Singapores Foreign Policy Based More Upon Soft Power Politics Essay

In his paper published in 2007, “ The Military and Small States: The function of difficult power in Singapore ‘s Domestic and Foreign Policy ” , Bilveer made the undermentioned concluding comments:

“ aˆ¦it is extremely likely that Singapore will go on to put in difficult power, particularly military power while supplementing it with soft power. In short, as a little province, difficult power will stay Singapore ‘s pillar and nucleus resources in heightening its security with soft power being applied when and where applicable. ”[ 1 ]

What Bilveer, in his article, was touching to suggests that Singapore ‘s foreign policy is centred around a primary focal point on difficult power, followed by a secondary accent on soft power as a auxiliary tool. If the footing for Singapore ‘s foreign policy was so to be measured in footings of its focal point and precedences, it would so look, based on Bilveer ‘s base, that it is based more upon difficult power than soft.

Harmonizing to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the cardinal rules of Singapore ‘s foreign policy provinces, “ We need to keep a believable and deterrent military defense mechanism to underpin our foreign policy. ”[ 2 ]This seems to repeat Bilveer ‘s point of view, that the precedence in our foreign policy is first and foremost focused on a strong hindrance force, which is viewed as a beef uping tool to better back up the other cardinal rules, which are mostly based upon soft power.[ 3 ]

Whilst grounds therefore far seems to tilt towards the point of view that Singapore ‘s foreign policy is so based or centred on the rule of difficult power, farther visible radiation on the statement is shed with a quotation mark from Ganesan below:

“ For a little province like Singapore, guaranting endurance, both in a physical and economic sense, has been particularly important. ”[ 4 ]

In the sixtiess, Singapore was confronting critical issues of endurance, due to her size and geographical location, and the menaces were so at hand that its foreign policy was entirely centred on the basic function of endurance. The resulting impact on the nature of the foreign policy ‘s cardinal rule would intelligibly leverage to a great extent with the accent on difficult power.

This suggests there is a greater implicit in rule which Singapore ‘s foreign policy is based on. It changes the statement of whether it is merely based upon more difficult power or soft power.

It suggests that it is, in existent fact, based upon the issue of endurance.

However, as with the nature of little provinces, this cardinal rule behind Singapore ‘s foreign policy was non lasting and started to switch in its focal point.[ 5 ]Get downing from the mid 1980s, the accent in foreign policy evolved from endurance to regionalism.[ 6 ]With greater stableness shown in the part in the post-Cold War epoch, Singapore re-anchored her accent to diplomatic negotiations relationship edifice, most significantly in her determination non to trust on any remarkable power but to be a member of ASEAN. Gradually, Singapore ‘s foreign policy concerns besides branched towards internationalism or globalization, as Singapore plays a more active function in the international scene, both economically and politically.

With the focal point shifted to globalization, Singapore ‘s foreign policy henceforth manifested in concrete actions stemming from difficult power to more soft power. The principle for the alteration can be explained with this statement from the former Defense Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, in March 1988:

“ Deterrence entirely can non continue or guarantee the peace and stableness we enjoy continues. To hold permanent peace, there must be common involvement and understanding based on common regard, balanced forces, intertwined involvements and shared fate. ”[ 7 ]

This paper will now continue to specify and analyze the assorted types of powers, every bit good as supplying an overview on Singapore ‘s beginnings of exposures, which led to the cardinal rule her foreign policy is based upon. After which, the paper will supply an elaborate analysis of Singapore ‘s foreign policies to show the claim that Singapore ‘s foreign policy uses more soft power than difficult power.


Harmonizing to Raghavan, power refers to “ the ability to act upon the behavior of others to accomplish the results one desire through coercion, incentive or attractive force ” .[ 8 ]

In his book “ Bound to Lead: the Changing Nature of American Power ”[ 9 ], Joseph Nye introduced the impression of soft power. In his sentiment,

“ Soft power is the ability to acquire what you want by pulling and carrying others to follow your ends. It differs from difficult power, the ability to utilize the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to do others follow your will. Both difficult and soft power is importantaˆ¦ but attractive force is much cheaper than coercion, and an plus that needs to be nourished. ”[ 10 ]

The cardinal difference between the two types of power ballad in the manner they achieve a province ‘s end. Difficult power involves utilizing of force or coercion whereas soft power attempts to accomplish its ends by determining behaviors via persuasion.

