21 May 2006

Opt-out Option for NS

While reading about Ike See, the music talent who failed to get deferment from NS and hence gotta pass his chance of getting into the most prestigious music school on this damned planet, a sudden thought crossed my mind: why not make NS an option? Or more precisely, have an opt-out option for NS and flexible service period. Allow me to explain.

Every male (and maybe female, if this opt-out option might cause some personnel shortages) who is a Singaporean (and maybe PR for the same reason) are to serve National Service upon reaching the age of 18. The period of service is two years. However, for those who want to complete their education first, or have other plans, may choose to serve at a later date. This is what I mean by flexible service period, which is similar to deferment. The difference between this and deferment is that you don't need an "official" reason to delay your service. You don't even need a reason.

(By "official" I mean that there is no need to fall into the narrow range of reasons that MINDEF has set as valid reasons for deferment. Currently, the reason that is accepted for deferment is PSC and some other scholarships. Music talent used to be accepted until the Melvyn Tan incident. These are "official" reasons, and if you have a superb talent for, say, belly-dancing, these are usually not accepted.)

As for opt-out option, this means that for those who really hate National Service, they can choose not to serve in their lifetime. Yes, you heard me correctly: there is no need to serve if you don't want to. But this doesn't come without penalties. These penalties will be disadvantages in society, such as a higher income tax (maybe an additional 30%), lowered priority in certain services such as application for flats, less chances for promotion for a civil servant and disqualification for certain privileges/entitlements (such as the Progress Package, a maid licence and rebate for property taxes).

Now, you might be able to see that the opt-out option and flexible service period option are actually the same thing. The former is just the latter that is delayed indefinitely. In another words, until one services his/her National Service, he/she is subjected to the same penalties as those who opt-out. But this allows for more choices and flexibility in one's life. And for most who go on to University, there aren't many disadvantages to serve NS later, so it is a matter of choice if one wants to clear away two years of hell first, or complete his/her education first.

And also, to discourage one from serving at an age too late (and therefore is less physically fit), the length of service can also varying according to age. For example, those who start serving before the age of 25 will only need to serve for two years. Then the next range of 25 to before 30 will serve for three years. And then for the next 10 years, four years of service. For 40 and above, one has to serve five years. And perhaps the NS allowance is scaled (inversely) according to age.

There is one disadvantage that I can immediately see. The first one is that the penalties might be too light for people who take a low paying job (and hence pay little on taxes) but inherits lots of money. For such people, the penalties for not serving is not as strong. A solution to this is to impose penalties that have a heavier emphasis on social disadvantage. But still, this is a problem that is not easy to tackle.

Another disadvantage is on how to fit people who become a citizen (or PR) at a later age, say, maybe 25 or 30. It will not be fair if they are exempted from NS now, considering that it is reasonable (in view of this flexible service period policy) to serve at a later age. So should they serve the full term? Should the penalties apply in full? These are sensitive details that has to be ironed out, and no matter what the outcome is, there will be people who are not satisfied with it.

Of course, another problem is the very implementation of it. It will be a major change, very much like when NS was first introduced. Many factors has to be taken into consideration, such as a dip in manpower in the first few years of implementation. For many years after that, the personnel for each force will fluctuate quite an amount before averaging out (which I'd say will take about ten years). Also, there is the question of those who are currently serving - how should their service be affected? Can they choose to opt-out halfway through? But this is a short-term problem.

This is just some thoughts of mine. So what are your opinions of it? And assuming if you had a choice, would you choose to opt-out/delay your service?

ADDENDUM (added 210506 at 2110)


Pandemonium said...

I've received several comments from various people via MSN with regards to this post. Here are a few:

The first comment points out that this policy might create a divide between the poor and the rich, because those who are sufficiently rich may not feel the pinch of the penalties. In my defence, I emphasized that the penalties should be more on social disadvantages or lower priorities. But that suffered a counter argument that this will turn to a "serve to earn your keep/rights" kind of idea. Of course, I'm not suggesting that one would, for example, lose his/her suffrage because he/she did not serve NS, but more of privileges that a person can enjoy in society. That then brings the question of where we draw the line between privilege and entitlement. Indeed, this is very sensitive, and is probably one of the greatest barriers to implementation of this idea.

