Evaluation – Singapore Is Not An Island


Singapore Is Not An Island: Views on Singapore Foreign Policy
By Bilahari Kausikan
Straits Occasions Press, 2017

The research of Singapore’s overseas coverage has been one which has been conspicuously restricted, regardless of the city-state’s a lot studied insurance policies in different areas. Aside from Michael Leifer’s Singapore’s Foreign Policy: Coping with Vulnerabilityand Narayanan Ganesan’s Realism and Interdependence in Singapore’s Foreign Policy, revealed in 2000 and 2005, the research of how this small state navigates the vagaries and vicissitudes of worldwide politics stays understudied. That is altering.

Quite a few retired Singaporean profession diplomats have now contributed their views on Singapore’s overseas coverage over time, and amongst them, is Bilahari Kausikan. Kausikan is a veteran Singaporean diplomat who retired in 2013, after serving within the Ministry of Overseas Affairs (MFA) for 32 years, together with fulfilling the function of Second Everlasting Secretary and Everlasting Secretary between 2001 and 2013. As a well known public mental, Kausikan incessantly offers commentary on each home and overseas political points on his Fb web page and can also be identified to be a prolific author put up retirement, his op-eds incessantly showing in each mainstream and social media.

In Singapore Is Not An Island, Kausikan offers an unvarnished evaluation and dialogue of Singapore’s overseas coverage and the way the city-state continues to take care of its relevance in a world which, in his words, “will most likely get alongside effective with no absolutely sovereign and unbiased Singapore.” To those that have made the research of Singapore’s overseas coverage each a matter {of professional} and private curiosity, a lot of what’s written within the guide wouldn’t be unfamiliar. Certainly, a lot of Kausikan’s worldview imbibes the pondering of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who was below no illusions in regards to the magnitude of the city-state’s political challenges and the extent of its vulnerability each within the early years of its independence up until at the moment. Given the model and accessibility of Kausikan’s penning this guide is more likely to be a fundamental staple for college kids and students of Singapore’s overseas coverage who’re involved in understanding how the island-state seeks to have interaction the broader world in worldwide affairs.

Within the guide Kausikan offers us with a broad tour of the main themes and points pertaining to Singapore’s overseas coverage. Kausikan units the stage by reminding readers – and one would suspect that is written primarily for a youthful Singaporean viewers – that Singapore’s nationwide pursuits (e.g. financial improvement, a secure worldwide setting, and preserving the Singaporean lifestyle) shouldn’t be taken with no consideration and that the basics of its overseas coverage (similar to its innate vulnerability, the necessity to view the broader world as its hinterland, and eager to be buddies with everybody) put in place within the early years of Singapore’s independence shouldn’t be simply forgotten.

Following that, Kausikan touches on the subject of ‘The Sovereignty of Small States’, a theme which generations of overseas service officers within the MFA are deeply acquainted with in the midst of their work. As Kausikan likes to remind us, “for small states, relevance just isn’t one thing to be taken with no consideration. The creation and upkeep of relevance should be the overarching strategic goal of small states” (pp.40-41). Such pondering is extremely pervasive within the minds of Singapore’s diplomats, and will be evidenced within the nation’s extremely open and pro-business financial insurance policies. The concept Singapore must consistently reinvent itself to make sure its relevance to the skin world is a elementary problem that generations of leaders and coverage makers must undertake.

Kausikan goes on to debate Singapore’s worth and place vis-à-vis Southeast Asia, a serious theme that takes up virtually a 3rd of the guide, and one which is evidently near Kausikan’s coronary heart. Among the main subjects of Singapore’s overseas coverage are being expounded upon right here, together with Singapore-Malaysia relations, Singapore’s pondering on ASEAN (and extra broadly, Asia) in addition to the way forward for the area’s safety structure. All these are large and heavy subjects and are deserving of scholarly theses. Credit score has to go to Kausikan for dissecting these points in a way that each students and the common reader are in a position to profit from. By offering examples and real-life illustrations, Kausikan proffers us a reminder that what diplomats cope with of their jobs has tangible penalties and that we must care about overseas coverage – even when the on a regular basis workings of it happen out of the general public gaze.

The guide then takes us into tougher terrain, that of main energy competitors. On condition that this guide was revealed in 2017, a lot of the present tensions within the U.S.-China rivalry weren’t as pronounced then as they’re at the moment. But as Kausikan forewarns, “the US-China relationship is complicated, tough to encapsulate in a phrase or sentence [and] is characterised by each profound interdependence and deep strategic distrust” (pp.195-196). On the similar time, international locations proceed to own company (nevertheless restricted that is perhaps), and any predetermined way forward for the area shouldn’t be naively accepted. As Kausikan suggests, it’s “exactly the existence of competitors that holds out the potential of manoeuvre to protect autonomy” (p.197). As a bonus, Kausikan additionally offers some broad insights into different main international subjects similar to nuclear weapons points, the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean, in addition to the relevance of Center East developments and Brexit to Southeast Asia.

The ultimate two sections of the guide cowl extra restricted, however no much less necessary themes. First the problem of human rights, which Singapore – over time – has been subjected to Western criticisms over, and two, the worldview of Lee Kuan Yew, which continues to play a serious function in the best way by which Singaporean diplomats see the world and Singapore’s place in it. In a means, each themes are intertwined insofar as they replicate Lee’s understanding of Singapore’s place on the planet. Regardless of a lot of Singapore’s studying – particularly in home institutional constructing – from the West, the city-state stays geographically and culturally distinct from the West, its personal distinctive traits that are mirrored in its follow and strategy to overseas coverage. To that finish, Mr. Lee as soon as quipped that “cheap males adapt, unreasonable males change the world” (p.273).

It’s this adaptive skill of Singapore which has allowed the island-state, as some say, to punch above its weight in worldwide affairs. The incessantly cited adage that one has to take the world as it’s, not as the way it needs it to be, continues to tell the mainstream exposition of Singapore’s overseas coverage and which Kausikan’s views evidently explicate. That stated, Singapore’s overseas coverage is on no account a static one and given the altering worldwide state of affairs, its leaders and coverage makers are additionally conscious of the necessity to adapt to a brand new worldwide actuality. Kausikan’s views appear to emphasise the necessity for better continuity with the previous – which has served Singapore properly little question – however he’s much less clear on the long run challenges that Singapore faces and what the adjustments are, if any, that could be required to safeguard Singapore’s curiosity in a quickly altering world. Little question the character of Sino-American competitors can be a problem that Singapore should deal with. Not like his well-known colleague Kishore Mahbubani (who was the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew Faculty of Public Coverage), whose writings are rather more sympathetic to China, Kausikan’s place stays one which takes its reference from an outdated blueprint – one which has certainly been efficient, however which can be much less related shifting ahead. Given Kausikan’s formidable mind and diplomatic nous, it’s a subject that he’s well-placed to handle, and which his guide may very well be clearer on. That stated, by offering a primary version (and the writer suspects a future replace of Kausikan’s ideas can be out there) of a a lot wanted exposition of Singapore’s diplomatic worldview, this guide will turn into a incessantly referenced version if one is within the signposts and contours of Singapore’s overseas coverage.

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