They must be mindful to speak up against violation of rule of law: Shanmugam
WASHINGTON - In a fast-changing world troubled by economic and political uncertainties, small states such as Singapore are particularly vulnerable.
For small states to survive and thrive, "a predictable and stable, rule-based international system is crucial", Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last Saturday.
"Small states such as Singapore are vulnerable even at the best of times. And these are not the best of times," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.
He cited the recession in Europe and slowing growth elsewhere in the world, saying the combination of weak consumer demand in developing countries and the euro zone crisis could lead to a global recession. Increased protectionism is also a danger to small states dependent on global trade.
"It is, therefore, particularly important for small states to be in an international environment where international law and institutions based on law can flourish," he told the world body.
But as beneficiaries of a stable international system, small states must be mindful not only to support the international rule of law, but to "also speak up against its violation", Mr Shanmugam noted.
He was speaking ahead of a Forum of Small States conference today. Held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the full-day conference marks the 20th anniversary of the informal grouping comprising 105 UN member states each with a population of 10 million or less. Members include Bhutan, Fiji and Belarus.
Chaired by Singapore since its establishment in 1992, the grouping will discuss the role of small states in international relations, including member states' commitment to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes.
Mr Shanmugam said dialogue among countries is essential in an environment where the "global governance structure is fragmented and coordination is difficult".
In dialogue, the respect for rule of law by all parties is crucial. Otherwise, "small states will lose their independence and autonomy, and even the larger and stronger states can never feel entirely secure. A stable international system is critical to our collective security", he said.
Singapore believes strongly in the importance of safeguarding the international rule of law, he added. The Republic has participated in various multilateral negotiations. It has also used international dispute mechanisms such as the International Court of Justice and International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to resolve disputes.
"Our view is that disputes, including those over territorial sovereignty, can and should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law," said Mr Shanmugam.
In his speech, he noted there was growing frustration over the inability of existing multilateral institutions to effectively handle global challenges, giving rise to a greater tendency for countries to turn to smaller, exclusive groups such as the Group of 20 (G-20) for solutions.
However, the G-20 leaves out the vast majority of UN members, particularly small states.
He called on the international community to support "ongoing and new efforts aimed at strengthening the UN, instead of denigrating it".
Singapore believes the UN's long-term goal should be "an effective system of international law and resilient mechanisms for peaceful dispute settlement".
"This will provide a platform for states under threat to bring their problems before these mechanisms with confidence, rather than trying to resolve them by force," Mr Shanmugam said.