The employment of military and economic might to coerce others to act in a certain mode is normally associated with difficult power, whereas soft power emanate from “ a province ‘s civilization ( in topographic points where it is attractive to others ) , its political values ( where it lives up to them at place and abroad ) and its foreign policies ( where they are seen legitimate and holding moral authorization ” .[ 11 ]

Before looking at Singapore ‘s Foreign Policy, it is of import to understand the history of Singapore in order to better appreciate how these policies come about. The following section will supply a brief overview of the beginning and bequest of exposure of Singapore.


Looking at the province of Singapore today, one may be clueless about the journey her initiation leaders have undergone since her disconnected independency ; the exposure that the Singapore as a little Chinese-majority state faced when sandwiched between two big Muslim states and the exposures and challenges that they have to get the better of.

In his address to Singapore Press Club on 15 November 1988, former Foreign Minister Wong Kan Seng issued a reminder that:

The exposure of little provinces is a fact of life. Singapore independency being is today widely recognised. But to guarantee our basic security, we can ne’er let trials to our sovereignty and internal personal businesss, even when well-meaning, to travel undisputed. Even today, we have had on occasion to remind other states to go forth us entirely to be ourselves.[ 12 ]

Indeed, Singapore ‘s exposure is rooted in both geostrategic and historical factors. Leifer, in his book “ Singapore ‘s Foreign Policy: Coping with Vulnerability ” highlighted three exposures, i.e. the size of Singapore, being a Chinese-majority province sandwiched between two big Muslim neighbors with which Singapore has ne’er been politically comfy with. In add-on, there were besides concerns in Singapore that these neighbors have ne’er come to footings with its separate sovereignty.[ 13 ]

Singapore is a little island which lacks natural resources, other than seaports and human resource, and a backwoods to back up its population. With no natural resource, Singapore depended significantly on transshipment center for economic endurance. Her dependence on the outside universe was unwanted. The littleness of the island, merely about 700 square kilometers, makes it a vulnerable island to support.

The presence of Chinese-majority Singapore between the two really much larger Malay neighbours is like a ‘juicy Chinese nut in a Malay nutcracker ‘ .[ 14 ]This analogy competently illustrated the force per unit area Singapore is confronting with these two states. While such boundary line force per unit areas are common to many states, they are peculiarly disputing to Singapore given that Singapore is merely a fraction of the size of Indonesia and Malaysia. In add-on, as Singapore besides has a important minority cultural Malay population, the administration of this cultural minority has to be treated with the extreme sensitiveness since her neighbors are politically dominated by the Malay-Muslims. Muslim ethnicity is a job due to the potency of cultural jingoism in the part. Besides, cultural issues can be manipulated due to jealousy refering Singapore ‘s advancement. All these developments can endanger Singapore ‘s security.[ 15 ]


In Rajaratnam ‘s sentiment, there are two ways in which one can abstract a state ‘s foreign policy – ( 1 ) by the statements of rules and aims advocated by her leaders, or ( 2 ) by abstracting them from the concrete determinations and actions taken by a state on a specific international issue. In short, there is a foreign policy of words of rules, and there is besides a foreign policy of workss.[ 16 ]

Harmonizing to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the cardinal rules of Singapore ‘s foreign policy ( words of rules ) are as follows:

As a little province, Singapore has no semblances about the province of our part or the universe.

We need to keep a believable and deterrent military defense mechanism to underpin our foreign policy.

We must advance and work for good dealingss with our neighbors in all domains.

We are friends with all those who wish to be friends with us.

We stand by our friends who have stood by us in times of demand.

We to the full back up and are committed to ASEAN.

We work to keep a secure and peaceable environment in and around Southeast Asia and in the Asia Pacific part.

We must work to keep a free and unfastened many-sided trading system.

We are ready to merchandise with any province for common benefit and will keep an unfastened market economic system.

We will back up and be active in international administrations such as the UN.[ 17 ]

Based on the publically stated policies, Singapore ‘s precedence lies in the defense mechanisms of its territoriality and sovereignty, keeping positive relationship through good neighbor policy, publicity of trade and agreement relating to it, and support for international administrations.

By simply looking at the cardinal rules of Singapore ‘s foreign policy, one could easy presume that Singapore foreign policy is based more upon soft power instead than difficult power. Why so? Simply because amongst the 10 rules stated above, constructing believable defense mechanism capableness for disincentive every bit good as protect its sovereignty is the closest it gets to Nye ‘s definition of difficult power.

While Nye mentioned that economic might is another beginning of difficult power, it is non the instance in Singapore ‘s context. The ground is simple – Singapore does non hold any natural resource, other than her human resource.

The other cardinal rules stated above appear that they could merely be pursued through relationship edifice, i.e. soft power.

Before leaping directly into decision based on its foreign policy of words of rules, the following subdivision will analyze her foreign policy of workss to find if so her foreign policy are based more upon soft than difficult power.


