Total Defence (Singapore)

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Total Defence logo as of 2020

Total Defence (or TD) is Singapore’s whole-of-society national defence concept, based on the premise that every aspect of society contributes to the collective defence of the state. The strategy was first introduced in 1984 and adopted from the national defence strategies of Sweden and Switzerland. It initially consisted of five key tenets; military, civil, economic, social, and psychological, with the sixth, digital, being introduced in 2019. The strategy was amplified by the government slogan: There's A Part For Everyone, with a corresponding national song named after it when first introduced.

Total Defence Day is commemorated on 15 February annually, the day colonial Singapore surrendered to Japan in 1942 during World War II.


On 9 August 1965, Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent state; conscription for all able-bodied males aged 16 and above was subsequently implemented in the form of national service on 15 March 1967. By the 1980s, military defence was recognized to be an established fact of life in the city-state,[1] though several parliamentarians questioned the effectiveness of the Ministry of Defence's outreach program on inoculating the public on the concept of total defence. A series of questions were put forth to Defence Minister Goh Chok Tong during a parliamentary sitting on 16 March 1983.[2] The following day, Minister of State (Defence) Yeo Ning Hong replied that progress was underway on a program that would focus on five main points.[3][4][5] During Civil Defence Week on 24 September, Home Affairs Minister Chua Sian Chin acknowledged that the government had erred in not introducing civil defence alongside military defence, resulting in public apathy toward the former, and that it was seeking to rectify the problem by integrating both into the total defence strategy.[6]

On 6 January 1984, the government announced the creation of the civilian-led Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (Accord) to promote its media strategy and raise public awareness of the program, inviting Members of Parliament, businessmen, trade unionists and community leaders to join. It saw the necessity for civilians to take the lead in promoting the total defence strategy, instead of military personnel.[7] The council would be established on 18 January.[8]

Total Defence was officially proclaimed as Singapore's overarching defence strategy on 22 January 1984 with five elements: military, civil, economic, social, and psychological.[9][10] It received leading headlines in state-run newspapers carrying commentaries on its necessity juxtaposed with warfare scenarios going beyond the traditional scope of the military.[9][10][11] Over the coming months, the Ministry of Defence launched a campaign to promote Total Defence in schools, business communities and amongst the people.[12][13][14] Older people who had been through the Japanese occupation were noted to be more "enthusiastic" in supporting it.[15] Competitions were held to create a logo and song based around the strategy.[16][17] In 2019, digital defence was added as the sixth element of Total Defence, with the government highlighting increasing threats in the cybersphere.[18] There have been calls by parliamentarians to add climate defence as the seventh element, to highlight Singapore's vulnerability to climate change and rising seas.[19][20]

The strategy has seen widespread usage amongst successive People's Action Party governments since its inception, being invoked during the 2003 SARS and COVID-19 pandemics, 1997 and 2008 economic crises, and annual Southeast Asian haze.[21][22] The rise of domestic and international terrorism abroad is also cited by the Singapore government as the necessity of Total Defence to prevent or respond to an attack.[23][24][25]

Six pillars[edit]

The Singapore government has justified Total Defence on several factors: the city-state's small size and marginal population; lack of natural resources; and a racial and religious-diverse population.[26] It states that these factors make Singapore vulnerable to threats such as international terrorism, natural disasters, pandemics and disinformation campaigns, and can result in an economic slowdown.[27]

Military defence[edit]

Singapore Armed Forces Basic Military Training passing out parade ceremony

Military defence involves heavy investment in armaments, training and equipment for the Singapore Armed Forces,[9][28] with the Singapore government maintaining a defence budget ranked amongst the highest in the ASEAN region.[29][30] A capable armed forces is seen as a necessity to deter potential aggressors.[26] In addition to two years of national service, the onus is placed on reservist troops to maintain their physical fitness through annual individual physical proficiency tests (IPPT) and in-camp training (ICT).[31][32] Corporate companies are encouraged to create "pro-NS" policies for reservists, such as training spaces, monetary incentives and flexible working hours, and are recognized at an annual awards ceremony.[33]

Civil defence[edit]

Singapore Civil Defence Force vehicle fleet

Civil defence broadly refers to activities of the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force to restore a sense of normalcy during a national crisis with the aid of active civilian participation.[26] Civilians are trained in first aid, urban survival, and management of blood, water and food resources.[26][34] Donating blood to national blood banks, volunteer work, and being a medical frontliner are also activities seen as contributing to civil defence.[35][36]

Economic defence[edit]

