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Why SAF Officers have fast track promotions

In this essay written in Singapore Angle many years back, I examine why military officers in Singapore Armed Forces have fast track promotions.

The headline “US soldier takes potshots at SAF” by Loh Chee Kong (Today, 12 March 2007) examines several themes in an research journal article “The Roar of the Lion City: Ethnicity, Gender and Culture in the Singapore Armed Forces” (Armed Forces & Society, 2007, 33:265-285) and the rebuttals from MINDEF in response to several issues raised in the article. The piece was written by Sean P. Walsh, a graduate from United States Military Academy currently assigned to 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.

In the article, Walsh explored several themes such as ethnic diversity, professionalism & civil military relations of officers and role of women in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). While most of his sources are cited as private interviews, it is difficult to ascertain the quality of the interviews, given that we only know that one of the interviewees is a United States army officer stationed in Singapore.

One issue of interest revolves around the fast track promotion and professionalism of SAF scholars. Walsh asserted that some SAF officers see that their military careers as “a stepping stone to other careers in politics, business, or the civil service” and inferred that there is a lack of professionalism at the institutional level.

We offer a hypothesis to show why the policy makers in SAF have decided to adopt such a policy of fast track promotion of military officers, particularly the overseas SAF scholars. The basic reason is to prevent military officers from consolidating too much power such that a military coup is possible in Singapore. In fact, by adopting such a policy, it reinforces the culture of the military being integrated with the civilian government. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once mentioned the possibility of a military coup if a freak election result happens, “Without the elected president and if there is a freak result, within two or three years, the army would have to come in and stop it.” (Reuters, 16 Sep 06). That adds to another dimension in asking the question, “Is a military coup possible in Singapore given that there exist such a mechanism to stop the military officers in acquiring too much power?” (see this article Après nous, les militaires by Alex Au). Of course, that is an extremely complex question which we can leave it to another day.