Hard Power – Building Credible Military Capability

Given her defense mechanism exposure, the Singapore authorities has ever emphasized the importance of military power for endurance and security. From the minute Singapore was thrown out from Malaysia in August 1965, our establishing leaders had decided that military power had to be the key to guaranting its security. Hence, on Singapore ‘s first twenty-four hours as an independent province, its Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, expressed this in the undermentioned footings:

“ aˆ¦ to last, we must be certain that we can non be merely over-run or invaded by ground forcess or knocked out by projectiles. We must hold the capacity to defy invasion and to name on friends who will be ready to assist us if we are invaded. In other words, we must hold the capacity to forestall a successful invasion. ”[ 18 ]

Since so, the Singapore Armed Forces ( SAF ) , has evolved enormously over the past 40 old ages. It has evolved from a military force with mostly inherited and adapted engineerings, and operating and organizational constructs from other military traditions into 1 that is able to make its ain engineerings, runing and organizational constructs in order to remain relevant in an progressively complex security environment.

Not merely has Singapore modernised her military forces, her military capableness were unmatched in the Southeast Asia part. Defence budgets are considerable for a little size like Singapore as compared to her neighbors.

The tabular array below show the Singapore ‘s Military Budget since 1996 to 2006. Singapore ‘s committedness towards military defense mechanism can be seen during the Asiatic Financial Crisis – Singapore was the lone state in the part whose defense mechanism budget did non shrivel despite the crisis.

























*Billions Dollars US

Table 1. Singapore ‘s Military Budget 1996-2006[ 19 ]

Such military development has discomforted her nearest neighbor and left them inquiring if the Singapore requires such a formidable force simply for disincentive or otherwise. Bing a realist at bosom, Singapore would go on to modernize her military force, so as to supply her with the sense of security that she needed in the Muslim part.

However, while Singapore possesses such believable difficult power, is she willing to exert it? It seems improbable. Equally far as Singapore is concerned, a war declared would be a entire war – one where the full state would be mobilized to protect the state. Given that the bets are high and effects could be dire, it is improbable that Singapore would exert this power, unless she had exhausted every other possible agencies.

Given that she has built such believable force, does SAF serves as an effectual disincentive? Equally much as we would wish to presume so, the absence of war is non a placeholder to effectual disincentive. Unfortunately we are unable to cognize if disincentive is effectual, we merely know when it is non, i.e. when war breaks out.

Soft Power through Armed Forces

While SAF has non exert her difficult power, she has been puting on her soft power. Singapore has several military understandings with her strategic spouses. This includes the Five Power Defence Agreement ( FPDA ) , affecting Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia and UK. She besides had many bilateral defense mechanism understandings with states such as US, Indonesia, Israel, UK and Australia.[ 20 ]

The SAF ‘s engagement in Peacekeeping Missions such as East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq are besides going more common these yearss. All these are Singapore ‘s soft power scheme to execute her function as a responsible member of the international communities.

Soft Power in International Relationship

A recent illustration of Singapore ‘s Foreign Policy soft power in action is apparent from the manner the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ( MFA ) dealt with the Rumanian Government.

Mr Silviu Ionescu, who was Bucharest ‘s charge d’affaires in Singapore so, was alleged to hold hit three walkers in December 2010 while driving a auto belonging to the Rumanian mission. Three yearss subsequently, Mr Lonescu left for Rome and had refused to return to Singapore for the enquiry.

In April 2010, Singapore medical examiner ‘s tribunal ruled that Ionescu was driving the auto involved in the accident. As there is no extradition pact between the two states, MFA issued statements in her effort to act upon the Rumanian authorities to carry Ionescu to return to confront the charges based on moral duty.

“ The Rumanian authorities must in its ain involvements guarantee that justness was served and seen to be served aˆ¦ Otherwise, there would necessarily be effects for bilateral dealingss. ” a spokesman said in a statement.[ 21 ]

Soft Power – Deciding Ownership of Pedra Branca Through International Court of Justice[ 22 ]

The colony of the 29-year territorial difference between Singapore and Malaysia through International Court of Justice exemplify Singaporean Government ‘s finding in utilizing soft power to decide international relationship issue.

The territorial difference began in 1979 when a new Malayan map claimed the Pedra Branca Island, which had been occupied by Singapore since the 1840s. Since so, there were bilateral dialogues but there was no advancement in making a consensus. In fact, the dialogue drew tensenesss between the two states on several occasions.[ 23 ]

In her effort to forestall farther harm to the bilateral relationship with her close neighbour, Singapore suggested to settle the issue through ICJ in 1998.

