Thoughts : Singapore (Foreign Policy) : Our Government’s Pragmatic and Unprincipled Choice

Mr Tan Tarn How (“No sign of Iraqi weapons: How now, Singapore?”, ST, 7 Jun) is quite right to question the Singapore Government on its support for the Iraq war now that one major justification for such a US-led war is showing to have weak foundations. We deserve an explanation from our government if no Weapons of Mass Destruction are found. Though I don’t think we’re ever going to get a satisfactory one or that our government would apologize for our mistake if truly we were wrong in supporting America.

I doubt many thinking Singaporeans seriously believed that our government’s support for the war was based on principles, morality or legality – despite what it says. After all, most people against the war, like myself, oppose it precisely because of those reasons. The Singapore government supported the war because as a small country, we need the help and favor of the most powerful country in the world – military, in times of need, and economically, through the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). It’s as simple as that.

Let’s face it. It’s all about survival. It’s about power politics. It’s about pragmatism, not principles; being realistic, not idealistic. Our international relations and foreign affairs will probably always be such as long as we face the limits of being a small, vulnerable country. Unless we as a nation are willing to sacrifice our military and economic security in many ways in order to put truth and morality first, our leaders will forever be led to place morality and principles on the sidelines and suck up to those who can help us in the name of national interest – i.e. pragmatic interests of economic and military security.

By saying all this, I am not agreeing with our government’s pragmatic and unprincipled pro-war policy. I am against it. But I do so also knowing that I would be willing to live in a country that, through placing principles and morality above pragmatism, may face less economic and military security. Pursuing truth and justice will entail sacrifice. In a sense, nice guys finish last. If we want to be a nation that stands up for justice and truth in this world, very often that would mean going against powerful interests of powerful nations. We will suffer in the end though being true to our good values and principles. But are we willing to do this as a nation? As long as Singaporeans are not willing to give up placing our well-being first, we can’t expect a government who represents the majority of the people to choose morality over the prosperity..

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