Total Defence

Singapore Infopedia

by Tan, Eugene Hwi Choon


Launched in 1984,1 the Total Defence concept involves the participation of every Singaporean in the collective effort of building a strong, secure and cohesive nation that is ready to deal with any crisis.2 It is a concept that takes into account the small size of Singapore as an island-state with no natural resources, wholly dependent on world trade, and its multiracial population that is key in strengthening the nation.3

Involving both the military and civilian population, the Total Defence framework consists of five pillars:4

• psychological defence, which builds on national pride and identity by reinforcing the qualities of resilience and determination amongst Singaporeans to overcome any crisis;

• social defence, which builds the bonds for racial harmony and reinforces national integration in a multiracial society. This is accomplished by better understanding and appreciating the heritage, culture and practices of fellow countrymen, thus strengthening bonds as Singaporeans;

• economic defence, which emphasises on building up a strong and robust economy that can sustain Singapore through economic challenges and national emergencies. On an individual basis, one can play a part by retraining and upgrading in order to remain employable in today’s competitive economy. The government and businesses would also need to work together to formulate contingency measures to keep offices and factories running, even after mobilisation of the military and equipment;

• civil defence, which ensures that in times of emergencies, every civilian will be in a state of preparedness to save oneself as well as loved ones. Additionally, one needs to be observant and vigilant in this era of global terrorism, to help look out for and report suspicious individuals or behaviour; and

• military defence, which is the operational readiness of the Singapore Armed Forces and the responsibility of reservists, fulltime national servicemen and regulars to deter and counter aggression.5

The five arrows in the Total Defence logo represent the five pillars. The arrows point in the same upward direction, signifying the concerted effort towards a common objective of safeguarding the progress and future of Singapore. The logo’s outline resembles a hand, symbolising action and representing unity and completeness. Total Defence is deficient if any of the five “fingers” is missing. In addition, the logo is in the shape of a house, symbolising Singapore as our homeland.

The tagline “It’s personal. Play your part.” in its handwritten format evokes the personal nature of Total Defence, reminding Singaporeans that everyone has a part to play in the defence of Singapore.


Eugene Tan Hwi Choon

1. Driving home message of Total Defence. (1984, April 3). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Ministry of Defence. (n.d.). Total Defence: What is TD? Retrieved 2016, September 29 from Ministry of Defence website:
3. Safeguard sovereignty with total defence. (1995, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ministry of Defence. (n.d.). Total Defence: The 5 pillars of Total Defence. Retrieved 2016, September 29 from Ministry of Defence website:
5. Ministry of Defence. (n.d.). Total Defence: The 5 pillars of Total Defence. Retrieved 2016, September 29 from Ministry of Defence website:
6. Ministry of Defence. (2016). Total Defence: Total Defence Logo. Retrieved 2016 Sep 29 from Ministry of Defence website:

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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