On 23 May 2008, the ICJ ruled that the Republic of Singapore has sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh. The ICJ determination besides ended the 29-years territorial difference[ 24 ];

Soft Power – Towards Self Sufficient Water Supply

For a water-scarce province like Singapore, the issue of H2O supply has been a sensitive 1 in her dealing with her close neighbour – Malaya. Since their acrimonious separation in 1965, the two states have had periodic bilateral crisis[ 25 ]and the menace of cutting H2O supplies frequently surface when there were dissensions and tensenesss.[ 26 ]

From the Singapore positions, the H2O difference is non about money. Rather, the root of the difference concerns Singapore ‘s being as a autonomous province, i.e. “ if the footings of the Water Agreements can be changed by Malaysia at will, so Singapore ‘s independency excessively could be called into inquiry ” .[ 27 ]

In 1998, a joint enterprise between the Public Utilities Board ( PUB ) and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources ( MEWR ) was commissioned to look for alternate H2O beginning to cut down its dependance on neighbouring Malaysia for its H2O supply.[ 28 ]This enterprise aims to cut down Singapore ‘s trust on Malaysia “ to take the sensitive issue of H2O out of the equation of bilateral dealingss ” to enable the two states to ”focus on reciprocally good cooperation. ”[ 29 ]

With the official gap of SEMBCORP ‘s NeWater Plant on 3 May 2010, Senior Minister Gog Chok Tong announced that Singapore will non be regenerating the first of Singapore ‘s Water Agreement with Malaysia in 2011. He besides added that by 2061, when the 2nd Water Agreement expires, Singapore would hold been wholly self sufficient.[ 30 ]

The gap of the NeWater Plant is a important milepost for Singapore. It is our soft power scheme to ( 1 ) nullify Malaysia ‘s menace to cut off H2O supply in future bilateral dialogues, and ( 2 ) become non merely a leader in large-scale H2O reuse but besides an international illustration for public instruction on H2O reuse.[ 31 ]

Soft Power – Making friends through Singapore Model of Development

In his article ‘The Foreign Policy Potential of “ Small State Soft Power ” Information Strategies ‘[ 32 ], Alan Chong argued that soft power could be used as “ the extension of little province capablenesss and the medium for practical expansion ” . In his sentiment, the little province ‘s foreign policy setup may possess among its human resources, rational and propagandistic accomplishments that are disproportional to its physical size.

Singapore, in his position, derived her soft power through the publicity of national political economic system potency through the “ Singapore Model of Development ( SMD ) ” .[ 33 ]The SMD, harmonizing to Professor Quah, had nine elements:

Promotion of economic development ;

Satisfaction of the population ‘s demands ;

Minimization of corruptness ;

Investing in instruction ;

Emphasis on a meritocracy ;

Care of racial harmoniousness ;

Learning from others ;

Rejection of the public assistance province ; and

Adoption of a comprehensive attack to controling offense.[ 34 ]

Harmonizing to Chong, SMD is a signifier of soft power.[ 35 ]The employment of soft power through SMD has been instead successful. China and Vietnam have adopted the holistic SMD for their industrial park undertakings. Vietnam has adopted it in her governmental reform every bit good.

The segmented formal version of the SMD has besides gained much popularity since 1992 when the Singapore Cooperation Program ( SCP ) was formalised.[ 36 ]This has enhanced Singapore ‘s standing amongst the Southern African provinces. The public-service corporation of SCP were besides acknowledged by the Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian and Afghan functionaries. London Mayor Ken Livingstone besides openly credited Singapore as an inspiration for his execution of the vehicular toll zone in cardinal London in 2004.[ 37 ]

Soft Power – The Power of Reciprocation

The Singapore Government, in my sentiment, is a strong truster of the power of reciprocation – “ that we are obligated to future refund of favors, gifts, invitation, and the similar ” .[ 38 ]She is actively puting on her “ soft power ” by seeking closer friendly relationship with close neighbors, every bit good as those beyond Southeast Asia.

Operation FLYING EAGLE[ 39 ], Singapore ‘s prompt part to affected states ( Indonesia and Thailand ) devastated by the powerful temblor and tsunami in 2004 around the rim of the Indian Ocean was another illustration of Singapore ‘s soft power in action.

When the catastrophe happened, the SAF moved fleetly into action and launched Operation FLYING EAGLE. Relief squads were deployed within 24 hours into the Indonesia. “ Singapore was the first to set down deliverance forces and deployed its armed forces to help in the deliverance and recovery of lives ” .[ 40 ]

While some commented Singapore ‘s actions were selfless, Bilveer opined that Singapore did what she did merely because she had no option than to supply aid since she is the lone province amongst its immediate neighbors that was non affected by the tsunami.[ 41 ]

Regardless, Singapore ‘s alleviation attempt during the catastrophe is believed to hold reaped positive effects. These were apparent through the remarks given by the states we have helped.

