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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Man who cried Wolf

The Man Who Cried Wolf

Once upon a time, there was a man who deliberately baited his northern neighbour by constantly insulting the neighbour. He did this because he was the leader of a tiny dot of an island, no bigger than Haley's Comet, and who knows, may be as short-lived in its passing grandeur.

He did this because he hated his neighbour, which had thrown his tiny state out of its federation in 1965, an event so traumatic to this man that he wept uncontrollably on state television, an event which he never forgot or forgave.

He baited his neighbour for another reason. It was an article of faith with him that, "There is nothing like an external enemy to unite the nation behind you." And since that neighbour was not really an enemy, he had to make it one. This he did by deliberate remarks calculated to incite disaffection in the neighbour, knowing full well that upon his remarks being known to the other side, hotheads on the other side, both in the newspaper editorials and in parliament, would yell blue murder and threaten to cut off his island's water supply, whereupon his own side would reciprocate, probably from his party members, in his press, with calls to 'unite' against this unreasonable people who would cut off our very lifeblood.

The interesting thing is that this man has another even bigger neighbour whom he placates with money and nice deeds. This huge neighbour is so huge and unstable that he cannot play the same card against it -- it is simply too dangerous to do so. So, he baits the north and bribes the south.

His intense hatred of his northern neighbour is evident in his 2 memoirs. In the first, which, because of all the media hype and publicity, many naive Singaporeans bought, he polemicised against his neighbour with dubious 'facts' and half-truths (his speciality) which cannot be contradicted since the victims of his polemics are long dead and cannot contradict him, causing another, by now familiar, diplomatic spat. (The many Singaporeans who bought the book expecting enlightenment and got polemics instead never bought the second book, which hopeful bookshops overstocked -- based on the sales of the first -- and now try to palm off to an uninterested public at cheap sales. Many who bought the first did not even finish reading it, so similar is it to all the trash we have been subjected to from birth).

He can do as he wish with the north. He has atom bombs, which they do not have. He has a bigger, if conscripted army, better equipped with the latest high-tech weapons, and a bigger and better airforce and navy. Plus he spends much more money -- about 6% of GDP every year -- on 'defence'. If even 1 or 2% were to be diverted to schools or health, many, many more Singaporeans would benefit. But to this man, defence is a necessity so that he can antagonise his northern neighbour and they cannot do anything about it. Also, his heart is uplifted every National Day when his mighty tanks rumble past in salute, his fighters scream overhead in flypast and his marching contingents snap their heads smartly right in obeisance to him.

Just a few years ago, it was leaked out from his armed forces that there was a detailed plan to capture his neighbour's territory up to Segamat, in the state of Johor. So evidently, he was only too aware of the limitations of his reign, though not of his ambitions or ability to carry them out.

Then, around mid-2000, in a speech to members of the northern neighbour's government and civil service, he boasted that, "Yes, we can capture (your) territory...", which must have sent a chill down his audience's spines, since he was speaking in the capital city of his northern neighbour to members of its government.

But having cried wolf! all these decades and nothing came out of it except diplomatic illwill, perhaps this man had better now recalculate his sums.

Because, in the last few months, his northern neighbour announced 3 very significant news items that must make any sensible Singaporean pause for thought, if not more.

The first was the purchase of an advanced artillery system that could fire concrete-piercing shells from far away. This is a weapon designed to reduce thick concrete runways into cratered rubble. It does not take much imagination to calculate how many sorties our warplanes can make before they find that landing or takeoff is impossible. This is a real wolf.

The second is the successful test-firing of a surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile only dozens of miles from our island. This means that any warplane landing or taking off is at risk, as these are times when their speeds are necessarily low and their altitudes too low to give room to manoeuvre out of the missile's trajectory. This is a real wolf.

The third is the stationing of a commando unit in Johor. This does not take much thinking to realise what it could do in a war. This is a real wolf.

The trouble is, with this old man shouting wolf! for so many decades, very few Singaporeans lose sleep over it or over these new developments.

Of course, our northern neighbour is not an enemy unless we choose to make it so. There is nothing like treating a neighbour as an enemy to really make him one.

So perhaps, this old man should think thrice (one for each new development) before he baits his northern neighbour again. And perhaps temper his arrogance with a little sense. He cannot count on a decisive victory in a showdown even before and especially now. By just spending about 1% of our total cost of our airforce, our northern neighbour has just effectively neutralised it. And pumping even more GDP spending into the airforce will not help.

Only taking a less belligerent attitude will -- and that may open a whole new chapter in 2 closely-related economies as well as peoples. The worst legacy this old man can leave his son is a legacy of antagonism and false sense of security based on miscalculated military strength.

Bright Spark