This paper outlines the dilemmas faced by Asian countries caught in strategic competition between great powers.


This paper by Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan was the inaugural Shedden Lecture in Strategy and Defence. It artfully describes the tension regional countries face and advocates a posture of flexibility and independence. It argues we should not try to shoehorn current complexity into a binary repeat of the Cold War and to be forced to choose between the great powers will be to have failed strategically.

Executive summary

  • The clarity of the Cold War is forever gone and it is analytically misleading to try and re-create it today.
  • For non-great power countries the essence of post-Cold War strategy is to embrace ambiguity. To be forced to choose is to have failed.
  • US China competition provides a space for manoeuvre for non-great powers that conflict or agreement between the major powers does not.
  • To be most successful, multilateral institutions should not work too well in constraining the major powers, or the institution will be sidelined.
  • Preservation of communist party rule is the core interest of China’s leaders. Public US acknowledgement of this is central to strategic trust emerging.
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