Singapore Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Singapore is a nation in Southeastern Asia. Its capital city is Singapore. Singapore has long had a complicated relationship with Malaysia in the north, but relations have improved since Lee Hsien Loong became Singaporean Prime Minister in 2004. Previously strained relations with Indonesia in the south have also become warmer. Singapore has a close relationship with the United States, while contacts with China are good on the economic level but tense on the political.

singapore military spending and defense budget

Relationship with Malaysia has been complicated since Singapore left the neighboring country and became an independent nation in 1965. The proximity means that mutual dependence is great and cooperation exists in many areas. The security services of both countries have cooperated in the arrest of suspected terrorists. However, conflicts over, for example, water supply, passport control, territorial water boundary, airspace and bridges across the Johor Strait have caused irritation.

A meeting between Lee and Malaysia’s then Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in 2010 led, among other things, to a solution to the water problem and exchanged land areas were exchanged, which in turn laid the foundation for a common zone for passport control. However, the warmer relations became a thorn in 2013 when it emerged in leaked US intelligence documents that Singapore was intercepting the Malaysian telephone network.

Improved relations with Indonesia

After bad relations in the 1960s, when Indonesia strongly opposed the Federation with Malaysia, Singapore invested in developing good relations with the then Indonesian President Suharto. After Suharto’s fall in 1998, relations became worse again. One source of conflict was the lack of a foreign exchange agreement, which resulted in Singapore not disclosing corruption-accused Indonesian businessmen who fled to Singapore during the Asian crisis of 1997-1998. Indonesia, in turn, has not disclosed persons accused of terrorism.

Relations deteriorated in 2013 when it emerged in leaked US intelligence documents that Singapore was spying on Indonesia. In February 2014, Indonesia renamed two warships after Indonesian militias carried out a bomb attack in Singapore in 1965, which led to protests from Singapore.

Indonesia’s inability to put a stop to the forest fires that sometimes ravage within the country, and to the health-hazardous smoke that develops from these, has caused irritation in neighboring countries such as Singapore as the smoke spreads throughout the region.

Since Joko Widodo became president of Indonesia in 2014, relations have improved significantly. A border conflict has been resolved and collaborations have been deepened in trade, higher education, counter-terrorism and disaster preparedness. The countries are now also cooperating in the fight against smoke development from the Indonesian fires.

Singapore attaches great importance to cooperation with the other Southeast Asian countries within ASEAN. This cooperation is considered to create such cohesion between the countries that the existing political contradictions between them can be kept under control. During the 2010 century, the Asean countries created a common free trade area. The membership of Apec is also of great importance. In 1993, Apec established a permanent secretariat in Singapore.

China and the United States

Singapore established diplomatic relations with China in 1990. Singapore primarily sees China as a market for trade and investment, but it also sees concerns about China’s growing economic and military influence in Southeast Asia. Singapore has extensive bilateral relations with China, as well as cooperation through ASEAN. In 2008, the two countries signed a free trade agreement and they cooperate in infrastructure development. China is today Singapore’s largest trading partner. China, however, disapproves of Singapore’s good relations with Taiwan as well as Singapore’s military and security cooperation with the United States in Southeast Asia.

Singapore is investing in good relations with Europe and the United States, partly as a counterbalance to China and Japan’s influence in the region. Cooperation with the US is particularly important. But especially during the 1990s, the United States criticized the Singaporean government’s lack of respect for human rights. At the same time, the US military has access to facilities in Singapore for maintenance, and after the terrorist attacks against the US in 2001, security cooperation has been strengthened as part of the fight against terrorism.

During the Obama administration in the United States, relations were very good. Among other things, a decision was made to base four American warships in Singapore. The decision was seen as part of the US’s increased interest in Asia and was taken at a time when regional tensions in the South China Sea were strong. In 2004, the two countries signed a free trade agreement.

In 2017, Singapore suspended its trade relations with North Korea as part of the UN sanctions against the Pyongyang regime and its efforts to develop its nuclear arsenal. The initiative for the new sanctions was taken by the United States.


As a small, mainly Chinese, state surrounded by Malays and Muslims, Singapore feels security policy vulnerable. The country is investing heavily in a strong and modern defense. Military duty is mandatory for 24 months and annual training camps are conducted for reservists. Military exercises are done together with the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Cooperation between Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia since 2004, and with Thailand since 2005 and India since 2006, has led to virtually all piracy operations in the Strait of Malacca. It was previously a major regional security problem.

In 2015, Singapore signed an agreement with the United States on enhanced defense cooperation. The agreement was a result of rising tensions in the region over China’s territorial demands in the South China Sea. For the first time, the United States sent a spy plan to Singapore for a week.


Army: 50,000 men (2017)

The air Force: 13,500 men (2017)

The fleet: 9,000 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.3 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 17.2 percent (2017)