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Interdependence requires New Approach to Foreign Policy - by Simon Tay

Updated On: Jan 26, 2005

Foreign policy has never been more important to Singapore. We are a small island-city-state and inherently we must be open to the world. This inherent interdependence has increased in recent years with the headlong pursuit of policies of globalization and regionalization. John Donne, the English poet wrote, “No man is an island”.[1]Today, we have to understand that even, “No Island is an Island”. Singaporeans may live on this island and regard it as our home, but we cannot be insular. Nor can we be insulated from what happens around us.

2.         This lesson has been learnt and underlined in these recent years. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 showed us how we are economically linked to the region. The Indonesian fires and haze were terrible that year (and still recur) and show us our physical and environmental interdependence. The dangers of terrorism, with bombs going off in nearby countries and plots in Singapore itself, demonstrate that our security, our sense of safety, is also linked.

3.         In these last weeks, the tragedy of the Tsunami has shown a new type of interdependence. Singapore was not directly affected. But Singaporeans from all walks of life made a record contribution in cash and assistance. This shows our moral interdependence with others around us.

4.         There are also less dramatic, everyday facts of our interdependence in work, play and what we read and talk about. In work, an increasing number of Singaporean managers and professionals undertake regional work. Singaporean companies are reporting an increasing share of their profits (or losses) from overseas markets and investments. At play, Singaporeans travel more in the region than ever, with budget travel airlines are making it more and more affordable. In the media, our Channel News Asia and the main newspaper, the Straits Times, have increased their news coverage of Asia in these past years. This has changed what we read about and see on television. The horizons of our knowledge and interest have expanded and deepened.

5.         These interdependencies, moreover, are not limited to negative impacts and threats. There are positive impacts and opportunities in Singapore’s increasing engagement with the region. Singapore’s bilateral free trade agreements link us economically to some of the most powerful economies in the world, including theUSA and Japan. The ASEAN Free Trade Area and the on-going plan for an ASEAN Economic Community promise to integrate major sections of the economies immediately around us, creating nearby markets of 500 million people. Already a number of our larger companies report a very significant and still increasing share of their profits and revenues arise from overseas ventures. In his address to Parliament, President SR Nathan has emphasized the need to make Singapore a land of opportunity. I agree, and indeed have voiced a similar theme and phrase in these past few years. For Singapore to be a land of opportunity,  I believe that the connections we have with the region and the wider world must be strengthened. Together with ChinaIndia and our own region of Southeast Asia, we must be a full part of the rise of Asia.

6.         Given the importance of our foreign engagements, in both threat and opportunity, we might expect that might be a strong growing interest and concern about the directions and priorities over Singapore’s foreign policies. Yes and No. Traditionally, foreign policy has had little constituency in Singaporean society, as compared to discussion over other domestic policy areas, such as (say) health care or whether a casino should be allowed in Singapore.  However, there are signs that this is changing. A number of issues in the past year which have caught a greater share of public interest.

7.         First, Singapore’s response to the recent tragedy of the Tsunami. This is especially against the background of relations with our neighbours that  have often been tense, especially since the 1997 crisis. Secondly, Singapore’s relations with China, which grew controversial following the visit of then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Taipei. Singaporean businesses doing business in China were concerned, at one point, of the possible negative impacts on them. Thirdly,Singapore’s relations with the USA, the world’s predominant power. There were perceptions both within and outside the country that Singapore drew too close to the USA and the Bush administration with the government’s support for the US-led action in Iraq, promotion of the regional front on the war against terror, and with the conclusion of the US-Singapore free trade agreement.

8.         I wish to argue that there can be and increasingly are changes in the process for deriving Singapore’s answers and policies in our foreign engagements.[2]These changes in process, I will argue, can and should bring in many more interests and stakeholders into a more consultative framework. The need for such changes stem from the increasing impacts – good or bad – that our foreign engagements can have on very many more Singaporeans.

Mandarins and Hyper-Realism

9.         In arguing about change, we should begin with an idea of where we are. Only then can there be a proper contrast to new directions. What then are the characteristics and typical processes in determining Singapore’s foreign policies?

