Singapore’s future looked bleak when independence was foisted on it 50 years ago, but it overcame the odds and today is seen as a “safe haven”, said veteran diplomat Barry Desker in a book that was launched yesterday.
Despite the sea change, however, one thing will remain constant as the country heads into the next half-century, he added.
It is that the nation’s security challenges will be shaped by its location and the changing environment around it.
Some of these challenges include managing ties with Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as major power conflicts in the region, said Mr Desker, a distinguished fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
He made the point in an essay that looks at the decades ahead and which comes at the tail end of a 329-page book, Perspectives On The Security Of Singapore: The First Fifty Years.
The book of 19 essays by veteran diplomats and academics, including terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, was unveiled at the RSIS’ 17th Asia Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers.
Former president S R Nathan, who wrote on the use of defence and diplomacy in order to ensure Singapore’s security, also attended the event.
He wrote: “We have to make ourselves relevant to countries in the developed and developing world so that they have an interest in cooperating with us.”
Sharing the sentiment, Mr Desker wrote that Singapore’s influence extends beyond the region.
This is evident from its participation in multilateral military training exercises and support for the inclusion of major powers in Asia-Pacific institutions, he said.
Looking ahead to Singapore’s 100th birthday in 2065, he expects problems like terrorism to persist. A “critical priority”, he foresees, would be the maintenance of ties with Indonesia and Malaysia.
The past shows the two tend to be critical of Singapore when they face stress in their domestic politics or economies, he noted.
The countries also need to shift their mindset towards greater regional cooperation in an integrated economic zone, he added.
It will provide “scope for work, play and travel” for Singapore and its neighbours, and “freer two- way flow of people and ideas”.
Singapore’s leaders must also be more prepared to deal promptly with unexpected events, he said.
Mr Desker felt that the Government reacted too slowly to two such events: the problem of low birth rates and the backlash over immigration policies.
The book, published by World Scientific, is sold at major bookstores at $90.95 (with GST) for the hard cover and $38.52 (with GST) for the paperback.