 years and six months, all males must have a medical examination to determine if they are fit for service. They have the option to enlist at that age, but only if they pass the test and have their parents’ permission. Otherwise, they can join at 18 and start their basic military training. Most serve two years, with about 30 different vocations to choose from. A special case is cyber security, in which men can serve as cyber defenders but in a university.
National Service has been called the “cornerstone of Singapore’s defense.” These young men may not decide to serve in the military after. Still, they will become “Operationally Ready National Servicemen” all the way until they reach 40 or 50, depending on their skills. Singapore says being such a small country, it has to have National Service; otherwise, its military would have been much too small to protect itself in times of crisis.
It calls this service the “bedrock of our fighting force and national security.” There are currently 900,000 Singaporeans that have been through this service. It seems like it’s very hard to get out of serving in the armed forces, and if people attempt to do that, they could end up serving three years in prison and/or being fined $7,300. The government is serious about this. The author of the book Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan, dodged the draft and, according to the BBC, is now a wanted man in Singapore. Just recently, the country’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said National Service is as important as ever.
He mentioned what’s been going on in Ukraine, and added, “There will be occasions when we will have to take a stand, even if it is contrary to one or more powers on the basis of principles as we are doing now.” You’d think a lot of people would be against National Service, but an Institute of Policy Studies survey revealed the majority of people questioned said it’s their duty to the country and it instills “discipline and values” in young people. In another study, 84% of Singaporeans said two years’ service was “just right.” So, this is a very important factor when we’re discussing Singapore’s military strength, but something we also can’t overlook is the country’s strategic partnerships. Singapore supports Southeast Asian regionalism and is a major active member of ASEAN.
Despite the past, Singapore has very close ties with Malaysia, as it does Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Thailand, the UK, and New Zealand. But in terms of world affairs or possible conflicts, Singapore likes to play the neutral game. It takes the smart approach to diplomacy, not getting too involved in other countries’ beefs. It has good relations with both the US and China, even though it’s one of the only countries to have relations with North Korea.
Singapore obviously likes to keep everyone on its good side. One of the reasons for the close relationships with the countries we’ve already mentioned is the British Empire, which, as you know, Singapore was a part of. Singapore has signed the Five Power Defense Arrangements, along with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the UK.
This arrangement means that in the event that any of the member countries were, for some reason, attacked, there’d be immediate consultation with the other members. These five countries have bases around the region, they engage in military exercises, and have an Integrated Air Defense System. In short, they have each other’s backs, which is good news for a small country like Singapore.
The Singapore government, of course, is aware that there’s trouble brewing with the US and China. The Ministry and Foreign Affairs said not too long ago, “With the superpowers and other regional powers, our aim is to expand our relationships, both politically and economically, so that we will be relevant to them and they will find our success in their own interest.” He called this a “delicate balancing act,” which we think Singapore is pretty good at. He added, “We must avoid taking sides, siding with one side against another,” and if demands “compromise our national interests,” he said, Singapore must stand firm to its principles. He said Singapore has always dealt “fairly and openly with all parties,” which is one reason why its maintained such good international relations.
Singapore is part of the “Forum of Small States” and plays a big part in the “Alliance of Small Island States.” In short, it’s a small country with big muscles, and in terms of global relationships, it’s viewed pretty much as a friend to all. That works out well, given many nations do business through Singapore and need to keep that relationship going. It’s a win-win situation. That’s why Singapore plays such a safe game, which we think was perfectly encapsulated when the Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “We must be prepared to speak up, and if necessary, disagree with others, without being gratuitously disagreeable.” Singapore is like pizza, everyone likes it, but it won’t risk a pineapple topping.
That could be disagreeable. It’s not always easy, though, to maintain a balancing act. You have the issue of the Taiwan Straits. The US has slammed China for what it sees as aggressive behavior in building military bases there.
China says the US is being provocative. As we said, Singapore is friendly with both nations, recently predictably saying the two nations should find solutions. In 2022, Singapore said it “welcomes US' commitment to continue deepening its engagement” and embraces a “rules-based world order.” Around the same time, Australia and Singapore ‘reaffirmed” their “long-standing defense ties.” A month later, Singapore was calling on ASEAN “to use diplomacy, dialogues to settle South China Sea disputes.”
