SINGAPORE: The global order is imperfect but still the best bet for small states looking to secure their place in the world, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (September 23).
In a recorded video message at a reception for the Small States Forum 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 by far our best choice,” said Mr. Lee. “If we fall back into a world where ‘might makes right,’ small states might not survive, and even large countries will be no better off.”
The Small States Forum is an informal grouping of more than 100 small countries established by Singapore in 1992. Mr. Lee last spoke publicly at the Forum when he hosted a reception for members in 2019.
This year the group marks its 30th anniversary amid heightened geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty, he said, noting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is undermining the rules-based order and that rising food and oil prices and supply chain disruptions are threatening the further exacerbate poverty.
“Small states face immense challenges. Our external environment has become more unsettled and dangerous,” said Mr. Lee.
Tensions between the United States and China are increasing the risk of great-power conflict and climate change, novel pathogens and cyber threats threatening the safety and well-being of people around the world, he added.
“These uncertainties and threats can pose serious dangers to economies, societies and the very existence of small states like ours. We are vulnerable by nature and have very little buffer against shocks.
“But small states are by no means idle. What we lack in size, we can make up for in agility, resourcefulness and collaboration,” said Mr. Lee, noting that small states can be effective at the United Nations by supporting and upholding the multilateral rules-based system.
They must actively participate to strengthen this system, the prime minister said, stressing the need to “maintain a level playing field as much as possible to protect the interests of small states”.
They also need to work together on specific interests like sustainable development, climate change, cybersecurity and other emerging issues like ocean and space governance, he noted.
“We can work on them with both existing and new international instruments. We should get involved in shaping the international agenda,” said Mr. Lee.
“The concerns and interests of small states should be taken into account from the outset. Small states often lack the resources and capacity to engage effectively across the full range of international issues.”
Mr. Lee called the Small States Forum a “valuable platform for informal exchange and mutual support,” noting that many members make significant contributions to the UN and sit on important bodies such as the UN Security Council.
“We must support each other’s candidacies for the UN elections,” he added. “It is crucial that small states always have a voice in the key bodies of the UN system.”