Economic defence relates to governmental efforts to sustain and develop Singapore's economy, while a policy is undertaken by the government for workers to upgrade their skill sets.[37][38] The Singapore government also stockpiles essential supplies of food, medication and personal protective equipment,[39][35] in addition to pursuing secondary supply chains, so as to offset potential disruptions.[40][41] The conservation of essential resources including water is placed under economic defence.[37][42]

Social defence[edit]

Social defence stems from official policy to maintain social cohesion among Singapore's diverse population through multiculturalism.[43][44] As part of state-backed efforts, religious leaders engage in interfaith sessions through the Inter-Religious Organisation;[45] such efforts are seen as necessary by the Singapore government to counter non-state actors influence operations.[46] Improving relations between neighbours is also listed as part of social defence.[46][47]

Psychological defence[edit]

Psychological defence refers to the Singapore government's program to strengthen "resolve and resilience" amongst its citizens to face unexpected crises; it is also cited as necessary to combat fake news.[48] The government views psychological resilience as the bedrock of a "social compact" and seeks to emulate Finland's example.[48] Efforts to improve mental health in Singapore is also placed under psychological defence.[49]

Digital defence[edit]

Digital defence refers to efforts to increase awareness of online security threats, including misinformation, cyberattacks and phishing scams.[18][50] The threat is seen as particularly acute due to the country's "open and connected" nature and governmental plans to orientate the country around a digital economy and the Smart Nation concept.[51] All civil servants are mandated to undergo cybersecurity training, with the government also increasing audits of state infrastructure.[52]


Total Defence Day[edit]

A memorial service is held annually at the War Memorial Park

Total Defence Day was added to the list of dates for schools to commemorate on 17 May 1997,[53] and first nationally marked on 15 February 1998[a] with the Singapore Civil Defence Force sounding the Important Message Signal through the island-wide Public Warning System sirens and local radio stations for a minute.[55] The date was chosen to mark the British surrender of Singapore to Japan during World War II. At its inception, the siren was sounded at 12:05 pm Singapore Standard Time; this was changed to 6:20 pm in 2015 to mark the actual time of the surrender in 1942.[56]

Schools conduct emergency preparedness drills, food and electricity rationing, and may organise tours to government exhibitions.[57] The defence minister also delivers an address on the day prior, along with other ministers.[47][58]

A memorial service had been held annually at the War Memorial Park since 1967 to recognise civilians who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation.[59][60] The event would usually involve over 1,000 participants prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was reduced to 50 for 2021.[61]


External images
image icon Poster of the final 12 shortlisted logos in the 1985 design competition
(Option D won the competition)
image icon Poster of the final 10 shortlisted logos in the 2019 design competition
(Option 1 won the competition)
Singapore Graphic Archives

The competition to design a logo for Total Defence was announced on 8 May 1985 before being officially launched on 1 June.[17] Contestants were divided into four segments of society: community, art student, school and Singapore Armed Forces personnel, with no limitations to the number of submissions per individual.[62] The Ministry of Defence stipulated design rules that the proposed logo not exceed three colours or be based on any language.[63][64] The submission phase ended on 3 July, with twelve designs thereafter selected for a public vote.[65] The final design was to be unveiled on National Day on 9 August 1985.[66]

The winning design was created by freelance artist Berwin See Hak Gei.[67][68] The logo was outlined as a hand in salute, with five arrows representing the five original pillars. The crescent moon and five stars, and the colours of red and white, are elements from the national flag. Over the years, the logo was adapted to reflect the different campaign themes, but retained its distinctive five arrows design. The changes include updating the tagline which accompanied the logo, smoothening the sharp edges of the original and integrating the left-most arrow into the body in 2009, and overlaying a metallic sheen in 2017.[69]

The addition of digital defence mandated that the logo be redesigned to incorporate the sixth element, with a new competition launched on 17 September 2019.[70] As with the first competition, 10 designs were chosen by the organisers and put up for a public vote, which ended on 29 December.[71] The winner, Samantha Alexa Teng, a teacher at Queensway Secondary School was awarded her prize on 15 February 2020.[72][73]

Campaign posters and themes[edit]

Nexus is the agency responsible for Total Defence and national education under the Ministry of Defence. Earlier campaign posters and themes focused on military defence and civil defence, but has since evolved to also include the other four elements.[74][75]

List of themes over the years
Year Theme
1984 There’s a Part for Everyone
2006 Stay Vigilant, Be Resilient
2007 Confidence, Commitment and Cohesion
2008 Total Defence. It’s Personal. Play Your Part
2009 What Will You Defend?
2010 I Will
2011 Home – Keeping It Together
2012 Total Defence – It’s My Turn
2013 Will You Stand With Me?
2014 Because You Played a Part
2015 Our SAF: Giving Strength to Our Nation
2016 – present Together We Keep Singapore Strong