Just before we started making this video, Singapore was saying it was willing to “play the mediator” in the wrangle between China and the US. Singapore’s minister for trade and industry said in an interview, “Singapore, as you know, has always wanted to do business with both.” He added, “We depend on the growth of the world to fuel Singapore’s growth.”
Again and again, Singapore has said it’s in the interest of itself and the world that the US and China have a stable relationship. Singapore’s deputy prime minister said in 2022 that Singapore doesn’t take anything for granted. It’s well aware of its importance on the world stage, and right now, it’s developing new strategies for improved business in what he called a “new era” of global trade. He understands that his country must keep ahead of the game, saying, “We are always paranoid that somebody else will take our lunch.” Nothing is certain, he said, which is why Singapore has invested $14 billion to build what will be the world’s largest port, expected to be finished in 2040. The country has also committed to building a new fully automated passenger terminal at Changi Airport, expected to be able to take another 50 million passengers a year over the number that the present four terminals take.
But he admits that the current instability between the US and China isn’t making Singapore feel very secure. He talked about “a more dangerous and fragmented world.” This is the man who will more than likely become the next Prime Minister of Singapore.
The US-China beef is not something he wants to see escalate. Singapore has never wanted to choose sides, but as Foreign Policy magazine wrote in 2021, despite Singapore’s continual efforts, there’s “no sweet spot to keep both Beijing and Washington happy.” Singapore’s position reminds us of an old John Lennon song when he sang, “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and around.” Singapore sits mostly on the sideline. The country is not bound by any kind of treaty to support China or the US.
Its only military alliances are really only with the post-British empire nations we’ve already told you about, and those are not alliances in the strict way of looking at it. Nonetheless, Singapore is a “Major Security Cooperation Partner” of the US. The US offers military training and logistics support to Singapore. Both countries have enjoyed various training exercises as part of this partnership.
The U.S. Navy maintains a logistical command unit in Singapore, and US deployments from Singapore have facilitated patrols in the South China Sea. They also have agreements related to the air force. The US Department of State said in 2023 that the renewal of the “1990 Memorandum of Understanding” has “reinforced and deepened” Singapore’s “defense ties with the United States.”
Still, there are big cultural differences in Singapore’s and the US’ relationship. When Yew was in charge all those years, it was well known that he was no fan at all of the American culture, which he viewed as crude. He really didn’t like the US’ populist policies. He worried about US cultural imperialism and US intervention in South East Asia. He saw hedonism, individualism, and rampant materialism as being detrimental to America and to the world. Still, one thing he knew for sure was Singapore had to keep the US on its side.
He acknowledged that the US had to keep its forces in the region, and for that, the US provided economic assistance. Friendship with the US benefited Singapore’s security and economic development. It’s been this way for decades, but for sure, Yew also understood what imperialism meant and did sometimes criticize US presence in the region, but US-Singapore relations were usually pretty good. Note, this does certainly not mean they are allies in times of war. Singapore has no obligations in this regard.
Singapore and China have also signed similar agreements, such as the 2019 “Agreement on Defense Exchanges and Security Cooperation.” This means the two militaries work closely together, they also occasionally have bilateral military exercises, and their defense ministers are always in close contact. Back to Yew – he can’t be ignored – he also had his doubts about China. He understood its economic rise and its territorial ambitions. China could also be a threat, but as with the US, he also knew had to keep China on his side for Singapore’s benefit. If China did get any funny ideas about territorial expansion, Yew knew Singapore’s defense ties with the U.S. would come in handy.
We hope you’re now understanding the balancing act and why Singapore does feel a certain amount of insecurity. As one writer said in an excellent article explaining the US-China-Singapore threesome, Singapore has engaged in “strategic promiscuity.” We’ve already explained what that means. Singapore is in bed with both these powers, and while it gives one a back rub, it gives the other a foot massage. But Singapore isn’t willing to jump into bed with one side if that side whistles. Such behavior would not serve its interests.
Moving on. In terms of volume, Singapore has the biggest port in the world after Shanghai China, according to the World Shipping Council. In 2021, Singapore’s port handled 37.48 million TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit), an increase from 2020, despite the ravages of Covid.
