Total Defence

What is Total Defence

Total Defence LogoTotal Defence involves every Singaporean playing a part, individually and collectively, to build a strong, secure and cohesive nation. When we are strong, we are able to deal with any crisis.


"A response where everyone plays a part"


As a small, multi-racial, multi-religious nation dependent on free trade to survive, and connected to the world by air, sea and the Internet, Singapore is inevitably affected by developments around the world in some way or another. Since its launch in 1984, Total Defence has rallied Singaporeans together in responding to challenges that threaten Singapore's independence and well-being, such as terrorism, SARS and economic downturns. The core message is that every Singaporean has a part to play to help strengthen our defences against these threats and challenges.

We now face new challenges from the digital domain that have no physical boundaries or battlefields. Cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and fake news are some of the ways that can now be used to divide and weaken us. We have thus added a sixth pillar of Digital Defence to the existing five pillars of Military, Civil, Economic, Social, Digital and Psychological Defence that explain the actions we can take to help us deal with the spectrum of military and non-military threats.

The 6 Pillars of Total Defence

Total Defence is our all-round response to threats and challenges and involves all Singaporeans in the following six aspects:

Military Defence

"A strong and formidable defence force made up of Regulars and National Servicemen, and supported by the entire nation."

For a small country like Singapore, Military Defence is about building a strong and formidable defence force that makes potential aggressors think twice before attacking us. That is deterrence at its best. And if that fails, we must be able to defend ourselves when attacked. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) depends on National Servicemen to augment its standing force of Regulars. Thus, the support of their families, employers, and the community is crucial to keep the SAF operationally ready. When the entire nation rallies behind the SAF, it gives strength to the nation and provides the security and peace we enjoy.

How can you put Military Defence into action?

  • Our soldiers, sailors and airmen do so by keeping fit, taking their training seriously, and staying operationally ready.

  • By being supportive of those who are doing their National Service or in-camp training (ICT), the public can encourage our National Servicemen and boost their morale.

  • Women can also contribute directly to Military Defence by joining the SAF, or serving with the SAF Volunteer Corps.

Civil Defence

"The ability to spot signs of threats, respond effectively and recover quickly from crises."

When we are faced with a threat, or when a crisis hits us, the government agencies' top priority will be to spare no effort in dealing with the threat or responding to the crisis. But their resources will be strained and they cannot be everywhere all the time. Singaporeans – whether at the individual, organisation or community level – must pitch in to help and be able to take care of themselves. We can be alert to signs of threats and, when a crisis occurs, we can be effective first responders, helping one another regardless of race, religion, or self-interest. It also helps when we know whom to call, where to go, and what to do in an emergency. All this helps us bounce back quickly as one people, confident and strong. This is what a strong Civil Defence means.

How can you put Civil Defence into action?

  • Read up on what to do in an emergency, and participate actively in Civil Defence exercises, be it water/food rationing or community emergency preparedness exercises.

  • Pick up life-saving skills such as first aid, CPR, AED, or fire-fighting.

  • By being vigilant and looking out for suspicious persons or activities.

Economic Defence

"A strong and resilient economy that is globally competitive and able to bounce back from any crises."

Economic Defence is about strengthening the competitiveness and attractiveness of Singapore's economy so that we are special and relevant to the world. Only then can we survive and succeed. Economic Defence is also about keeping our economy strong and resilient, enabling it to carry on and recover quickly should we be confronted by any challenge or crisis in the future, such as a global downturn or economic strangulation that could shake investor confidence in Singapore.

How do you put Economic Defence into action?

  • Embrace lifelong learning and continual skills upgrading to adapt to the changing needs of the economy.

  • Save, invest wisely, and spend within your means. Be prepared to ride through times of economic uncertainty.

  • Conserve energy and water, and adopt environmentally-friendly practices.

Social Defence

"The bonds that unite us, built on trust and understanding among people of different races and religions, living in harmony and looking out for one another."

In a multiracial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Singapore, peace and progress is possible only if Singaporeans of all races and religions live together in harmony and look out for one another. It requires constant effort to build understanding and trust among different communities and to ensure that potential sources of misunderstanding and insensitivity are nipped in the bud quickly. This is Social Defence – everyone making an effort to trust one another and to strengthen the bonds across the different ethnic groups so that we are strong and united especially during times of national challenges.

How do you put Social Defence into action?

  • By being sensitive and respectful of other races in Singapore, and learning more about their traditions, cultures, religions, and heritage.

  • By befriending fellow citizens from other communities, and building strong bonds with them over common Singaporean experiences.

  • Show greater consideration and understanding to new citizens, helping them understand our way of life, and sharing with them different practices of different groups here.

  • Looking out for and helping the less fortunate and underprivileged among us.

Digital Defence

"Being secure, alert and responsible online."

As Singapore works towards being a Smart Nation, digital technology will pervade all aspects of how we live, work, and play. Singapore will be one of the most technologically advanced, open and connected nations in the world. While the digital revolution presents opportunities for Singapore, it also makes us vulnerable to threats from the digital domain. These threats will disrupt our way of life, and can also undermine our social cohesion and strike at the confidence and psychological resilience of our people. We therefore need to be able to respond to cyberattacks that target our networks and infrastructure, as well as threats that can be perpetrated through the digital domain such as fake news and deliberate online falsehoods. Singaporeans must recognise that every individual is the first line of defence against threats from the digital domain, so we can defend ourselves against such threats. We must build robust defences and have effective recovery plans to remain resilient even when things go wrong. This is what a strong Digital Defence means.

How do you put Digital Defence into action?

  • Adopt good cybersecurity practices to safeguard our personal data, devices and systems.

  • Be aware of phishing attacks and internet scams.

  • Use social media discerningly and responsibly.

  • Be vigilant against fake news and the spread of deliberate online falsehoods.

    Click here to see a simple infographic on Digital Defence.

Psychological Defence

"The will and resolve to defend our way of life and interests, and the fighting spirit to overcome challenges together."

Singapore's ability to overcome threats and challenges that come our way depends on the collective will of our people to defend our way of life, the resolve to stand up for Singapore when pressured by forces that undermine our national interests, and the fighting spirit to press on and overcome crises together. This is Psychological Defence.

This instinct is based upon a strong shared identity as Singaporeans, pride in our nation, and an understanding of what we must do to ensure our continued security, survival, and success.

How do you put Psychological Defence into action?

  • By being proud to be Singaporean and prepared to stand up to defend Singapore in times of crises.

  • By developing resilience and the strength to return to our normal activities as soon as possible after a crisis hits.

  • By understanding our history and the principles that helped Singapore succeed, and having a strong resolve to stay united and keep Singapore strong and special.

Putting it all together

Total Defence has seen us through SARS, the fall-out from the 9/11 attacks and the economic crises of 1997 and 2008, and the haze in recent years. It has become a fundamental aspect of what makes us Singaporean and is shown in the things that we do on a daily basis – whether it is by fulfilling National Service duties, volunteering in Civil Defence activities, working hard and contributing to a strong economy, strengthening community ties with one another regardless of race and religion, or staying committed to defending the country.

Our work in Total Defence is unceasing. When we understand our part in Total Defence, we will continue to strengthen ourselves, our community, and our nation.

Visit the Total Defence website for more information

Last Updated on 05 April 2019