“ When your people arrived, it lifted our liquors. We knew that we were no longer entirely. ”

– Col Geerhan Lantara, TNI Commander in Meulaboh.[ 42 ]

“ The Thai people profoundly appreciate the warm gesture and sort aid rendered to the victims of the natural catastrophe in south Thailand by Your Excellency and the people of Singapore. ”

– Hydrogen M King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, 17 January 2005.[ 43 ]

While the SAF formed the chief majority of the resources deployed into the affected countries, forces from the Home Team and voluntaries besides participated actively in the making out to our close neighbors. The episode demonstrated the spirit of all Singaporean as they reached out across the ocean to assist.

The 1997-99 Asiatic Financial Crisis was another illustration of Singapore ‘s soft power in action. While Singapore managed to undergo the crisis comparatively good, the remainder of the states such as Indonesia and Thailand in the part were severely affected. During the crisis, Singapore leveraged on her soft power to back up her troubled neighbor.

Singapore supported Thailand and Indonesia by lending US $ 1 billion and US $ 5 one million millions severally to the deliverance bundle drawn by the IMF for the two states.

In add-on, she spoke to President Clinton, on behalf for Thailand, on the state of affairs in Southeast Asian. Soon after, the US declared that Thailand economic system recovery attempts were heading “ the right way ”[ 44 ]and thereby hiking foreign investing back into Thailand.

For Indonesia ‘s instance, in add-on to her part to IMF, Singapore besides supported the rupiah through intercession by the Monetary Authority of Singapore ( MAS ) in foreign exchange markets. Over and above these enterprises, the Singaporean Government farther drew up “ a US $ 20 billion many-sided export recognition warrant strategy to enable Indonesian houses to prolong imports of natural stuffs ” .[ 45 ]


Singapore ‘s engagement to execute mediatory functions within international establishments is one of her avenues to exert soft power.

“ Singapore ‘s engagement in the initiation of the Association of the Southeast Asia Nations ( ASEAN ) is intended to “ socialize ” its neighbors into a diplomatic civilization of fall backing chiefly to peace declaration of differences, or at least to their Pacific delay, pending declaration ” .[ 46 ]

Soft Power through Free Trade Agreements

Singapore besides adopted a soft power scheme in the trading sphere. As a province without natural resources, trade is the life-blood of Singapore. We are wholly trade dependant on nutrient energy, natural stuffs and external market. Since the early yearss of our independency, Singapore has sought to pull transnational corporations to put in Singapore.

Singapore ‘s aspiration to do friends all over the universe through free trade treaties has been extremely successful.

“ FTAs are superhighways that connect Singapore to major economic systems and new markets. With FTAs, Singapore-based exporters and investors stand to bask a myriad of benefits like duty grants, discriminatory entree to certain sectors, faster entry into markets and Intellectual Property ( IP ) protection ” .[ 47 ]

“ Since the sign language of her first FTA under the ASEAN Free Trade Area ( AFTA ) in 1993, Singapore ‘s web of FTAs has expanded to cover 18 regional and bilateral FTAs with 24 merchandising spouses. Singapore ‘s FTAs have been instrumental in assisting Singapore-based concerns strengthen cross-border trade by extinguishing or cut downing import duty rates, supplying discriminatory entree to services sectors, easing investing regulations, bettering rational belongings ordinances, and opening authorities procurance chances ” .[ 48 ]


“ aˆ¦Because Singapore is a little province, because it has an unfastened economic system, soft power schemes are in many ways an imperative – non an option. We do non hold plenty difficult power and we can non utilize our military readily without terrible effects. We must deploy soft power on a regular footing, and use difficult power, evidently merely as a last resort. ”[ 49 ]

Dr. Tan Tay Keong, during a talk at Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy, Tel Aviv University, November 2005.

Dr Tan ‘s statement basically reiterated Singapore ‘s exposures as a little province, and so, because of these really exposures, Singapore ‘s foreign policy is chiefly based on get the better ofing them. The implicit in rule the policy is based on may germinate from security issues to regionalism to globalization and more, but it is of import to recognize the contributing ground behind them remains unchanged.

No affair whether current or dated, the exposures Singapore face will go on to be or manifest in different signifiers, i.e. economical fight, regional struggles and uncertainnesss of balance of power internationally. The exposures, and entirely this, will find the type of power its foreign policy demands to subscribe to in order to last.