What is Singapore’s fundamental national interests? We ask ? Most other countries including our neighbors, have abundance of natural resources such as oil, gas, wood, minerals and land. We, Singapore have only our people and financial reserves. Therefore it is our national interest to maintained a financial stronghold to secure investor confidence and enhance our economic and social stability by discouraging others who have ill intend towards us and also with effective diplomacy through friendly relations and close cooperation with the regional and international community.
Identifying our national interest.
The fundamental national interests of Singapore would be the one of national security through financial security. However in order for us to achieve a strong financial reserve, diplomacy plays an important role..”No one can predict times of crises. So, although some people have questioned the need to maintain large reserves, we believe that it is necessary to not only maintain, but indeed grow our reserves. We accumulate as much reserves as we can afford to during periods of strong economic growth, so that we will always be prepared.”1 With good diplomacy will in turn  provide a strong and stable economy to the country by drawing investors all over the world. Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said ” We had one simple guiding principle for survival, that Singapore had to be more rugged, better organised and more efficient then others in the region.” if not there is no reason for others to base here in Singapore. Therefore we had to make it possible and better then our neighbouring countries to attract investors to operate successfully and profitable despite our lack in natural resources. Through friendly relations and close cooperation with the regional and international community, we can be internationally recognize as credible, principled and constructive. We had strong and friendly relations with our neighbors, ASEAN countries and key regional players e.g. US, China, India, and Japan. We , continued to explore new avenues of cooperation and keep relations stable through various ways such as, DCA (Defence Cooperation Agreement), providing HADR (Humanitarian assistance Disaster Relief) to disaster hit countries.
Continuing effort have been put in for deeper engagement with emerging markets including India, middle east etc. This outreach effort were made to expand Singapore’s international space.
“Singapore will always be more rather than less dependent on external demands, as her small size limits the scope for domestic demand, it has no natural endowment, the only resources it can create are financial and human capital that can grow with wealth accumulation and recruitment of foreign experts”2
The government has also created 2 companies to manage the reserve and they are GIC (Government of Singapore Investment Corporation) and Temasek Holding. They are in-charge of management and growth of the reserves. “The government’s reserves are managed mainly by the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings. Whilst GIC’s investments are all made overseas, Temasek invests mostly in Singaporean companies.”3
It is noted that certain fundamentals have been constantly followed, such as interdependency of stability, security and prosperity. Therefore it is imperative for Singapore to achieve economic growth and prosperity. Without economic security, its position as an independent nation can be easily undermined.
This aims particularly at fostering a relationship with neighboring countries, base on open and frank communication”, Singapore has used diplomacy not only to encourage a favorable regional trading regime, which it sees as vital for East Asia’s peace as well as prosperity.”4 The government in protecting our national interest has to gear it policies toward promoting economic development, achieving prosperity and protecting it process of nation building. Today policy requires us ensure a economic prosperity for the nation with improving assets and bargaining position. Our leaders since independence has gathered experience in dealing with diplomacy ” By 1965, having enjoyed six years in government, Prime minster Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues were highly attuned to international cross-current, skilled in  diplomacy on an informal level, and had seized available diplomatic opportunities” 5 . A ministry was set up right after Singapore had declared his independence. From the time Singapore became an independent country , it has changes it strategy for an effective foreign policy, thus far achieving it goals of economic prosperity. We had a long history since then, having participate Trade and goodwill mission, making Trade agreements with other countries especially those that are close to us. Singapore has been at the cross-roads of international trade and commerce due to its geographical location. This has enable us to create a good linkages with Europe, India, China and America. So long there is stability, security and prosperity within our borders and maintaining close ties and harmonious relationship with our neighboring countries our foreign policy would be a successful one in protecting Singapore national interest. With the uniqueness of our country, our government demonstrated to us that it is working in the best interests of the nation, that will remain clean and non-corrupt, promoting a pro-business environment for businesses to flourish, this close partnership will remain strong.” It is well recognized that Singapore’s economic success is built on the global economy. What is not recognized is that the global economy is the foundation of its national security as well”6.