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As 15 February 1998 was a Sunday, schools commemorated the day on Friday, 13 February instead.[54]


  1. ^ "Driving home message of Total Defence". Business Times. 3 April 1984. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  2. ^ "Questions on total defence of Singapore". The Straits Times. 11 March 1983. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  3. ^ "All should rise to call of defence". The Straits Times. 17 March 1983. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  4. ^ "Citizens urged to uphold total defence". Business Times. 17 March 1983. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  5. ^ Boey, Caroline (24 June 1983). "Dr Yeo on why total defence is a must". Singapore Monitor. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Mr Chua Sian Chin reveals plans to prepare Singapore in case of war". Singapore Monitor. 24 September 1983. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  7. ^ Jacob, Paul; Wai, Ronnie (6 January 1984). "Your say in our defence Our defence must be total — Chok Tong". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  8. ^ "ACCORD to seek support for total defence concept". Business Times. 6 January 1984. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  9. ^ a b c "Total Defence". Singapore Monitor. 22 January 1984. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  10. ^ a b Wai, Ronnie; Chew, Lillian; Jacob, Paul (22 January 1984). "Total Defence - What it means". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  11. ^ Ee, Boon Lee (22 January 1984). "We must be ready". Singapore Monitor. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  12. ^ Wai, Ronnie (22 January 1984). "Mindef gets everyone to rally round". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  13. ^ "Totally for Total Defence". Singapore Monitor. 26 February 1984. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  14. ^ Toh, Su Fen (27 February 1984). "First ever seminar on total defence to be held at constituency level in Singapore". Singapore Monitor. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  15. ^ Loong, Swee Yin (2 March 1984). "Total defence message for the grassroots". Singapore Monitor. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Watch out for the Total Defence jingle". Singapore Monitor. 3 April 1984. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Search for Total Defence logo". Singapore Monitor. 8 May 1985. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  18. ^ a b Baharudin, Hariz (15 February 2019). "Digital defence to be sixth pillar of Total Defence". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  19. ^ Zhang, Jane (1 February 2021). "Make climate the 7th pillar of Total Defence: Seah Kian Peng". Mothership. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  20. ^ Ong, Justin (30 January 2021). "First climate change motion to be debated in the House next week". The Straits Times. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  21. ^ Baharudin, Hariz (14 February 2019). "Digital Defence to be sixth Total Defence pillar, signalling importance of cyber security". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  22. ^ Lim, Min Zhang (14 February 2021). "Covid-19 pandemic reaffirmed Total Defence as vital to Singapore: Ng Eng Hen". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  23. ^ Hussain, Zakir (18 March 2016). "Singapore to step up its strategy to counter terrorism as threat of attack rises: Shanmugam". The Straits Times. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  24. ^ Tan, Tam Mei (18 February 2019). "Singapore Budget 2019: 30 per cent of total spending set aside for defence, security and diplomacy efforts". The Straits Times. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  25. ^ Neo, Loo Seng. "Singapore's Total Defence: Overcoming Complacency". S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  26. ^ a b c d "Factsheet - About Total Defence" (PDF). Ministry of Defence. National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  27. ^ "Total Defence vital to S'pore's well-being: Ng Eng Hen". TODAY. 15 February 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  28. ^ Mohan, Matthew (1 March 2019). "'Significant and steady investments' in defence required to keep Singapore's future secure: Ng Eng Hen". Channel News Asia. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  29. ^ Abuza, Zachary (24 July 2019). "Huge army spend is self-serving folly". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  30. ^ Parameswaran, Prashanth (24 February 2020). "What Does Singapore's New Defense Budget Say About the Country's Security Thinking?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  31. ^ "Many still in the dark about the front-line roles of our reservists". Singapore Monitor. 21 March 1985. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  32. ^ Ng, Keng Gene (3 September 2020). "IPPT, ICT to resume progressively from October; NSmen returning for training will get tested for Covid-19". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  33. ^ "Better workplaces with National Service-friendly policies". The Straits Times. 6 January 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  34. ^ Lim, Min Zhang (15 February 2021). "Total Defence Day: SCDF front-liner keeps going in challenging times". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  35. ^ a b Ho, Olivia (20 February 2021). "Total defence will help Singapore get through coronavirus outbreak: Chan Chun Sing". The Straits Times. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  36. ^ "Blood donations a shared responsibility in fostering a strong Singapore". The Straits Times. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  37. ^ a b "United we stand, divided we fall". TODAY. 14 February 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  38. ^ "Enhance your employability over the horizon". Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  39. ^ Lam, Lydia (17 March 2020). "Singapore has months' worth of stockpiles, planned for disruption of supplies from Malaysia for years: Chan Chun Sing". CNA. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  40. ^ "Building up Singapore's stockpiles of food and essential supplies". The Straits Times. 25 October 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  41. ^ Aw, Cheng Wei (5 October 2020). "Parliament: Keep calm and diversify supply chain to ride out coronavirus outbreak, says Chee Hong Tat". The Straits Times. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  42. ^ Aw, Cheng Wei (5 March 2020). "No amount of stockpiling will help if residents don't keep calm". The Straits Times. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  43. ^ Abdul Rahman, Muhammad Faizal (25 July 2019). "Foreign influence ops are a reality, but Singaporeans shouldn't overreact". The Straits Times. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  44. ^ Ong, Wei Chong. "Singapore's Total Defence: Shaping The Pillars". S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  45. ^ Yuen, Sin (28 April 2020). "Religious leaders pledge to maintain solidarity and strengthen social defence amid Covid-19 crisis". The Straits Times. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  46. ^ a b Teo, Dominic (15 February 2016). "Boosting social bonds 'vital part of Total Defence'". The Straits Times. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  47. ^ a b Koh, Fabian (15 February 2021). "S'poreans banded together in spirit, actions in strong show of Total Defence against Covid-19: Zaqy Mohammad". The Straits Times. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  48. ^ a b Aw, Cheng Wei (15 February 2018). "Drive to build up social, psychological defences". The Straits Times. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  49. ^ Phua, Rachel (14 October 2020). "Jobs, mental health and the environment: What MPs said in the debate on Singapore's post-pandemic strategy". CNA. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  50. ^ "Building a country's digital defence". GovInsider. 14 August 2020. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  51. ^ Mohit, Sagar (17 February 2019). "Mr Iswaran launches digital defence campaign at the Total Defence Commemoration". OpenGov Asia. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  52. ^ Loh, Victor (26 February 2019). "The Big Read: As more cyberattacks loom, Singapore has a weak 'first line of defence'". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  53. ^ "Special dates to note". The New Paper. 17 May 1997. Mark these dates. They will be added to the school's calendar of days to commemorate. They include: Total Defence Day on Feb 15.
  54. ^ "Pupils find the 'taste of war' quite tasteless". The Straits Times. 14 February 1998.
  55. ^ "Sirens". The New Paper. 14 February 1998. On Sunday at noon, the sirens of the Public Warning System will sound island-wide for one minute. This is in conjunction with total defence day, to mark the fall of Singapore to the Japanese during World War II.
  56. ^ Kumar, Chitra (12 February 2016). "SCDF to sound Public Warning System on Feb 15, in support of Total Defence Day". The Straits Times. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  57. ^ Chua, Clarice (3 February 2020). "7 Total Defence Day Activities That Every Singaporean Kid From The 90s Used To Do". The Smart Local. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  58. ^ "Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen's 2021 Total Defence Day Message". MINDEF Singapore. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  59. ^ Rashith, Rahimah (19 February 2018). "War memorial service pays tribute to civilian victims". The Straits Times. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  60. ^ "Remembering civilian victims of Japanese Occupation". The Straits Times. 16 February 2019. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  61. ^ Yong, Clement (15 February 2021). "50 gather at war memorial to remember victims of Japanese occupation, launch e-book". The Straits Times. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  62. ^ "Big total defence logo contest for all". The Straits Times. 8 May 1985. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  63. ^ "Search for logo to express total defence". Business Times. 8 May 1985. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  64. ^ "This may be the most important contest you ever get involved in". The Straits Times. 17 May 1985. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  65. ^ "Free trip to China for logo contest winner". The Straits Times. 12 July 1985. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  66. ^ "One of these four will be symbol of Total Defence". The Straits Times. 30 July 1985. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  67. ^ "Total Defence". Singapore Graphics Archive. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  68. ^ "Pride is seeing your work marched past". The Straits Times. 10 August 1985. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  69. ^ "Fact Sheet: Total Defence Logo". MINDEF Singapore. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  70. ^ Lim, Clara Grimonia (17 September 2019). "First-ever redesign of Total Defence logo open to public". AsiaOne. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  71. ^ Cheung, Rainer (7 January 2020). "Big winners of Total Defence logo competition went with their heart". AsiaOne. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  72. ^ Chia, Osmond (17 February 2020). "Arrowing a winner: Total Defence gets new logo". The New Paper. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  73. ^ "Minister Chan Chun Sing: Total Defence is Singapore's Best Response to Evolving Challenges". MINDEF Singapore. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  74. ^ "Fact Sheet: Evolution and History of Total Defence over the past 35 years". MINDEF Singapore. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  75. ^ Teo, Dominic (16 February 2016). "See how Total Defence Day has evolved through the years". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2 May 2021.

External links[edit]