Seeking Security under the Aegis of Two Great Powers: Singapore’s Defence Policy from 1965 to 1975

Author: Abdul Rahman Yaacob

Yaacob, Abdul Rahman, 2017 Seeking Security under the Aegis of Two Great Powers: Singapore’s Defence Policy from 1965 to 1975, Flinders University, School of History and International Relations

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Singapore’s separation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965 was a mutually agreed outcome after several secret negotiations between the political leaders from both states. Singapore, however, felt vulnerable against Malaysia and Indonesia, and this insecurity compelled it to look to extra-regional power for security. Singapore’s sense of vulnerability was framed by its security dilemma, which in turn was shaped by historical antagonism against Malaysia and Indonesia, along with Singapore’s singular status as a Chinese-majority country situated between two Malay-Muslim majority states. Applying small states security and security dilemma frameworks, this thesis explores Singapore’s reliance on two great powers, Britain and the United States (US), for security against external threats during the first ten years of its independence. Reviewing both primary and secondary sources, this thesis examines firstly the foundation of Singapore’s security dilemma against its two larger and ethnically different neighbouring states, and secondly its defence policy through the lens of diplomacy and deterrence. Singapore’s twin pillars of defence policy, diplomacy and deterrence, were shaped on the basis of close relations with Britain and the US. On the diplomatic front, Singapore navigated two contradictory policies at the onset of its independence - non-alignment and close relations with two great powers. While on the surface Singapore was seemed to be pursuing non-alignment as its foreign policy, greater weight was given to its relations with Britain and the US as they provided a more tangible security umbrella for the country. Britain had defended Singapore before and after its independence against an actual Indonesian military hostility, and also averted an impending Malaysian military intervention in the months after Singapore’s independence. Britain’s withdrawal from its bases in Singapore from 1968 to 1971 gave the impetus for Singapore to develop further its relations with the US. Through diplomacy, military relations with Britain however, continued beyond 1971 through the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), while at the same time its defence relations with the US was deepened. Strong diplomatic relations with the two great powers also gave strength to the second pillar of Singapore’s defence policy - deterrence. Both Britain and the US gave Singapore access to their military armaments and technology, which allowed the country to attain military superiority over Malaysia and Indonesia within ten years. By 1975, Singapore’s military strength gave its leaders the confidence to consider military intervention in Malaysia if there was a need to. This research concludes that the role of two great powers, Britain and US, was critical to the security of Singapore in the first ten years of its independence. The umbrella of security imparted by the great powers gave Singapore the time and resources to build up its defence capabilities to defend itself against external threats.

Keywords: Singapore, small states security, security dilemma, defence policy, great powers

Subject: International Relations thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2017
School: School of History and International Relations
Supervisor: A/P Michael Barr