At a speech on Aug. 4 at an Asia-Pacific program for senior military officers, Singapore Minister of Defense Teo Chee Hean spoke about the changing role of military services in the region and the world.
He said that "the role of militaries in responding to non-traditional security challenges is proving increasingly critical. While most militaries are not specifically equipped or trained to deal with non-traditional threats, militaries are often the only organisations able to respond to them rapidly and on the scale that is required. And they may find themselves working with other militaries in multilateral settings."
He noted that in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, granting foreign military relief teams early access to Aceh played a crucial role in rescue and aid distribution efforts. On the other hand, Myanmar did not give countries permission to deploy military equipment and personnel in the aftermath of Cyclone Nagis. However, during the earthquake in Sichuan province, China too was willing to accept donations and relief teams from selected countries, he added.
"We should continue to look for ways to enhance the cooperation between our militaries. There are already a number of bilateral and multilateral activities, such as Exercise Cobra Gold, which offer useful opportunities for our militaries to interact and engage in joint training. The Five Power Defence Arrangements or FPDA, comprising Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, has begun building capacity for disaster relief in recent years. The Western Pacific Naval Symposium or WPNS, which brings together 22 Asia-Pacific navies, has contributed significantly to building capacity and developing inter-operability for maritime security cooperation. ... Most recently, the US and the Philippines signaled their intention to conduct a disaster relief exercise ... in 2009. Our militaries can, and should, do more in the way of practical cooperation and collaboration to enhance regional peace and security," he said.Teo Chee Hean adds that "Military officers themselves need to acquire new skills to face the new challenges. First, they need to develop the knowledge and capabilities beyond their primary military duties and be prepared to provide a response to these possible new threats. Second, military officers need to learn how to operate in a multilateral environment. ... Military officers also need to develop a broader strategic outlook on security issues. Knowing how to take action may not be sufficient. It will also be necessary to understand the political, historical and social context within which that action is taken. With such an understanding, military officers are more likely to devise appropriate ways of working with each other to achieve their mission."