10.       In his book on Singapore foreign policy, the late Professor Michael Leifer of the London School of Economics and Political Science, characterized our foreign policy as the politics of coping with vulnerability. Surveying the region at the close of the century, he felt that the region had “returned to the future” to become as turbulent and potentially troubling for Singapore as the 1960s, when we first emerged as an independent state. The late Professor Leifer of course correctly observed that Singapore was better equipped to deal with these challenges than in the 1960s in terms of military capacity and economic strengths, but he seemed to suggest a bleak future for enhancing cooperation with our regional neighbours.

11.       I have previously described Singapore’s foreign policy as “hyper-realist”, with an overemphasis on narrow and immediate self-interests, overwhelmingly economic advancement and survival. The processes for the making of foreign policy too, in my judgment, have been closed, almost secretive, and limited to a handful of elite politicians and civil servant mandarins. This foundational attitude to our foreign engagements and the underlying processes may be called a form of “hyper-realism”.  As a consequence of this “hyper-realism”, some have considered that Singapore is not giving enough, overly self-interested and even “hard hearted”. Our critics suggest Singapore acts with regard only for our own narrow and immediate self-interests, and without regards to other values. Right or wrong, these perceptions of Singapore exist.

12.       In contrast, I have called and call again for a Singaporean foreign policy that better takes into account our increasing interdependence with the world and, especially, the region, and that takes account of a much broader range of interests, including the moral values of Singaporean when we hear, see and are affected by what happens around us.  Correspondingly, I have called for the making of foreign policy to be more open. As much as possible, there should be increasing consultation with citizens, experts, think-tanks and businesses. The participation of such citizens and entities is, to my mind, only appropriate given the considerable economic and human interchanges and interdependencies that a much wider group of Singaporeans have outside Singapore. It is also appropriate since, throughout the 1990s, citizen consultation and participation grew in almost all spheres of domestic governance, yet foreign policy remained almost in statis.[3]

13.       The evidence from the year just ended and the year just beginning is that Singapore is experiencing a sea change in the positions and processes of its foreign policy. This is beginning to take more and more varied interests and constituencies into account. Public sentiment and different sectoral interests regarding regional and international affairs have become a larger factor in determining foreign policy. My argument is not however that there has been an overnight shift from what I have called, “hyper-realism” to what others might disdain as “idealism” (the label is almost always derogatory in pragmatic Singapore). My argument is that we may well be at the start of a sea change towards a more nuanced and balanced foreign policy, with a more inclusive process that better reflects the complexities of our increasing interdependence. In some cases, these interests may result in an approach that is based more on norms and values. In other instances, commercial and other interests may instead influence the outcome.

Evidence of the Sea-Change

14.       Allow me to draw evidence for my view from examples over these past 12 or so months. The first is the most recent, dramatic and still unfolding example: Singapore’s response to the Tsunami that has devastated so many in our region. The second example is Singapore’s relations with China after then DPM Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to Taiwan. The third has been shifting public sentiment in Singapore towards the USA since the invasion of Iraq and Singapore’s strong support for the USA.

Singapore and the Tsunami

15.       Looking at Singapore’s response to the Tsunami, the evidence is not just the level of government aid, which at $23 million far exceeds anything given before. Nor is it the extensive deployment of military staff and equipment, and officials from other departments like the police and civil defence force. Nor even has it been the Singapore’s government initiative and will in helping bring the international donors to the ASEAN conference in Indonesia, and the keynote speech made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, after first touring affected areas in Aceh. On their own, these are considerable efforts; yet there is more to note.

16.       First, are the statements by PM Lee and other ministers. Although our island is physically unlikely to be struck directly by a Tsunami, PM Lee has pointed toSingapore’s interdependence with the region. While mobilizing quickly and effectively, Singaporean leaders have consistently emphasized the need for efforts not just to clear up the immediate mess and impact. They have emphasized instead the need for sustained attention and help to ensure the affected areas develop in the medium and longer term.  PM Lee has spoken of needing to engage our neighbors because of “our values”. Other political leaders have spoken of a sense of “solidarity” with the region. Accordingly, the national commemoration ceremony to mark the tragedy paid respects not only to the Singaporean nationals and residents killed or injured, but to our regional brothers and sisters. Representatives of five affected countries also shared the podium.

