RSIS and Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) dedicated its inaugural dialogue to addressing the contemporary topic of “Maintaining Strategic Autonomy in Times of Tectonic Shifts in Global Affairs”. Hosted by RSIS in Singapore, the dialogue brought together more than 30 academics and researchers from both the think tanks.
Heads of both the institutes kicked off the dialogue by unpacking the term “strategic autonomy”; stretching its definition to cover all facets of national policy as opposed to limiting it to security and trade. This was followed by two panel sessions, where participants discussed the role of regional institutions in the context of US-China rivalry, and countering online falsehoods through rule-making.
Strategic autonomy refers to the ability to make decisions and set priorities in matters of foreign and security policies – in cooperation with third parties, or even if need be, alone. The importance of maintaining one’s strategic autonomy has been exacerbated in an increasingly connected world where a country’s domestic stability is more susceptible to external developments. At the same time, pursuing strategic autonomy does not mean autarchy, isolation, or rejection of alliances.
The dialogue agreed that we were facing a decentralised multipolar order today, which might lead to a weakening of multilateral institutions. The ongoing US-China rivalry poses long-term economic impact on smaller states, along with the uncertainties in trade, currency, and finance. The case was made for a rule-based trading system that favoured transparency and sustainability, and the strengthening of our regional institutions. There is also a fear that the decoupling of US-China from ASEAN would result in countries being forced to choose sides, undermining one’s sovereign autonomy.
Turning to the issue of online falsehoods, foreign entities, known or unknown, have discovered and increased their capabilities to propagate disinformation, potentially undermining a country’s information sovereignty. There is a need to move beyond reacting on a national level. And to secure our strategic autonomy, countries can work towards a regional cybersecurity framework and establish trans-regional and inter-regional cybersecurity norms.