Published: 04 August 2022
Ministers of State Faishal and Xueling,
Home Team Colleagues,
Partners, Volunteers, Distinguished Guests,
1. Good afternoon.
2. We come together here today to mark our 57th National Day, and to recognise our people who have done extremely good work.
3. A warm welcome back to Xueling, who is joining us back again after a short stint outside.
4. I also want to acknowledge MOS Desmond Tan, who in two years, made a major contribution and has moved to NTUC.
5. At previous National Day Observance Ceremonies, I have spoken about the importance of maintaining public trust in the Home Team, making sure the public understands what we do, making sure that our own people are well trained, and the importance of technology.
6. On the first, public trust and feeling of connectedness with the Home Team – Public trust in the Home Team remains extremely high, and it is one of the indicators that we keep close track of. SPF’s Public Perception Survey last year showed that public trust in the SPF is at 96%. Another survey this year found that 92% said that they personally trust the Home Team.
7. On the second, on technology – Our technology projects, are onstream, for example, SCDF’s e-Nose project, Police cameras, ICA’s automated clearance initiatives, many more.
8. And we will continue to push ahead on these two fronts.
9. This year, I have decided to speak a little on a couple of topics which are outside of the usual Home Team remit. Because you are Home Team officers, you are also public officers, you are also Singaporeans. And therefore, it is also important to know in the context of you and your duties, what’s happening in the world, and how that affects Singapore.
10. The key development this year, which is affecting many around the world, is Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, which has been made more complex, and the implications have been made more complex, given the broader geo-political issues, in particular US-China tensions.
11. I want to touch on that, and what it means for us.
Lessons from Russia's Invasion of Ukraine
12. Russia invaded Ukraine six months ago, on February 24, and we are now in August.
13. One primary lesson for us in this invasion, which I will come back to, is that any country will have to assess carefully what another country’s intentions are, and you have to take expressions of good intentions with caution, and at the core, always be ready to defend yourself. Let me explain.
14. In the months before February of this year, Russia repeatedly said that it was not planning to invade Ukraine.
15. Three months before the invasion begun, in December 2021, Russia’s Ambassador to the European Union said, and I quote, “Russia is not planning an attack against any country.” “I can assure you that no Russian troops are currently preparing for an invasion of Ukraine.”
16. That is lesson number one. Countries make assertions. Only the absurdly naïve will take these assertions at face value. What they actually will do, depends on what their core interests are, their strength, and their ability to get what they want. It doesn’t mean war all the time, but if they can bully you in any way, they will. And we know that from experience.
17. If you are vulnerable, or if others think that they can press you on any aspect, the other country will press those buttons. It can be the Americans, it can be the Russians, it can be anyone else, it can be our neighbours.
18. And we have been pressed on many such issues. We have been pressed on airspace. We have been pressed on our sea space. We have been pressed on energy. We have been pressed on water, obviously. We’ve been pressed on the economy.
19. Essentially, a country like Singapore – any country, but we in particular – needs to be prepared economically, politically and socially. And unless we are successful, we are just a piece of rock off the Southern tip of he Malaysian Peninsula.
20. On 20 February 2022, four days before the invasion – Russia’s Ambassador to the United States said: “There is not any plan to start war. (sic)”; “We don’t want a war.”
21. And four days later, Russia invaded Ukraine. Over 100 missiles fired. Assaults from three directions – North, East and South.
22. President Putin declared that it was “a special military operation”. He said, “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.”
23. The war is now into its sixth month. Preliminary estimates suggest that there are over 11,000 civilian casualties, and about 100 to 200 Ukrainian soldiers die each day. There have also been significant losses on the Russian side.
24. Russia has faced greater resistance than anticipated from Ukraine.
25. And its attention has now shifted to the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine, after failing to take the capital, Kiev, and the Northern side.
26. The fact is that they are occupying territory, despite what President Putin said, and they want to expand.
27. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said some months ago, that Russia “had no plans to change the regime in Ukraine.” Two weeks ago, he said Russia’s aim is to help the Ukrainian people “get rid of the anti-people and anti-historical regime.”
28. We do not know for certain what Russia’s operating assumptions were when it first invaded Ukraine. Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. Has a land area of over 600,000 km2. Russia invaded with an estimated 150,000 troops. I’m told that if you want to invade and secure a country the size of Ukraine, you would need more than 150,000 troops. That is simply not enough.
29. Unless you assume that Ukraine would give in quickly, and that rapid victory could be achieved. And that the Government and troops in Ukraine will fold, and the people will come over to you.
30. Whatever the calculation, the invasion stalled. Plans to take Kiev were shelved. Russian troops were pulled back, and now they are attacking the South and the East.
31. That brings me to a second and related point – A country has to be able to defend and safeguard its interests. Otherwise, you just become prey.