17.       A second driver of this change has been the private sector. Corporations and citizens have given generously, in cash or kind. Their collective response outstripped anything previously seen in Singapore, with more than $40 million collected todate. This is not only on par with official giving. Public compassion indeed can be seen as a factor driving the Singapore government to go beyond its initial, modest commitment of $2 million. Connected to this has been the multiple ways in which Singaporeans have gone beyond making donations to reach out to the affected communities. The government and especially military efforts provided an organized center, with “government sanctioned” institutions like the Red Cross, National Volunteer and Philantrophy Centre and Singapore International Foundation playing their role. But so too did a growing number of community organizations like Touch International and Mercy Relief as well as a myriad of religious and ad hoc groups. The assistance given was not just from government to government, but between peoples. This public concern has helped shape and support the Singaporegovernment’s responses.

Controversy in Relations with China

18.       A second example can be seen in Singapore’s recent relations with China. This close relationship was unsettled when China protested then DPM Lee Hsien Loong ‘private and unofficial’ visit to Taiwan on 10 July 2004.  PM Lee also pointed out that before becoming Prime Minister, he wanted to update himself on the current situation in Taiwan in order to assess for himself how circumstances might evolve and the implications for regional stability.[4]This continued Singapore’s tradition of private visits to Taiwan that began long before Singapore’s normalisation of ties with China, which only occurred in 1990.[5]

19.       Notwithstanding this, the DPM’s visit was received differently. Upon being informed, China requested that the trip be cancelled. After giving the Chinese representations ‘serious consideration’, Singapore decided to proceed with the trip but strongly reiterated that the visit was  ‘private and unofficial’ and did not change Singapore’s ‘very clear’ position on Taiwan, which is, that Singapore consistently maintains a ‘One China’ policy and does not support independence for Taiwan.[6]

20.       A few observations may be initially offered. First, some may suggest that the Chinese government was using this episode as an opportunity to reiterate and indeed strengthen its ‘One China’ policy to delineate the boundaries of what China considers ‘acceptable’ behaviour.  It is notable, in this regard, that Malaysia’s immediate response was to ban all ministers at the cabinet level from making official or unofficial visits to Taiwan.[7]This move earned China’s praise and arguably demonstrates that China has succeeded in this respect. Secondly, while the visit did not mark any change in Singapore’s long-standing practice of unofficial visits toTaiwan, it may signal a change in context. Increased pro-independence sentiments in Taiwan, particularly during the period leading up to the presidential elections in early 2004, and the Chen administration’s explicit pro-independence stance have heightened tensions across the Straits. As a result, there is greater sensitivity onChina’s part to any event that might be construed as support for Taiwan’s independence. Hence, some analysts suggest that the unusually tense cross-straits relations made China more sensitive and less amenable to any action that could be construed as being pro-Taiwan.  Nevertheless, according to then DPM Lee, ‘…to call off the trip at China’s request would have undermined our right to make independent decisions, and damaged our international standing. As a small country, this is a vital consideration in our dealings with all countries.’[8]

21.       A third observation is most relevant to the thesis of this paper: that public and sectoral interests are playing a larger role in the making of Singaporean foreign policy. This relates to the measures that the Singapore government subsequently took to return China relations to a stable and good footing.  For, notwithstanding the stated reasons for the visit, the Singapore government took pains to put their relations with China back on balance. Immediately after being appointed Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, addressed the issue during his National Day Rally speech, offering assurances to China. Newly appointed Foreign Minister George Yeo furthered this effort at the United Nations General Assembly. During his address, he suggested that Singapore was among those countries that opposed Taiwanese independence.[9]These efforts have not gone unnoticed by China. Even if there has been no formal declaration that relations are back to where they used to be, before Mr Lee’s visit to Taipei, most analysts believe the sharper differences have been healed. 

