NEW YORK: Small states must work together to advance common interests and amplify their influence in the world, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Sep 25).
Mr Lee was speaking at a reception he hosted for members of the Forum of Small States, an informal grouping of more than 100 small countries that was launched by Singapore in 1992.
The Prime Minister said small states can and must make a contribution to the work of the United Nations, because it is in their interest to have a strong multilateral system.
It also crucial to advocate for a rules-based system, and to find enduring solutions for the challenges that affect all countries, added Mr Lee.
This is because small states have no intrinsic relevance to the workings of the international system, he explained.
“Unlike larger and more powerful countries, small states do not set the agenda or decide the trends. If Singapore disappears tomorrow, the world will probably continue on just fine,” said Mr Lee.
“In fact, if we do not manage our external relations carefully, our freedom to determine our own destinies can be severely circumscribed, even if we remain nominally sovereign or independent.”
In addition, the margin of error for small states is much narrower than big states, which can absorb multiple hits.
“If there is a war, we lack the strategic depth to defend ourselves. If we suffer an extreme weather event, it can take years to rebuild and recover," he said.
Mr Lee gave the example of climate change and rising sea levels being a threat to the existence to island states, states in Southeast Asia, in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.
Another example is the recent hurricane Dorian which hit the Bahamas - which Mr Lee described as a “grim reminder” of the vulnerability of small states.
However, Mr Lee said the downsides and vulnerability of small states do not mean that they are helpless or have no agency.
He explained that being small has its upsides, because of the nimbleness to adapt and respond more easily to changing circumstances, adding that the insecurity and even paranoia that small states have can motivate them to deal more decisively with challenges and threats.
“With more constrained options, our collective minds are more readily focused. And we are less hampered by regional interests and differences, or multiple levels of government that bigger countries must grapple with," he said.
The Forum of Small States has grown from an initial grouping of 16 states to 107 currently, representing all major geographical regions and including both developing and developed countries.
Mr Lee also met with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley on Wednesday.
The two discussed issues of common interest such as education and civil service training, and reaffirmed their commitment to working together as small island states to address climate change.