Safe for Decolinization
The Eisenhower Administration, Britain, and Singapore
Publication Year: 2011
How America left its indelible footprint on the culture and politics of Singapore
In the first decade after World War II, Singapore underwent radical political and socioeconomic changes with the progressive retreat of Great Britain from its Southeast Asian colonial empire. The United States, under the Eisenhower administration, sought to fill the vacuum left by the British retreat and launched into a campaign to shape the emerging Singapore nation-state in accordance with its Cold War policies. Based on a wide array of Chinese- and English-language archival sources from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States, Safe for Decolonization examines in depth the initiatives—both covert and public—undertaken by the United States in late-colonial Singapore.
Apart from simply analyzing the effect of American activities on the politics of the island, author S. R. Joey Long also examines their impact on the relationship between Great Britain and the United States, and how the Anglo-American nuclear policy toward China and the establishment of a regional security institution (the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) affected the security and decolonization of a strategic British base.
Long sketches a highly detailed and nuanced account of the relations between the United States, Great Britain, and Singapore. He not only describes the often clumsy attempts by covert American operatives to sway top political leaders, infiltrate governments, influence labor unions, and shape elections, but he also shows how Eisenhower’s public initiatives proved to have far-reaching positive results and demonstrates that the Eisenhower administration’s policies toward Singapore, while not always well advised, nonetheless helped to lay the foundation for friendly Singapore–U.S. relations after 1960.
As the first multi-archival work on the U.S. intervention in Singapore, Safe for Decolonization makes an important contribution to the literature on Southeast Asia–U.S. relations. It will be of interest to specialists in decolonization, diplomatic history, modern Southeast Asian history, and the history of the early Cold War.
Published by: The Kent State University Press
Table of Contents
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On 12 August 1959, the Eisenhower administration’s Operations Coordinating Board (OCB), an interagency group coordinating the implementation of U. S. operational plans, urged that American policy toward Singapore be reviewed “on an urgent basis.” The British colony had been granted internal self-government...
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Apart from my curiosity about the end of the British Empire, the preponderance of American cultural products in an ex-British colony, and the nature of the Singapore–United States relationship, I was inspired to embark on this study after reading Robert J. McMahon’s critique of the Eisenhower revisionists in 1995. I wondered...
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1. War, the Colonial Question, and the Cold War
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Singapore’s domestic affairs commanded little American attention before World War II. U.S. officials, based at the American consulate general on the island (established in 1836), focused on providing consular services to American merchants in the region.one.superior Singapore was British territory, and diplomatic and commercial...
2. Chasms, Bridges, and the Summer of Violence
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The Eisenhower government was determined to prevent Singapore from falling under communist control. Developments on the island, however, distressed Washington. It appeared that communists were capitalizing on local sociopolitical restiveness stirred by Britain’s retreat from empire to subvert Singapore. Not wanting to cross the British...
3. Diplomatic Overtures
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Although the May upheavals were contained, American doubts about the British ability to maintain Western influence in Singapore persisted. To U.S. observers, the British did not act decisively against local leftists. Colonial officials also seemed excessively optimistic that the partially self-governing island would not be subverted by communists...
4. Developing Political-Cultural Capital
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Apart from cultivating local leaders, American officials also intensified U.S. psychological operations to shore up free world influence in Singapore. The American foray into psychological activities stemmed from the Eisenhower administration’s confidence in the capacity of its psychological endeavors to effectively combat procommunist ideas. American policymakers...
5. Labor Operations
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Although the Eisenhower administration’s psychological warfare operations helped advance U.S. objectives, in one important section of the local population the impact of U.S. activities was ambivalent. Singapore’s unionists, especially those associated with the radical unions located along Middle Road, regarded with much...
6. Embroiled in Economic Cold War
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President Dwight Eisenhower understood that international politics and economics were inseparably linked. Under his leadership, the United States paid serious attention to how U.S. foreign economic policy could advance the administration’s Cold War objectives. The president initially wanted to focus on promoting trade rather than...
7. SEATO’s Spell
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In June 1956, Singapore’s chief minister, David Marshall, furiously criticized British policy, asserting that Britain’s commitment to SEATO had imperiled Singapore’s progress toward greater self-government. The outburst came after British officials in London had rejected his demands that a new constitution granting Singapore more political autonomy be...
8. Under the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud
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In addition to significantly impacting Singapore’s political development, SEATO cast a long shadow on the island in another way. In support of SEATO and UK military operations, Singapore had been designated Britain’s strategic base from which nuclear bombing runs would be launched against China in a global war. In 1958, to prepare Singapore for that role, Whitehall had begun major construction...
9. Covert Snafus
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U.S. covert operatives were engaged in a broad range of clandestine pursuits against governments abroad during the Eisenhower years. The president believed that well-managed covert operations could advance U.S. foreign policy goals. The question was whether the covert instrument was judiciously applied in cases where less costly alternatives or even patient and benign neglect might have yielded ...
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A systematic examination of the Eisenhower administration’s policy toward late-colonial Singapore indicates that a combination of strategic, economic, and political considerations fundamentally informed the U.S. interest in the island’s domestic affairs. Singapore could not be seized by communists, as this would deprive the United States and the free world of the use of its strategic...
Abbreviations Used in the Notes
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series
Series Editor Byline: Mary Ann Heiss