Another comment recommends an age limit to the flexible service period idea. There is no point in one serving NS when he/she is already 70+... Good point. As to what should be the exact age, I suppose that's some fine details that are not of importance right now.

One more important comment was that the quality of our defence force will drop. That is because instead of having active, full-time NS personnel at their prime age, we get second-grade warriors. How badly this will be I cannot predict, but it will be a critical criteria to consider, for quality should not be compromised too much.

cheahchuwen said...

the whole reason why there's this debate is because people just cant help but feel NS is 'hell', 'torture' and everything negative. They never see it as a way of changing the way of life, a form of paying back what the govt has given, a chance to learn about respect, and most importantly, learning about life, work, and play.

NS has alot to offer. Only those who say it robbed them of their lifelihood are just a bunch of ingrates.

Agagooga said...

There are many alternatives to Slavery as it is currently practised, rather than the false dichotomy of Slavery as it is and utter disaster as they teach us during Propaganda classes. Alternative service, conscientious objection, sign up bounties and lotteries are many of the options before us, but of course they are not considered, for various reasons.

I don't see why those who were sent to Dachau (the first prison camp) complained. They weren't sent to die, only to work (and when Germany was short of arms, conditions were even improved to stop so many from dying) after being taken in "protective custody". Dying was not the desired outcome, and only those considered unfit to work or considered undesirable (eg Russian Prisoners of War) were killed outright. In fact, they got the chance to serve their country by performing a form of national service and should've felt honoured. Many 'privileges' were granted to inmates - some Sundays were devoted to recreation, there was a brothel at one time and there was a canteen where inmates could spend some of their slave pittance.

Agagooga said...

Those who were sent to Dachau should therefore be grateful that they were not killed outright. Indeed, it was unfair to those who were sent straight to their doom that other inmates were sent to Dachau. They all should've been killed: this would've been right and proper. One suffer, all suffer. Arbeit macht frei (work makes you free).

Pandemonium said...

Sorry to all if I took too long to reply; I'm waiting for more comments to come in (if any) and let my thoughts settle first.

Pandemonium said...


(In response to his comments posted here.)

I don't think it will create a lack of manpower. I think the problem is not the drop in quantity but quality. Firstly, there will always be those who want to serve first. I cannot say for sure, but I think those who are not going for further education may not be so compelled to opt-out. So the drop in quantity should not be that bad, considering that there are severe disadvantages to go along with. Secondly, it is not a choice of opt-out or serve now. One can choose to serve later. For example, for us, we could perhaps choose to go on and complete our University education first, before return to serve. By this argument, it is also not a problem for those who can't make an informed opinion at the age of 18, because if they impulsively choose to opt-out, they can always come back later. Of course, this will create a problem with the quality of the conscript, since they are not in their prime age.

Anyway, in case you missed that, I've said that both the opt-out option and the flexible service period option are actually the same thing, just that one is the other applied indefinitely.

Pandemonium said...


I disagree. The debate exists not because NS is horrible, but because it can be done in a better way. There is much room for improvements. Like I mentioned in my introductory paragraph, the Ike See incident (and resulting discussions) is perhaps a hint that the current system (of compulsory conscription, deferment and disruption) is not ideal. And hence this is the primary aim of my idea.

I've never opposed the idea of NS in the first place. But I am in favour of giving people a choice. Okay, maybe in light of the disadvangtages of not serving, this choice is may be a Hobson's choice to some, but I think at least there is an option for those who are really desperate, other than to emigrate to another country.

What I do fear, however, is that instead of, or while, achieving its purpose, this idea introduces more red tape to the system (which I must say is already suffering from a "red-tape overload"). More (unnecessary) time is spent on nitty gritty details and thus cause people to lose the original picture of what it originally intended to do.

