Foreign Relations Law in Singapore: A Comparative Constitutional Study

This paper maps the field of Singapore foreign relations law through a comparatist’s eyes, viewing public law as a dialectic between law and political culture. Singapore law on the reception of international law and the act of state/non-justiciability doctrine(s) is split between American and English approaches: while US law prizes sovereignty-protecting functional considerations, English law is defined by formal rule of law principles. However, this tension between American functionalism and English formalism can be reconciled with a popular perception in Singaporean political thought: Singapore sees international relations as primarily political but upholds formal legality to secure its sovereignty as a small state. As Sundaresh Menon CJ put it, “for Singapore, the rule of law is not so much an aspirational ideal as it is an existential necessity”: in Singapore foreign relations law, the rule of law is a core means of preserving its sovereignty, but defeasible to that end as well.