'Strategic paranoia helps S’pore succeed'

Dr Khanna says Singapore fulfils many characteristics of a global city, which to him is one that is stable, wealthy, diverse, connected, creative and a role model to
others, but that unlike other such cities, the Republic has no countryside for peop
Dr Khanna says Singapore fulfils many characteristics of a global city, which to him is one that is stable, wealthy, diverse, connected, creative and a role model to others, but that unlike other such cities, the Republic has no countryside for people to retreat to when they want to escape city life.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE’S economic success can be attributed to the country being “strategically paranoid”, said academic Parag Khanna.

Explaining the phrase at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum on Friday, Dr Khanna said it is about being constantly on your toes to consider various scenarios in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.

“It isn’t one thing. It’s maintaining a relationship with China and the United States, ensuring your economic viability. It’s about constantly shifting your value chains to remain relevant,” he said.

The labour movement’s mantra of “cheaper, better, faster”, urging companies and workers to become more productive, is one example of strategic paranoia.

Other examples include: seeking water independence from Malaysia; refining petroleum despite having no indigenous oil and gas; and maintaining friendly diplomatic relations with the US, China, India, Japan, Europe and all other major powers at the same time.

This is how, despite being a small state, Singapore has outdone other post-colonial states, said Dr Khanna. 
“I think strategic paranoia has been a great guide for Singapore in the last 50 years. I think it will be a great guide for Singapore in the next 50 years as well.”

He coined the phrase “strategic paranoia” for countries based on a concept called “constructive paranoia” for individuals, described by anthropologist Jared Diamond, 75, who spent most of his adult life living among the cannibal tribes of Papua New Guinea. 

In explaining it, Mr Diamond said he managed to live so long despite prolonged exposure to disease, falling trees and cannibal tribes by being “constructively paranoid” all the time, recounted Dr Khanna. 

CASSANDRA CHEW