'Prepare militaries for an uncertain future'

Dr Ng (right) calling on Mr Najib at the Prime Minister's office in Putrajaya yesterday. In his keynote speech at the defence forum, Dr Ng said the Singapore Government is supportive of Malaysia's handling of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 incident.

KUALA LUMPUR - Global nations must prepare their militaries for an uncertain future as threats become more demanding, requiring security forces to respond to non-traditional challenges, Singapore's defence minister has said.

Speaking at the high-level Putrajaya defence forum, held in conjunction with the 14th Defence Services Asia exhibition and conference yesterday, Dr Ng Eng Hen said the Asian region is witnessing substantial changes in the global order, which present new security challenges.

Defence ministries in the region will need to build more resilient institutions and constructive partnerships at both bilateral and multilateral levels, he added.

Citing Singapore-Malaysia defence ties as an example, Dr Ng said these have grown stronger in tandem with the state-to-state relationship. The militaries have bonded through exercises held together over the years. For instance, he noted, Exercise Malapura between the two countries' navies is now in its 30th year.

"Our senior commanders attend each other's military courses and many know each other on a first-name, personal phone number basis," he said.

"These deep and long interactions augur well for a stable and shared prosperous future between Malaysia and Singapore."

The third Putrajaya forum, which continues today, is attended by about 400 defence officials from countries including China, Vietnam, the United States and Britain. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak officiated the event yesterday.

In his keynote speech, Dr Ng also expressed sympathies to the Malaysian government and families affected by Malaysia Airlines' MH370 which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board.

He said the Singapore Government is supportive of Malaysia's handling of the unprecedented crisis.

"Singaporeans join you in prayers and hope that there can soon be closure to this tragic chapter in aviation history," he said.

The international response to the MH370 incident is a vivid illustration of the expanded roles of modern militaries, he noted. Security forces from 26 countries have assisted in the search for the missing plane, deploying various assets such as ships, planes, helicopters, submarines and ground-based and satellite radars.

He added that the global military response to MH370 is not a one-off event and shows how militaries now actively contribute to efforts to counter non-traditional threats including terrorism, drug and human trafficking and natural disasters.

Dr Ng said the scale of natural disasters in recent years such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Philippines' Typhoon Haiyan made it imperative for countries to work together. Such cooperation is also important because helping one another or working together to help another country allows militaries and countries to build mutual trust.

"We must prepare our militaries for an uncertain future, one where the threats are more demanding and amorphous, and break down the borders between the civilian and military realms," he said.

Dr Ng said regional militaries need to better leverage technology to provide better informationsharing and intelligence to target specific threats.

He added that the expanded role of militaries in non-traditional roles would also require parallel changes in national and international laws.

He said Singapore has offered to host a regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief coordination centre that operates round-the-clock and has received support from other ASEAN ministers.

"Our officials will work together to operationalise this proposal," he said.

This system, he said, is practical because it allows various militaries to gain and share information at levels they are comfortable with. For instance, when search efforts for MH370 moved to the southern Indian Ocean, Singapore activated an existing information-sharing system involving 13 navies and 300 shipping firms to help with the search.

Earlier, Dr Ng paid a courtesy call on Datuk Seri Najib and met Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

Mr Najib yesterday thanked Singapore for its support during the MH370 incident. "I thank our neighbour again for their friendship and solidarity during our trying time," he wrote on his Facebook account.

yyennie@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 15 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.