International order is 'imperfect', but the 'best bet' for small states like S'pore: PM Lee

Small states can have agency by banding together.

Kayla Wong | September 23, 2022, 11:06 AM

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The international order is "imperfect", but is by far the "best bet" for small states, which depend on the multilateral system for their security and survival.

PM Lee Hsien Loong reiterated one of Singapore's key principles on international relations on Sep. 22 in New York, the United States.

Small states will not survive if the world is ruled by "might"

Speaking at the reception for the Forum of Small States (FOSS), an informal and non-ideological grouping which Singapore established in 1992 in New York, PM Lee said that small states must therefore participate actively to strengthen the multilateral system.

"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," he said.

He explained that small states face immense challenges, and this is not helped by the external environment, which has become "more troubled and dangerous".

Of the events he highlighted to illustrate his point, PM Lee mentioned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which "flagrantly violates the UN Charter and undermines the rules-based order", as well as tensions between the U.S. and China, which raise the risk of conflict between major powers.

In addition, rising food and oil prices worsen poverty, while climate change, novel pathogens and cyber threats endanger the safety and well-being of people around the world.

These uncertainties and threats can pose grave dangers to economies, societies and even the very existence of small states, including Singapore.

"We are inherently vulnerable, with very little buffer against shocks," he said.

Small states can have agency

However, PM Lee emphasised that even with these challenges, small states are by no means without agency.

While small states lack in size, they make up for it through their "agility, resourcefulness, and cooperation".

Through the multilateral rules-based system, they can also advance their collective interests by working together on many aspects, including sustainable development, climate change and cybersecurity, as well as the governance of oceans and outer space, which are issues that affects the global commons.

Through the FOSS, a "valuable platform for informal exchange and mutual support" which is commemorating its 30th anniversary this year, the concerns and interests of small states can be taken into account, PM lee added.

He ended his speech by reiterating the importance of small states having a voice in the key bodies making up the UN system.

You can hear his speech in full here.


Top image adapted via Prime Minister's Office video