22.       What has driven these efforts by the Singapore government?  A significant part of this has been public sentiment. Singapore’s engagement with China is no longer a matter of inter-governmental relations. Considerable economic investments and trade exist between the two countries. While economic investments were encouraged by the Singapore government at an earlier stage, and are still enabled by different government agencies, these have taken on an energy and initiative of their own. Cultural ties are another factor in the equation, with a sector of Chinese-educated Singaporeans taking the view that the Singapore government should accommodate sensitivities and concerns of the mainland Chinese. There has therefore been a twin constituency – economic and cultural -- to persuade the Singaporegovernment on the need to prioritize good relations with China.

Singapore-US Relations

23.       The Singaporegovernment has consistently advocated the need to engage the USAand continue its presence in the region, as a force for stability. In this last year, Singaporehas supported the US-led intervention in Iraqas one of the “coalition of the willing”. There has been increasing controversy over this decision. This sentiment has been felt among some in countries in the region, such as Malaysiaand Indonesia, which have voiced doubts about the US-led action. Internally too questions have been raised within some segments the Singaporean society. Muslim Singaporeans have been among these. But so have other Singaporeans, especially as difficulties in establishing order and peace in Iraqhave arisen, and without proof of Iraqi plans for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The stark proof of abuses of prisoners at Abu Gharib by American troops further fueled this doubt.

24.       In this past year, the Singaporegovernment has restated its grounds for supporting the US-led intervention on the basis of the UN resolutions requiring Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections.[10] Notably too, Singapore government leaders and especially Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong made a series of speeches, including to audiences in the USA itself, that brought a new emphasis to the broader issues of peace in the Middle East. The ;Singaporeleader called for a “more balanced and nuanced approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - an approach that recognises that there are equities and inequities on both sides”. Then PM Goh took the view that such a policy, “must become a central pillar of the global war against terrorism.”[11] These statements were made, notwithstandingSingapore’s close relations to the USand to the current Bush administration.

25. These policy statements represent some degree of adjustment from past positions. One observation that may be drawn is that the adjustment deals with sentiments and doubts within Singaporean society. Another observation is that the adjustment creates more common ground with the positions taken by neighboring states like Malaysi. For example in drawing links to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, this is a common concern between the two countries, even if the tone of the observations used by Singaporean leaders sharply differs from, say, what former Malaysian premier, Dr Mahathir Mohammed might use.

Precursors and Naysayers

26.       My argument is that Singapore foreign policy is becoming a more consultative process in which a great range of interests and stakeholders are considered. These changes are more notable in recent years and in 2004 than they have been before. Indeed, I have argued that  Singapore’s response to the Tsunami is a marker of a sea change in the nature and depth of our regional engagement.[12]  I do not however suggest that these changes have emerged from nowhere. Rather, there have been precursors during the prime ministership of Mr Goh Chok Tong.

27.       Under the Goh premiership, for example, Singapore extended much more assistance to the newer ASEAN members of CambodiaLaosMyanmar andVietnam, including scholarships and skills training. Following the Timor Leste crisis, Singapore reached a highwater mark in its peace-keeping efforts. Then PM Goh also emphasized, “win-win” strategies and efforts to “prosper thy neighbour” in dealings with regional countries, especially Malaysia and Indonesia. On the difficult negotiations on water with Malaysia, then PM Goh also promised that any agreement between the two countries would be brought before Parliament for discussion. These have been growing signs of a Singaporean foreign policy that is moving beyond narrow and immediate self-interest, and beyond the closed circle of mandarins and political leaders. In my view, the tragedy of the Tsunami has provided Prime Minister Lee and his new team an opportunity to respond to a new problem in new ways and with new attitudes, and they have done seized this.

28.       Where Singaporean foreign policy was seen as a narrow calculation of self-interest and survival, there are broader, more ethical interests at play. Where foreign policy matters were often decided by a closed and small circle of political leaders and mandarins, this response has had to deal with public sentiment and expectation. Where government officials are often used to executing foreign policy on their own, the presence and participation of citizens and groups are new elements.

