National branding through Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)
The SAF’s role in public diplomacy is enshrined in its mission which is “to enhance Singapore’s peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor.“
In the 21st century security landscape, there is increasing clarity that military coercion and war are not the only means to policy objectives. In the context of smart power, planned national branding is clearly one of those endeavours that require multi-agency collaboration. Whilst it is presumptuous to assume that the military should lead such an effort, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) which runs the country’s most extensive nation building effort of National Service (NS) is clearly one of the leads in the whole-of-government approach to national branding.
But indeed, what is the definition of ‘National branding’ ? This term defines the aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries. Some approaches applied, such as an increasing importance on the symbolic value of products, have led countries to emphasise their distinctive characteristics. Many governments have resource dedicated to Nation Branding. Their aim is to improve their country’s standing, as the image and reputation of a nation can dramatically influence its success in attracting tourism receipts and investment capital- in exports, and in attracting a talented and creative workforce and in its cultural and political influence in the world.
Whether people consider Singapore’s image as a schema or an imagination, the fact remains that this image in the eyes of the foreign publics is being shaped daily by various national branding flows. Therefore, SAF’s strategic level leaders need to continuously check that their visions for the armed forces or a national event reflects a country that is socially, economically, psychologically and militarily strong to reinforce deterrence. SAF’s unit commanders at the organisational level of leadership needs to create units with a learning climate that can adapt to shifting perceptions about Singapore. At the broadest base of the SAF, the last mile leaders need to live Singaporean’s values and be ambassadors of the Singaporean national identity thereby adding positive national branding flows to the public sphere and new media each day to offset the negative ones. Ultimately, national branding for Singapore is not an option. Not only has it been a key part of their success but in a globalised world saturated with moving images, branding Singapore is an integral part of nation building and of survival. As the nation building institution that could mobilise the most national branding ambassadors, the SAF plays a critical role in portraying the national image of Singapore.