Dr Shashi Jayakumar on old and new security threats
Conversation | Rebecca Metteo, Managing Editor (Operations)
In the face of growing global terrorism, Dr Shashi Jayakumar, a senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, believes that Singapore has "done reasonably well on the terrorism stakes," but there remains "more work to be done."
Also the Head of Centre of Excellence for National Security and Executive Coordinator of Future Issues and Technology, Dr Jayakumar highlights the danger of 'slow burn' threats– including disinformation, social media echo chambers, and rising intolerance (which can feed radicalisation).
Therefore, Singaporeans need to stay vigilant.
Foreign terrorists may see Singapore as a tempting target given its plurality and culture of tolerance and multiculturalism. State actors in their turn might attempt to peel off one group (using social media manipulation) and set it against others.
"Not necessarily because the other state in question is the enemy, but perhaps wanting to see if they can undermine the resilience of this so-called small nation especially at times when relations might be somewhat fraught, or when their might be tensions in the diplomatic relationship," Dr Jayakumar adds.
The ability to have "difficult conversations" with others, as Dr Jayakumar points out, is one way to build a "resilient society."
It is also about empowering the younger generation to do more and "take ownership of the issues themselves," while keeping issues related to both race and religion in mind.
Technology changing the game
As technology opens up various channels through which extremist ideologies can be spread, it is increasingly easy for individuals to engage with terrorist networks.
This means that the methods for tackling terrorism may require alternative solutions.
Digital technology, coupled with its ease of information transference, may jeopardise our security and cohesiveness as a society.
Views on sensitive matters like terrorism may be shaped negatively through digital avenues, especially for impressionable youths.
It is social media platforms that have opened doors to the rise of online infocracy; for information can be indiscriminately transmitted from one person to another.
While Dr Jayakumar considers digital defence "very necessary," he points to the reality that the defence in itself may be "hard to grasp and may not be digital itself." He says that while social media has to some degree brought benefits, it has also to some extent caused the society to become "more splintered."
"I have never seen anyone de-radicalised online. However, it is possible to radicalise someone online. That says something about the nature of social media and the platforms themselves," Dr Jayakumar elaborates.
Dr Jayakumar uses the metaphor of an "imaginary hallway" to describe the effect of online homophily, where people tend to seek out and agree with those holding similar opinions.
This produces "emotional validation," which spurs them to act upon thoughts previously challenging to execute alone.
The proliferation of social media has also accelerated the time it takes for one to be radicalised.
"Ages have gotten younger, and the tempo for radicalisation has gotten shorter," says Dr Jayakumar.
When the Pandora box of social media is open, Dr Jayakumar believes that the most plausible solutions are "non-digital, non-social media, real-world interventions."
As terrorism remains a pressing issue, the proliferation of technology and social media seems to complicate the way extremist ideologies are transmitted.
Such a trend, in turn, creates a need for Singaporeans, in particular youths, to engage in meaningful interaction conducive to maintaining peace and harmony in society.
For more information on Dr Jayakumar’s publications please visit
About the interviewee: Dr Shashi Jayakumar has held the position of head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) since 1 April 2015. He is also the executive coordinator for the future issues and technology since 1 August 2017.