pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Pragmatic and Principled – U.S.-Singapore Relations as a Model Partnership in the Indo-Pacific

Issues & Insights Vol. 21 SR4, pp. 1 – 4

About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.- Singapore Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy Singapore. With backgrounds from academia, public policy, civil society and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Singapore relationship. Between September 2020 and August 2021, cohort members engaged with senior experts and practitioners as they developed research papers addressing various aspects of the bilateral relationship.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its staff, donors and sponsors.


The U.S.-Singapore strategic partnership is often described as a model for the region. Indeed, for 55 years, the United States and Singapore have developed close economic links, strong military ties, and growing people-to-people trust. The tiny island city-state has been commonly labeled as the most steadfast American ‘ally’ in Southeast Asia, the absence of a formal mutual defense pact notwithstanding. But what underpins the vibrant and mutually beneficial U.S.-Singapore relations? Academic and policy literature mostly point to America’s ‘access’ requirements in Southeast Asia, and Singapore’s size constraints and location as mutually reinforcing determinants. Yet, a closer look at how the relationship has progressed over the past five decades would reveal that the partnership is more than just geography and convenience. It is ‘pragmatic’ –prioritizing functional cooperation consequential in fostering a favorable balance of power, and a more stable regional environment, over ideologies and ‘noise’ of day-to-day politics. And it is ‘principled’ –based on a shared belief in market capitalism, the rule of law, and a free, secure and open access to the global commons. This pragmatic and principled approach to the relationship has allowed both countries to effectively cooperate on geopolitical and security issues, forge closer economic ties that have promoted jobs and economic growth, and develop closer people-to-people ties that have resulted in increased mutual trust and confidence over the long term.

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Dr. Collin Koh is Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies which is a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has research interests on naval affairs in the Indo-Pacific, focusing on Southeast Asia. Collin has published several op-eds, policy- and academic journal articles as well as chapters for edited volumes covering his research areas. He has also taught at Singapore Armed Forces professional military education and training courses. Besides research and teaching, Collin also contributes his perspectives to various local and international media outlets and participates in activities with geopolitical risks consultancies.

Dr. Jeffrey Ordaniel is is non-resident Adjunct Fellow and Director for Maritime Security at the Pacific Forum. Concurrently, he is also Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at Tokyo International University (TIU) in Japan. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and specializes in the study of offshore territorial and maritime entitlement disputes in Asia. His teaching and research revolve around maritime security and ocean governance, ASEAN regionalism, and broadly, U.S. alliances and engagements in the Indo-Pacific. From 2016 to 2019, he was based in Honolulu and was the holder of the endowed Admiral Joe Vasey Fellowship at the Pacific Forum. Since 2019, Dr. Ordaniel has been convening the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Expert Working Group, an informal network of select experts and scholars from Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and North America, with the aim of generating sound, pragmatic and actionable policy prescriptions for the region. His current research on maritime security in Asia is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), 2020-2022.

Photo: Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken joins President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore on the margins of the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 2021. Source: State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain