Militaries should look to increase their effectiveness in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.
With armed forces playing an increasingly larger role in these areas, he called for a clearly defined military doctrine to stop them running the risk of becoming "unsustainable, ineffective and inefficient".
He was speaking at the opening of the World Humanitarian Summit Global Forum on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination held at Changi Naval Base.
The three-day forum, attended by more than 100 policymakers and operational experts from more than 25 countries, will help to shape the discussions and agenda for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in May next year.
In his keynote address, Dr Ng noted how militaries have been increasingly deployed in multinational humanitarian efforts, with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) being involved in 20 in the past decade.
They included flood relief efforts in Kelantan last December and this January, as well as the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand.
Dr Ng proposed three broad parameters to guide military assistance for these efforts.
Firstly, militaries "should not replicate what civilian organisations can do better".
He gave the example of military aircraft and ships transporting items like blankets and food, which civilian agencies are better equipped to do.
Secondly, militaries "should confine themselves to critical windows of need in the immediate aftermath following disasters".
Lastly, they "need to build up information hubs and network with civilian organisations pre-emptively" to be more effective in their immediate responses and transition of operations to civilian agencies.
Dr Ng noted that the SAF has made efforts in this area by working with the Singapore Red Cross and Mercy Relief, as well as local think-tanks such as the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
A Regional Consultative Group (RCG) on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination for Asia and the Pacific has also been set up, with the first session due to be held tomorrow.
"The RCG can contribute significantly to advancing the civil-military coordination agenda in this region," added Dr Ng.
This article was first published on April 14, 2015.
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