Pandemonium said...


Of the many alternatives you mentioned, I think alternative service is probably the only one viable. Firstly, I have no idea what sign up bounty is; it sounds to me like regulars, which, if is the case, cannot be considered as a viable alternative because it will not be able to build up a defence force large enough (keeping in mind our population).

Secondly, I don't agree with conscientious objection, because the system can be easily abused. At least, I do not agree with it if the alternative to NS is to do nothing. In that case, those who want to skip NS (I believe there is a rather handful lot) can easily cook up some reasons. Don't forget that our students are highly effective muggers... ten-year-series for Conscientious Objection, anyone?

Thirdly, lotteries is definitely out, in my opinion. This is because not only is it not giving the people a choice, it is also doing so unfairly. Of course, I'm not saying that "since some people are going to die, then to be fair, everyone should go and die", but... somehow this doesn't feel right. If I can, I'll try and justify this with reason.

But as for alternative service, I think that is a rather viable option. In fact, it is somewhat similar to my original plan, except that the alternative for mine is "punishment". Plus, this can help fill up the support for certain industries that needs more manpower, such as nursing for example. However, there are certain problems with this, one of which is still the primary problem: we might not have a sufficiently large defence force. Also, we must be careful about what alternatives we are offering. For example, if we want to put people into nursing, we must be careful not to degrade the quality of the nurses. And although we are running rather short of teachers, I'm very objective of using teaching as an alternative, because I believe that education cannot be compromised.

Anyway, your sarcastic analogy to the Nazi's Dachau camp is not appropriate, mainly because the living conditions were miserable (though just sufficient for survival), and that I don't think even basic rights were granted to the inmates.

armchair soldier said...

The older one gets, the less 'mind-control' prone he becomes. And in the military lower ranks, ability to think is not a positive trait to have.

There is also the issue of dividing the different age group/education/fitness levels into different batches.

mr.udders said...

i think you have missed the most important point completely:

given that all your measures are put into place, who is going to be left to defend Singapore then, if there really is a crisis?

Pandemonium said...

armchair soldier:

While I do agree that there is probably a slight "freeing" of the mind when one ages, I do not think it will reduce the performance of the soldiers. It will if the army were to continue with its current style of handling its personnel (or at least, the style while I was in the army). By this I mean a heavily top-down, do-not-question-your-orders kind of approach.

What is needed is a shift in thinking. They will have to apply reason and logic, and explain the rational behind each order and rule (if the situation permits) so that it can be more convincing to these people. Of course this will take a huge shift in mindset, given the heavy inertia of army culture, but it is already in the move with the army stressing on "thinking soldiers".

But your second point have some credit in them. The soldiers have to be divided into various levels of fitness (which is somewhat affected by age group), and, to a lesser extent, various age groups. I don't think education should come into play unless the soldier's vocation demands it. In any case, this might be slightly disadvantageous to those who serve earlier, since they probably'll be fitter and hence allocated a more siong vocation and/or unit. Would this be a discouragement or unfairness?

It is likely, but I think this is not really a big issue yet... there are greater issues to handle first.

Pandemonium said...


I did mention this before, in the last paragraph of my first comment. I do not think there would be no one to defend Singapore in a crisis, but rather, we would have second grade soldiers instead of what we have today.

Would these people be able to defend Singapore in a crisis then? I suppose it depends on the degree of the crisis itself, but in general, I think it is quite possible, because firstly, the first ones to be deployed in a crisis are the regulars. Theoretically, this group should not change much in strength even with this idea in place. Secondly, if activated during a crisis, the majority of our soldiers will have an average age of about 30, which is rather high than our first impression. But nonetheless, it is a compromise in this area, and this is one critical consideration whether this idea can be implemented or not.

On a side note, I believe that the power of the Singapore army is not with its ability to fight, but with its deterring potential. Of course these two are related, but I think the effects of a second grade army may not be as crippling to the latter than the former.