32. The general expectation was that Ukraine would be defeated within a very short period.
33. Most analysts and western agencies expected that.
34. But Ukraine put up an effective defence, which bought time for its diplomacy, and the arms support then came in.
35. As we celebrate National Day, I think it is important to remember that in the end, it is only Singaporeans, all of you, that can guarantee our security.
36. We must have the ability to defend ourselves and this means that the basic, non-negotiable core has got to be a strong SAF.
37. Without that, you can’t guarantee anything else. And if you don’t have that, you can forget about anything else.
38. Next to it, internal security is vital. Because you can now destabilise a country, even without a war.
39. The Internet exploits divisions. The Russians have developed a doctrine called the Gerasimov doctrine. I have spoken about it. They say that every country has what they call a protest potential. They look for divisions within a country. In Singapore, if you look at it – race, religion, various other faultlines. They exploit it, they make people think that the other side is attacking them within the country, they weaken the country. That is the Gerasimov doctrine – you weaken a country until they are not able to defend themselves. So, the armed forces don’t come into play. That has made internal security even more vital than it had hitherto been.
40. So, you need, in that context, an extremely strong and capable Home Team, and within that framework, an extremely strong and capable Internal Security Department, and a population that understands these realities, which can effectively deal with foreign attempts to exploit the divisions within our country – whether they are racial, religious, class, economic.
41. If you notice over the years, while we didn’t have the Russian invasion to telescope our thinking, a framework of legislation has been put in place. The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act has been strengthened substantially. Racial Harmony – we have indicated that we are working on legislation on that. FICA, POFMA and various pieces of legislation. The framework is in place. The question is the resources and capabilities have to be developed, and the will to use this framework has got to be there.
Impact on Food & Energy
42. Let me then move on the second point that I wanted to make today, a major point is the impact of the war on our people, inflation, economy.
43. Russia is the world’s largest gas exporter, and one of the top three oil producers in the world, it provides about 10% of the global supply of oil.
44. Ukraine is a major producer of grain, it is called the “Breadbasket” of Europe and it provides 10% of the world’s wheat exports last year.
45. Ukraine is also amongst the world’s largest exporters of barley, corn, sunflower, and rapeseed. Many other agricultural products.
46. Since the start of the war, Ukraine’s ports in the Black Sea have been blockaded. About 20 million tonnes of grain have been blocked. There is a global shortage.
47. Before that, the global economy was already stressed by COVID-19, affecting supply chains, shipping, manufacturing, and prices had been very volatile.
48. The war has further seriously pushed up prices.
49. The rise in food and energy prices across the world, has impacted us. We are a price taker, because we import over 90% of our food. In June 2022, food prices increased by more than 5%.
50. Aside from these topline figures, I asked for a sense of the impact on real families in my constituency. People earning somewhere between $2,500 to about $10,000.
51. What it shows is that people are stressed, but thankfully, not yet distressed. Their income is still higher than their expenditure.
52. Because unlike many other countries, people have jobs and are afloat. The shortages, the queues, the bankruptcies, the riots – thankfully, you only read about them in the newspapers.
53. Based on the charts, in general, up to 20% of the family’s income is spent on food and utilities. In a way, it also shows a certain spirit of Singaporeans, a certain carefulness. Because unlike other countries, you don’t see the expenditure equalling the income, nor do you see it being more than the income.
54. But people are worried.
55. So, in June, we launched a $1.5 billion Support Package, to help lower-income families deal with inflation. This is on top of the $6 billion that was announced in the earlier Budget in March.
56. If we don’t handle this well, it can quickly become a serious social issue.
57. We are all in public service, in the end, to make people’s lives better. As the Home Team, you take care of people’s security. But your task will be made impossible, if people are struggling for food and basic necessities, and then what happens elsewhere will happen here.
58. That is why I decided to put this across to you, because we are not an island unto ourselves. We have to cherish and protect the Singapore that we have built over the last 57 years, and we’ll have to do what is necessary.
59. I have made some sobering points. As I said, this is not the usual National Day Observance Ceremony speech, but I think the situation and the surrounding circumstances require this.
60. This National Day, as we look around the world, I think we can take pride in having pulled ourselves through together, through COVID-19, which is really a crisis of a generation. Two years, if you remember – all the lockdowns and everything looking like a ghost town, businesses not knowing when they can reopen, and people wondering what was going to happen to their jobs. It was a serious crisis. We are not quite out of it. There are more uncertainties, and then now we have this war, and the resulting crisis, both a security and economic crisis. But as long as we are united, there is nothing that we cannot get through. That’s what COVID-19 tells us. That’s what the first 57 years of experience tells us. As long as we are united, and we are very clear eyed about the importance of external security through the SAF and internal security through the Home Team, public service working in the interest of the country, the people being united, willing to work hard – We can get through any crisis.
61. Like the generations before us, we can build a better, stronger Singapore.
62. Thank you everyone, for all the work you do. Thank you.