29.       Some may contend that hardnosed realism will quickly reassert itself. Clearly, no state can afford any entirely moral foreign policy or act without any regard to its national interest. Realism and pragmatism will undoubtedly remain as necessary responses, especially if there are threats to Singapore’s independence and sovereignty.  I also agree that not all decisions can, should or are best made in the full light of public discussion. Diplomacy, and the kind of quiet diplomacy thatSingapore and ASEAN have valued, will continue to play an important role. But what is happening is that the calculation of Singapore’s national interest is coming to take into account more factors and the sentiment of more stakeholders. In this process, cynical and narrow realism is being balanced by Singaporean values, ethics and idealism in a broader recognition of our interdependence. Commercial interests are also entering the equation in new ways. These trends are emergent and changing old patterns and processes.

Conclusions: Implications for Mandarins, Businesses and Citizens

30.       From this, there are several implications for those who make Singaporean foreign policy as well as the businesses, citizens and others who would wish to shape that foreign policy.

31.       First, for the officials, there is an emerging need to engage Singaporeans. Part of this will be to explain the policies that affect people. Some of this may be open and through the media. At other times, these explanations may be best conducted through closed door briefings, as have been held through grass root organizations as regards relations with some neighbors at especially sensitive times. Beyond explaining, there will also be greater need to consult Singaporeans and engage them on our foreign engagements. We can see this in very different fields, ranging from our free trade agreements (FTAs) to our assistance to the Tsunami-hit countries. In negotiating our multiple and various FTAs, the needs of our private sector businesses have to be better understood by negotiators so as to maximize and focus the benefits that accrue. Correspondingly, the avenues, special rules and concessions obtained in FTAs have to be explained and digested by private sector companies. In the case of the Tsunami assistance, the Singapore government has come to realize the need to engage non-govermental organizations (NGOs) to carry on the medium to longer term work. This is both to allow government agencies like the military to return to their core focus, as well as to better manage possible sensitivities among Tsunami-hit countries. Coordination with NGOs will require a different skill set for some officials, in contrast to undertaking activities on their own.

32.       There are also implications for the businesses and NGOs. The Singapore-based business community in particular must be better able to articulate their own views. A larger degree of autonomy and a greater capacity for resesearch, and the credibility to represent business views even when these differ from governments will be necessary if the business community is to play its full role in shaping Singapore’s foreign engagements. Similarly, for NGOs, there are questions of capacity and of credibility. In this field, I should say, there is resistance among some Singaporeans against accepting that “government-sanctioned” NGOs would be the only ways in which assistance should be channeled. Independence and credibility for these NGOs are as important as good working ties with the relevant government agencies. Public support may otherwise dissipate.

33.       In many areas of Singapore government policy, the 1990s have witnessed greater consultation and engagement with the citizens and residents of Singapore. In a number of fields like the provision of community services, the arts and even policing, a model of partnership with citizens, people sector groups and private sector businesses has emerged. Increasingly, the government’s role has been to make rules and shape an ecology to support and guide these actors. The making of Singaporean foreign policy, I would argue, is going to have to deal with some these same sets of changes and challenges. Our interdependence and the growing importance of our foreign engagements to all in Singapore (and not just the government) require no less.

Selected Bibliography

·        Amitav Acharya, Constructing a Security Community, (Routledge, 2001).

·        Tommy TB Koh, The Quest for World Order, Times Academic Press, 1998.

·        Michael Liefer, Singapore’s Foreign Policy: Coping with Vulnerability, Routledge, 2000.

·        Jessica Matthews, "Power Shift: the Age of Nonstate Actors," Foreign Affairs, January-February, 1997.

·        Simon S. C. Tay. "Island in the World: Globalization and Singapore's Transformation," in Southeast Asia Affairs 2001, pp. 279-309.

·        Simon SC Tay, “Making and Remaking Singapore’s Foreign Policy”,  in Heartland, The Value of Singapore, No. 9/ 2002, p. 13-23.

·        Simon SC Tay, “Singapore: Review of Major Policy Statements” in Singapore Yearbook of International Law 2004.



[1]"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." John Donne, Meditation XVII.

[2]It would be quite easy to question and second-guess the Singaporegovernment on each of these issues, or others that might arise. That, however, is not my primary intention in this paper. Rather, I wish to point to emerging changes in the ways in which foreign policies in Singaporecan and should be made. In this sense, I am arguing not so much about the policy answers arrived at per se, like the final sums in a complicated maths question. Rather, my focus is on the working; the processes through which we derive those answers.

