‘Not IF – but WHEN’: Singapore’s Counterterrorism Efforts Intensify

 The risk of terrorism in Singapore has risen from ‘negligible’ to ‘low’, according to a report by Aon Global Consultancy released earlier this year. This is due to escalating political violence and terrorist activity in Southeast Asia, specifically the Philippines, reported to be promoted by ISIS as a ‘regional hub for militants not able to travel to Syria or Iraq’. Most alarming, however, was the arrest of a Singaporean woman in June for radicalism after she planned on joining ISIS. In response to these safety threats, the Singapore government has decided to bring the topic of national defense into mainstream society. In Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam’s point of view, Singapore must be prepared “not if – but when” an attack occurs.

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An example of an SG Secure poster depicting the emergency response to a terrorist attack.  Source: SG Secure. 

‘Not if – but when’: these four words are the slogan to Singapore’s counter-terrorism program, SG Secure. The movement combines three aspects of society: the Home Team (defense organizations), the people, and the community. According to the SG Secure website, “these three pillars come together to form the shield that protects Singapore”. Due to this belief that the Singaporean people share responsibility in national defense, SG Secure has dispersed promotional posters and PSAs all across the nation. They can be easily found on the MRT, in stations, and other public areas.

“We have to and will significantly enhance measures in two areas: security protection and vigilance, and security response”

Besides empowering citizens, the program is also a part of a larger effort to strengthen Singapore’s defense agencies: the police force, internal security department, and immigration authority. “We have to and will significantly enhance measures in two areas: security protection and vigilance, and security response” Shanmugam stated last March in The Straits Times. This enhancement has taken effect – in an interview with Channel News Asia in June, Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced that 18,000 full-time national servicemen will be trained in homeland security alongside the SG Home Team.

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Members of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are critical to protecting Singapore during a national security crisis. Source: U.S. Army. 

With all of these changes within the Singapore defense teams, the government has also improved security in a less obvious way – surveillance. If you’ve walked through an MRT station, a shopping mall, or any other public location with large crowds, you may not have noticed the presence of security cameras there. Security cameras are given an extra level of responsibility in Singapore. This is because, through the Internal Security Act, the government can arrest people who were seen as threatening national security or organizing violence.

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A damaged ambulance in Little India after the 2013 Riot. Source: Creative Commons.

Take the 2013 Little India riots for example. After a migrant worker was fatally hit by a private bus, an angry crowd formed, consisting of intoxicated men wielding glass beer bottles. According to CNN, around 400 men damaged emergency vehicles, setting five on fire, along with injuring policemen and the bus operators. This extreme outbreak of violence was the first in 40 years, and subsequently appalled both Singaporean society and government. Since the incident, the amount of security cameras in the same area has doubled, Today Online reports. This is the way that Singapore uses security cameras to protect the area and prevent organized violence from happening again.

Singapore’s approach to homeland security is definitely a unique one. Tackling the unsettling issue of terrorism in public with promotional media is a bold move, but it is in order to keep the public well prepared. The mindset that a terrorist attack is inevitable may be extreme, but it justifies Singapore’s need to prepare in as many ways as possible. The next time you are traveling on the MRT, see if you can spot SG Secure’s posters. The next time you are in a crowded location, check if there are any cameras around. The necessity of such security measures is up to you, but they will remain there in a perpetual effort to protect Singapore ‘not if – but when’ tragedy strikes.

Author: Chloe Venn

Chloe Venn is a junior and a second year reporter for The Eye. She’s from the San Francisco Bay Area, but has only ever lived in Asia. She enjoys movies, rainstorms, and Thursday afternoons. You can contact her at: venn19557@sas.edu.sg

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