INTELLECTUAL DISCOURSE, 19, 307-324, 2011
Copyright © IIUM Press
Malaysia’s foreign policy, the first fifty years: Alignment, neutralism, Islamism. By Johan Saravanamuttu. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS, 2010, pp. 388. ISBN: 978-9814279-78-9 Reviewer: Abdul Rashid Moten, Department of Political Science, International
Malaysia’s foreign policy is very much under-studied. Nevertheless, there exist several scholarly studies that have received commendable reviews in the past. Chandran Jeshurun’s Malaysia: Fifty years of diplomacy, 1957-2007 (Singapore: Talisman, 2008), subscribes to the ‘great man theory’ and singles out the Prime Minister’s Department as the primary source of Malaysia’s foreign policy during the period of the fourth Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad. Shanti Nair’s Islam and Malaysian foreign policy (London: Routledge & ISEAS, 1997) is an attempt at analyzing the role of Islam as an important component in the international relations of Malaysia since independence and its use to serve domestic political function especially during the Mahathir era. Nair examines Malaysia’s role in the Organization of Islamic Conference, the United Nations and other organizations with reference to its stand on various issues affecting the Muslim world. Karminder Singh Dhillon’s Malaysian foreign policy in the Mahathir era, 19812003: Dilemmas of development (Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2009) dispels a single factor analysis and looks at idiosyncratic, domestic and external factors to explain Malaysia’s foreign policy during the Mahathir era.
The various perspectives adopted by scholars found expression, to some extent, in Johan Saravanamuttu’s Malaysia’s foreign policy, the first fifty years: Alignment, neutralism, Islamism. Saravanamuttu’s work goes beyond the typical single factor analysis and fuses intra-societal
INTELLECTUAL DISCOURSE, VOL 19, NO 2, 2011
and extra-societal dynamics to explain the intricacies of foreign policy decision making and implementation. To stop at such a description of the book is to do injustice to the author and provides only a partial explanation of the book. The book stands out as a distinct contribution to the understanding of Malaysia’s foreign policy in several respects: One, the author provides ‘macro-historical’ narratives of the major trends in the country’s foreign policy beginning from independence to the period of Najib Tun Razak. It thus provides a comprehensive understanding of Malaysia’s international relations. Two, the author points out that the foreign policy did not originate from the leader alone but that a leader is bound by “socio-economic connectivity with previous periods of foreign policy” and “constrained by societal and economic imperatives both internally and externally” (pp. 184185). Three, the study is theoretically informed. It employs a mixture of social constructivism and critical theories to appreciate, understand, and analyze Malaysia’s foreign policy (p. 16) based upon a predetermined time frame. The framework is well-explained in the introduction to the book which many readers may find it difficult to fathom. In such a case, the author suggests skipping the introduction and reading the book simply as a chronicle of Malaysia’s diplomatic relations. Thus, the book will be appreciated by the scholarly community as well as the general public interested in the formulation and implementation of the foreign policy of Malaysia. Consuming 388 pages, Malaysia’s foreign policy, the first fifty years is divided into 13 chapters including a ‘postscript’ analyzing the leadership challenges facing the sixth Prime Minister, Najib Tun Abdul Razak and a conclusion. The book is arranged around four broad themes of neutralism or non-alignment from the 1970s
onwards; regionalism of the late 1960s which intensified in the postCold War...
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