SINGAPORE: The global order is imperfect but still the best bet for small states looking to secure their place in the world, said Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Sep 23).
Speaking at a reception for the Forum of Small States during the ongoing United Nations (UN) General Assembly, he noted that small states depend on the multilateral, rules-based system for security and survival.
“This international order is imperfect, but it is by far our best bet,” Mr Lee said in a recorded video message. “If we regress to a world where ‘might is right’, small states would find it impossible to survive and even big countries will not be better off.”
The Forum of Small States is an informal grouping of more than 100 small countries that was launched by Singapore in 1992. Mr Lee last addressed the Forum publicly when he hosted a reception for members in 2019.
This year, the grouping is commemorating its 30th anniversary amid heightened geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty, he said, noting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine undermines the rules-based order, and that rising food and oil prices and supply chain disruptions continue to worsen poverty.
“Small states face immense challenges. Our external environment has become more troubled and dangerous,” said Mr Lee.
Tensions between the United States and China raise the risk of conflict between major powers and climate change, novel pathogens and cyber threats endanger the safety, security and well-being of people around the world, he added.
“These uncertainties and threats can pose grave dangers to the economies, societies and very existence of small states like us. We are inherently vulnerable, with very little buffer against shocks.
“But small states are by no means without agency. What we lack in size, we can make up for through agility, resourcefulness, and cooperation,” said Mr Lee, pointing out that small states can be effective at the UN by supporting and upholding the multilateral rules-based system.
They must participate actively to strengthen this system, said the Prime Minister, as he emphasised the need to “maintain as level a playing field as possible, to protect the interests of small states”.
They also need to work together on specific interests like sustainable development, climate change, cyber security and other emerging issues like the governance of oceans and outer space, he noted.
“We can work on them through both existing and new international instruments. We should participate in shaping the international agenda,” said Mr Lee.
“Right from the start, the concerns and interests of small states should be taken into account. Small states often lack the resources and capacity to engage effectively across the whole range of international issues.”
Calling the Forum of Small States a “valuable platform for informal exchange and mutual support”, Mr Lee noted that many members are making significant contributions to the UN, with representation in important bodies such as the UN Security Council.
“We need to support each other’s candidatures for UN elections,” he added. “It is vital that small states always have a voice in the key bodies making up the UN system.”