Building the Foundations
Setting up IDSS
Before the inauguration of RSIS in 2007, it was known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS). By establishing the IDSS in 1996, then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Dr Tony Tan wanted to inform policymakers of the political uncertainty in the Asia Pacific region arising from the post-Cold War era, and the possible implications of this uncertainty on Singapore’s security and defence. The late President S. R. Nathan was selected to head the institute, thanks to his vast experience in confronting geopolitical issues.
Mr Nathan set out to build an institution that differed from its local and overseas counterparts. The local think tank scene was then still relatively underdeveloped. A handful of thought centres focused mainly on domestic issues, and lacked a dedicated institution that taught courses at graduate level that could generate strategic insights on how to navigate the intricate world where security, defence and politics intersect. IDSS was intended to overcome these blind spots. Mr Nathan quickly helped IDSS establish its beginnings as a graduate education institution by assisting it to launch its first programme, the Master of Science in Strategic Studies, in 1998.
Mr Nathan created the motto “Ponder the Improbable”. He insisted on research being policy-relevant, and often exhorted faculty and research staff to “ponder the improbable”. The motto is indicative of the demands of cognitive rigor expected of staff and students in the course of their research or lessons.
Nurturing and Growing the School
IDSS introduced two new programmes and Centres between 1999 and 2006: the Master of Science in International Relations and the Master of Science in International Political Economy programmes, as well as the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) and the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS).
During that period, the region entered a new geopolitical landscape. The September 11 attacks and outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, had changed the way nations looked at security, defence and politics. Mr Nathan himself felt that the existence of IDSS was timely in the light of these events, as it became imperative to develop a “sophisticated understanding” of the forces at work in the world.
In 2007, RSIS was inaugurated, signifying the maturation of IDSS as a research institute. IDSS remains a prominent research centre within RSIS.
The school was named after Mr S. Rajaratnam in recognition of his contributions to Singapore as its first Foreign Minister. Mr Rajaratnam helped Singapore gain entry into the United Nations, and built up the Foreign Service. Essentially, he paved the way for Singapore’s international relations from the country’s earliest days of independence.
Mr S. Rajaratnam
RSIS has four endowed professorships that bring distinguished scholars and practitioners to teach and to conduct research at the School.
- The S. Rajaratnam Professorship in Strategic Studies
- The Ngee Ann Kongsi Professorship in International Relations
- The NTUC Professorship in International Economic Relations
- The Peter Lim Professorship in Peace Studies
Last updated on 10/12/2019