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Assessment – Singapore Is Not An Island


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

The examine of Singapore’s overseas coverage has been one which has been conspicuously restricted, despite the city-state’s a lot studied insurance policies in different areas. Other than 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 examine of how this small state navigates the vagaries and vicissitudes of worldwide politics stays understudied. That is altering.

Plenty of retired Singaporean profession diplomats have now contributed their views on Singapore’s overseas coverage through the years, 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 widely known public mental, Kausikan steadily gives commentary on each home and overseas political points on his Fb web page and can also be recognized to be a prolific author put up retirement, his op-eds steadily showing in each mainstream and social media.

In Singapore Is Not An Island, Kausikan gives an unvarnished evaluation and dialogue of Singapore’s overseas coverage and the way the city-state continues to keep up its relevance in a world which, in his words, “will in all probability get alongside superb with no absolutely sovereign and unbiased Singapore.” To those that have made the examine of Singapore’s overseas coverage each a matter {of professional} and private curiosity, a lot of what’s written within the e-book wouldn’t be unfamiliar. Certainly, a lot of Kausikan’s worldview imbibes the considering of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who was beneath 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 present. Given the type and accessibility of Kausikan’s scripting this e-book is prone to be a primary staple for college kids and students of Singapore’s overseas coverage who’re involved in understanding how the island-state seeks to interact the broader world in worldwide affairs.

Within the e-book Kausikan gives us with a broad tour of the foremost 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 steady worldwide atmosphere, and preserving the Singaporean lifestyle) shouldn’t be taken with no consideration and that the basics of its overseas coverage (reminiscent of its innate vulnerability, the necessity to view the broader world as its hinterland, and desirous to be mates 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 middle of their work. As Kausikan likes to remind us, “for small states, relevance isn’t one thing to be taken with no consideration. The creation and upkeep of relevance have to be the overarching strategic goal of small states” (pp.40-41). Such considering is very pervasive within the minds of Singapore’s diplomats, and might be evidenced within the nation’s extremely open and pro-business financial insurance policies. The concept Singapore must continuously reinvent itself to make sure its relevance to the surface world is a elementary problem that generations of leaders and coverage makers need to 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 e-book, and one which is evidently near Kausikan’s coronary heart. A number of the main matters of Singapore’s overseas coverage are being expounded upon right here, together with Singapore-Malaysia relations, Singapore’s considering on ASEAN (and extra broadly, Asia) in addition to the way forward for the area’s safety structure. All these are huge and heavy matters and are deserving of scholarly theses. Credit score has to go to Kausikan for dissecting these points in a fashion that each students and the typical reader are in a position to profit from. By offering examples and real-life illustrations, Kausikan proffers us a reminder that what diplomats take care of of their jobs has tangible penalties and that we should care about overseas coverage – even when the on a regular basis workings of it happen out of the general public gaze.

The e-book then takes us into tougher terrain, that of main energy competitors. On condition that this e-book was revealed in 2017, a lot of the prevailing tensions within the U.S.-China rivalry weren’t as pronounced then as they’re at present. But as Kausikan forewarns, “the US-China relationship is complicated, troublesome to encapsulate in a phrase or sentence [and] is characterised by each profound interdependence and deep strategic distrust” (pp.195-196). On the identical time, international locations proceed to own company (nevertheless restricted that may be), 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 gives some broad insights into different main international matters reminiscent of 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 e-book cowl extra restricted, however no much less essential themes. First the difficulty of human rights, which Singapore – through the years – 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 method, each themes are intertwined insofar as they replicate Lee’s understanding of Singapore’s place on the earth. 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 apply and strategy to overseas coverage. To that finish, Mr. Lee as soon as quipped that “affordable males adapt, unreasonable males change the world” (p.273).

It’s this adaptive capability of Singapore which has allowed the island-state, as some say, to punch above its weight in worldwide affairs. The steadily 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 mentioned, Singapore’s overseas coverage is certainly not a static one and given the altering worldwide scenario, 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 larger continuity with the previous – which has served Singapore nicely little question – however he’s much less clear on the longer term challenges that Singapore faces and what the adjustments are, if any, which may be required to safeguard Singapore’s curiosity in a quickly altering world. Little doubt 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 College of Public Coverage), whose writings are far 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 e-book might be clearer on. That mentioned, 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 e-book will grow to be a steadily referenced version if one is within the signposts and contours of Singapore’s overseas coverage.

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