As mention, Singapore’s national security relies much on the global economy. Therefore careful steps in foreign relations and ‘defense diplomacy’ is put in place to safeguard our national interest. Back in “21 September 1965, Singapore was officially admitted into the United Nations (UN) as its 117th member when it was merely six weeks old. Joining the international organization was crucial step for Singapore to safeguard its sovereignty through collective security.”7 Singapore had defense relation with this countries: Israel ( providing training to SAF soldiers, defense equipment and technology). Taiwan ( providing army training ground ), FPDA ( defense relations), Australia, New Zealand and United States just to name a few. Singapore needs external support for the nations security,with the inability of ASEAN to promote our military or economic security, we are left with one option “security through participation in global economy”. We invite foreign participation into our economy, “it created stakes for external powers to protect Singapore in order to protect their own economic interests.”8. Therefore Singapore has adopted a structure of Economic development and national security goes hand in hand, while other country view it as a threat to their sovereignty with foreign investment, we sees it as  a source for reducing vulnerability. With rapid growth in economy means  big money for defense expenditures, the expenditure enable us to acquire some of the latest military equipments. Its air force has aircraft, missile and radar systems which are unmatched in the region. 9 . It is clear that in-order for Singapore to reduce vulnerability in South East Asia, we must open up our economy to the western trade and investment.
Alternative fundamental national interest
Total defense – Stopping threats right from the start with a deterrent capability. This in turn would help to covers Singapore internal security while our external security is tie to our open economy. The Total defense which comprise of 5 elements, there are : Military defense, Social defense, Economic defense, Civil defense and Psychological defense. Each is responsible by a government department.
Emphasis was place in total defense by the country to promote deterrences. Total defense awareness was disseminated to the public via various means such as through radian and TV media, news letters etc. Psychological defense (Pd) comes about due to the uniqueness of Singapore population with various descendent’s from other parts of Asia. Pd emphasis on harnessing a collective will of Singaporean to stand up for their rights and protect what is theirs. In order to do this holistically, a National Education (NE) programme is created to bring fore this message.
Singapore is our homeland. This is where we belong
Singapore is worth defending. We want to keep our heritage and our way of life.
Singapore can be defended. United, determined and well-prepared we shall fight for the safety of our homes and the future of our families and children.
We must ourselves defend Singapore No one else is responsible for our security.
We can deter others from attacking us. With Total defense, we can live in peace.” ibid 13-14
Social defense works in tandem with Pd, both defenses is to link all differences ( ethnic, religious cultural) as one, and to build a multi racial, multi cultural society. Civil defense is created to protect civilian lives, minimize damage to infra during the time of war. This would send a clear signal to the front line soldiers that their family is been taken care off during the time of war.
Military defense is the core to the TD in providing deterrence and its capability in defeating its enemy if deterrence fail. 6% of our country GDP goes into the defense budget. This in turn would allow the SAF to acquire latest technology and increase its military capability.
Singapore is a small country with no natural resources. It achieved independence in 1965, at which time it had a population of 1.9 million and growing at a rate of 2.5% per annum, The economy was highly dependent on opening up its economy to foreign investors and trade. Our fundamental national interest would the national security through financial securities. In order achieve that, defense diplomacy and foreign relations plays a big part.
With foreign relation strengthen and foreign investors flocking into Singapore with faith and trust, this itself prove to be a deterrence to any ills intends towards Singapore as foreign investors is still also interested in protecting their asset here. Thereby providing a win-win situation.
In order for foreign investor to feel safe, Singapore had embark in various HADR missions to prove our worth, taking active interest in global affairs, engaging those who are friendly to us and stand up to our believes. We had many bi / multi lateral defense exercises with many countries to prove our good relation with them. We had prove to them a good leadership to protect our national interest, high standards of government, optimization of our limited resources, large international space and long term vision. We enjoy good relations with all the key powers, participate activety in ASEAN, APEC and other regional forums. These are important platforms to strengthen co-operation n management of conflicts
Therefore with strong economic, brings along strong financial, in-turn provide a security blanket to the nation.