[3]Making these comments in 2003 in a talk in WashingtonDCand publishing an essay with similar observations in 2004, has led some in government to confirm their view of me as overly idealistic, unrealistic and perhaps outright silly. In a recent past IPS Perspective, an audience member asked Dr Amitav Acharya of the IDSS when Singapore would have a liberal or “idealistic” foreign policy and Amitav replied that this change would happen when Simon Taybecomes foreign minister (which is another way of saying “Never”).

[4]‘Q&A with DPM Lee on his visit to Taiwan’, online: MFA website <http://app.mfa.gov.sg/sections/press/report_press.asp?3943>

[5]As is the usual practice, Singaporeinformed the Chinese government of the visit as a courtesy before DPM Lee’s departure. Moreover, in 1992, Chinese leaders and then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew had agreed that Singaporewill continue such unofficial exchanges with Taiwanand that these exchanges would not affect Sino-Singapore relations.

[6]‘MFA Spokesman’s Comments on DPM Lee’s visit to Taiwan’, online: MFA website <http://app.mfa.gov.sg/sections/press/report_press.asp?3935> However, despite this reassurance, the Chinese regarded this statement as insufficient. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue, were baffled by this “outrageous action that hurt the core interests of Chinaincluding its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.[6] In response, the governor of the People’s Bank of China cancelled his visit to Singaporewhile Chinese officials in Singaporechose not to attend a dinner function hosted by DPM Lee as head of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. The Chinese Ambassador to Singaporealso suggested that talks on the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (F.T.A.), scheduled for November 2004, will ‘inevitably be affected’.  See ‘Let those who tied knot untie it, says Chinese ambassador’, the Straits Times, 22 July 2004.

[7]Beijing’s Warning Shout’, Tony Sitathan, online: Asia Times Online <http://www.atimes.com>

[8]‘Q&A with DPM Lee on his visit to Taiwan’, online: MFA website <http://app.mfa.gov.sg/sections/press/report_press.asp?3943>

[9]This choice of phrase was read by some as being stronger than the usual formulation that a country did not support Taiwanese independence.

[10]On Singapore’s relations with the USAand the grounds for supporting the US-led intervention, the then Foreign Minister S Jayakumar offered an explanation in Parliament as follows:

“I am aware that some Singaporeans are a little uncomfortable with our close relationship with the US. […] When news broke that we were deploying SAF assets toIraq, some Singaporeans expressed concern about the dangers. Now that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are being questioned on the failure to find WMD in Iraq, some Singaporeans may well wonder whether our position on Iraqwas wrong.

“I do not think our position was wrong. We do not think we were too pro-US. In fact, this is the wrong way to try to understand this. Let me reiterate the key point that I made in last year’s committee of supply debate when this issue came up. I said we are not pro-US; we are not anti-any country. What we are is that we are pro-Singapore in the sense that ultimately what guides us in our foreign policy is our national interest. And that remains our fundamental approach, not just on theIraqissue but on any issue.

“Much of what I said on Iraqlast year remains valid. There was no doubt that Iraqhad been in material breach of many United Nations Security Council resolutions for many years. In fact, Iraqwas unique in its consistent defiance of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. With this abysmal record, what reason was there to suspect that Saddam Hussein would not resume his ‘cat-and-mouse’ game that he had played for so many years with UN weapons inspectors once the immediate threat of military action had passed? Was this an acceptable risk?

“Since 9/11, it was clear to all that the global security environment had undergone a fundamental structural change. The possibility of terrorists gaining control of WMD was no longer an acceptable risk, not just to the USbut to every responsible member of the international community, including Singapore. Once the UShad decided that it was no longer prepared to tolerate even the slightest possibility of a threat from Saddam Hussein and was determined to ensure its own security by removing him, the credibility of US resolve then became the key factor in our calculation of national interest. 

