Only at its 50th year, Singapore has been through roller coaster ride, having had confrontations with superpowers, lobbied for sanctions, and enjoyed warming ties with neighbours. I argue Singapore’s foreign policy must always be exceptional for success. Exceptionalism – defined vis-à-vis theories on the limited nature of small state behaviour – entails actions contrary to these expectations, possibly demanding small states’ deliberate, proactive and tactful pursuit of influence and clout. Intrinsic and unique challenges of Singapore’s foreign policy – which are coloured by structural disadvantages of small states – relative to its objectives which these difficulties inhibit the pursuit of, require it always be exceptional to close this gap. Firstly, a challenge is how, due to its size, it faces vulnerabilities and the risk of irrelevance to other powers. Secondly, its hostile geopolitical environment unfriendly to small states forms the ongoing backdrop its external affairs. Thirdly, due to its domestic developmental model’s outward orientation, it needs to interact and assert itself in a foreign policy biased against small states. These foreign policy challenges impede successful achievement of its objectives, the maintenance of sovereignty, and the procurement of needs for its society’s prosperity, which require advancement of economic and political goals in the international realm. To resolve tensions between these paradoxical challenges and objectives, Singapore cannot fall short of exceptionalism. Moreover, it appears to lack viable alternatives to exceptionalism. While strategic resources, Great Powers links and use of multilateral institutions may allow it to bypass small state weaknesses, they fail to provide complete relief, and Singapore still continually runs into problems arising from its size.
Small state foreign policy exceptionalism
To discern what constitutes small state exceptionalism, I consult literature on small state power. Realists see power as derivative of land area, population size, resources and military might . Small states – naturally faltering in these criterions – wield limited power in international affairs. East purports they would be minor players in world politics, have limited goals, be subordinated to Great Powers, and be more reactive versus proactive . Many small states, like Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Central Asian countries states conform to such behaviour. Exceptionalism thus refers to action beyond these expectations of small state behaviour.
The need for exceptionalism
Singapore encounters foreign policy challenges by virtue of its size, facing inherent vulnerabilities that endanger its survival and battling the risk of irrelevance in international politics, which imply its interests may not be considered in the world stage. Thus, for success, Singapore’s foreign policy must always be exceptional. As a small state, Singapore faces threats to its viability. Larger powers attack its...