The port is connected to more than 120 nations, 200 shipping lines, and 600 other ports. In 2020, it shipped 557 million tons of cargo, including 130 million tons of oil and gas. It’s a nexus of world trade, and China is its biggest trading partner, followed by Malaysia, the US, Taiwan, the EU, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, and Japan. Most of Asia ships huge amounts of goods through there, with China taking the number one spot. The US is down in about 6th in global terms. Just like in the old days when the Dutch and the Portuguese, and later the British, were scrapping over this island, as Singapore becomes one of the most important trade centers in the world, countries are fighting to influence the nation.
Its relationships are “complicated,” but its raison d'etre is simple - to achieve its own survival and prosperity. Singapore still faces many challenges. The global pandemic hit the country like it did every other nation. There’s been a rise in the cost of living, making life hard not just for the poor, but according to recent reports, also for the middle class.
The cost of living has shot up, and many Singaporeans aren’t happy about rising inequality. Still, that’s a global story in a world that has just experienced one of the largest transfers in wealth in history. Singapore is stuck maintaining its balancing act with the US and China at each other’s throats.
In Myanmar, people have called for a boycott of Singaporean goods since its human rights breaching military junta is not on friendly terms with Singapore, which in turn is a major investor in Myanmar. Rising inflation has put a strain on global supply chains, so of course, with Singapore sitting in the middle of world trade, its economy in 2023 is said to be experiencing challenges. Economic growth is expected to be 2.5% in 2023, down from 3.6% in 2022. Even so, this growth rate by far beats the US and Europe. In comparison, China has set a target of 5% growth for 2023.
So, yes, Singapore faces challenges; its forecast is some spells of sunshine and the odd rain shower, but unlike much of the world, the social and economic outlook isn’t constant storms, floods, hurricanes, and the odd twister. Singapore will fare better than most countries in what’s been a season of hardship followed by hardship. This is one reason why the country is feeling pretty confident about its “SAF 2040” vision for its armed forces, which will see a new wing to its military: the “Digital and Intelligence Service.” Singapore can see trouble on the horizon for sure, despite the country being a friend to everyone and an enemy to almost no one. So, a more modernized military is on the way.
The government said it knows it has vulnerabilities but sees wars becoming much more digital in the future. The updated military, said a spokesperson, will “deal effectively with digital threats from external aggressors that we expect will grow in numbers, sophistication, and organization.” This will also include procurement programs, with some of the weapons we’ve already discussed, but with other assets, which we’ll show you in an image created by the Singaporean military: From 2010 to 2020, there wasn’t ever a great increase in Singapore’s defense spending, but from 2020 to 2030, military spending should, if all goes well, see quite a dramatic increase. With GDP predictions being as we’ve told you, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t happen, but who knows, after the last three years on planet Earth, anything can happen. Aliens, anyone? The people of Singapore, of course, are the reason the country has seen such growth in the last 50-odd years, but no one could deny that the sometimes near-ruthless nation-builder Mr. Yew played a big part in this almost miraculous transformation.
He was 91 when he died in 2015. We don’t intend to sound hagiographic talking about him since there are reams and reams of issues people criticize him for. Still, regarding building an economy and military, he was formidable. It also can’t be denied that life expectancy and literacy rates shot up once he came to power. You could argue that Singapore, being located where it is, would have flourished without him. Still, he was a pretty good captain of his ship in terms of navigating global affairs and creating prosperity inside his nation.
As he got to the end of his life, he wrote in a book he titled Hard Truths, “My abiding concern for Singapore arises from my belief that the younger generation, especially those below 35, had never seen the harsh economic conditions. They, therefore, do not know the threats we face from neighboring countries.” The defense of Singapore was always on his mind. Threats were everywhere.
So, if you want a major reason why this little country of Singapore has managed to rank as one of the best militaries in Asia, why it ranks 29th out of 145 nations in Global Firepower’s rankings, his name has to come into the debate. For all his faults, and there were many, he made a country the size of a city into a global power with an impressively modern military. Let’s just hope one day we can get over international squabbles and Singapore won’t have to test its military in a full-scale war.
Now you need to watch “Singapore Has This Genius Way of Fixing Ocean Problems.” Or, have a look at “Smartest Countries Around the World.”