“One of the most important international issues we will have to deal with for many years is terrorism. International terrorist networks are deeply embedded inSoutheast Asia. It will take many years to root them out. Until they are rooted out, Singaporewill be at risk, and the risks, I must add, existed well before we took a position in support of the USover Iraq. We cannot deal with the terrorist threat alone. The struggle against terrorism is and will be a global one and only the UShas the capability to lead it. This was why we supported the USon Iraq. If after all that was said, and because of the opposition it faced in the Security Council, if the US had not acted, and when it acted, found itself abandoned by all its friends, extremists around the world would have been emboldened.

[11]At the Shangri La Dialogue in Singaporein mid 2004, PM Goh said:  “The terrorists are driven by an ideological desire to force their strain of Islam on others but their goals and methods are geopolitical. The war against terrorism must therefore be simultaneously fought on both fronts: the ideological as well as the geopolitical. While the UScannot lead the ideological struggle, only it has the capacity to lead the geopolitical fight. In this contradiction lie the complexities.

“The terrorists want to overthrow secular governments: initially in the Middle Eastto secure control of oil that will give them the wherewithal to achieve their ultimate goal of a Caliphate of the entire ummah or global Islamic community. It will be a mistake to dismiss them as mere fanatics. The terrorists have strategic thinkers amongst them and their reach is global. Indeed they seem to be able to think more strategically and globally than do some governments.

[…]

“Anti-Americanism is high around the world. A principal cause is the sheer scale of American power and the indispensability of the USto the post-Cold War international system. This leaves other major powers uncertain of their own roles and insecure about their own status. In certain intellectual circles, it is fashionable to be anti-American. But wishing for a more balanced world will not make it so. All the more necessary, therefore, to state what ought to be obvious but is unfashionable: Americais not the enemy; the terrorists are the enemy.

“The central battleground is the Middle East. The difficulties Americacurrently faces in Iraqoffer the greatest opportunities for the terrorists. The terrorists know thatAmericacannot be defeated militarily. Their target is psychological: America's resolve and the resolve of America's coalition allies. If they succeed, first in breaking the coalition allies' resolve, and later, America's resolve, extremists everywhere will rejoice and be emboldened. They will know that they can defeat even the world's mightiest nation. They will go on the offensive with renewed vigour. This is why it is so vital that, whatever the difficulties, the USand its allies do not waver in Iraqbut persevere to bring about a good outcome. Whatever the differences of views over America's actions in Iraq, Europe and the US must set aside pre-war recriminations, go beyond saying "I told you so", and work together with the UN to stabilise Iraq.

“The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was a hideous crime. It must be dealt with transparently and decisively. The guilty must be punished. But Abu Ghraib must not be allowed to cloud the central strategic issue that is at stake.

“The Middle Eastis also where USfriends and allies are most disquieted by America's seemingly unconditional support for Israel. I know this is a delicate issue. I know that whatever the criticisms of its policies, the USplays an irreplaceable role in stabilising the Middle East. But this is too important an issue to dress in diplomatic niceties. The USis essential to the solution but is also part of the problem. A more balanced and nuanced approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - an approach that recognises that there are equities and inequities on both sides - must become a central pillar of the global war against terrorism. Given the post- Cold War geopolitical battle against terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer just a regional problem. The Islamic terrorists know this. They have exploited this conflict to win sympathy and recruits for their own cause.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a rallying cause of terrorism. We know that a solution to it will not end terrorism, given the ideologically-driven motivations of the Al-Qaeda terrorists. But the discomfort that mainstream Muslims around the world feel with America's Middle Eastpolicies limits their ability to fight the ideological battle. Even the Europeans and other friends of the USwill be constrained to support the USin the fight against the terrorists. This weakens the US-led geopolitical struggle against terrorism.

[…]

“In Asia, as in Europe, unease with America's overwhelming global dominance is high. But Asiais more keenly aware than Europeof the vital role that the USplays in maintaining global stability. No matter what their misgivings, only a few Asian countries, and certainly no major USally, opposed the USon Iraq. There is a clearer appreciation in Asiathan in Europethat the fundamental issue in Iraqnow is the credibility and resolve of the US.

[12]“A Sea Change in Our Regional Engagement”, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2005.




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