Rational and pragmatic foreign policy does not mean it always works

ringsei wrote a blog post titled Sg’s Myanmar policy is rational and pragmatic. It was a pretty accurate articulation of Singapore’s foreign policy, particularly towards Myanmar:

Other than a statement and a letter, there really is nothing much Singapore can do since ‘we have very little leverage over the internal development there.’ Bearing in mind the above definition of pragmatism [doing what works; where what = x; when x = nothing], doing nothing is pragmatic.

Therefore, based on the three assumptions above, Singapore’s foreign policy towards Myanmar is rational and pragmatic. Such policy may be morally bankrupt and abhorrent but it is still rational and pragmatic.

Here is my response:

As a former MFA officer (writing in my personal capacity), I’m cautiously supportive of pragmatic foreign policy. Yes we should do what works. But pragmatism has been used to support every policy made by our Govt — moral or not, working or not. “Pragmatism” led us to admit Myanmar to Asean. “Pragmatism” guided our failed policy of constructive engagement of the military junta.

Yes, I support a rational and pragmatic foreign policy. I also support foreign policy that works. Our Myanmar policy has not worked. Therefore the pragmatic response would be to change that policy.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

4 thoughts on “Rational and pragmatic foreign policy does not mean it always works”

  1. Pragmatism can never be the final guiding arbiter of foreign policy, or for that matter anything we do. That will be very very myopic. Instead universal and international rules and standards of right and wrong must be the deciding criteria of our actions. To not realise this is being very very myopic, and will hurt us in the long run if it hasn’t already.

    For us, we have already gone down the slippery slope. But it is never too late to “u turn” and do the right thing.

  2. Yes. Everyone makes mistakes even PAP but they’ve trying to portray themselves as infallible. In my opinion, the pragmatic approach to this matter is certainly not desirable.

  3. anon – agree with you. “Pragmatism can never be the final guiding arbiter of foreign policy, or for that matter anything we do.”

    sophie – thanks for the previous link.

    james – In many ways, ‘pragmatism’ has become the de facto ideology for our govt.

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