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Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Welcome Remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Forum of Small States (FOSS) Reception, 25 September 2019

by September 26, 2019 Government & Politics

His Excellency Professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly

Your Royal Highness

Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government

Your Excellencies, the Ministers

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to welcome all of you to the Singapore Mission this evening. The Forum of Small States (FOSS) was established almost 30 years ago for small states to make common cause together. From an initial grouping of just 16 states, our membership has grown to 107 members. We are well over half of the UN membership, representing all major geographical regions, and including both developing and developed countries. The club has grown over the years, because the fundamental realities and vulnerabilities of small states have not changed. Our economies are smaller and more exposed to fluctuations in the global economy.

More importantly, our margin of error is much narrower than for big states, which can absorb multiple hits. If there is a war, we lack strategic depth to defend ourselves. If we suffer an extreme weather event, it can take years to rebuild and recover. In fact, for many of us who are island states, in Southeast Asia, in the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean and the South Pacific, climate change and rising sea levels are an existential threat to our existence. The recent hurricane Dorian which hit the Bahamas is a grim reminder of our vulnerability as small states.

If we look at history, very few small states have been as long-lived as Venice, which is now part of a country, or Switzerland, which is still an independent state and who is a member of FOSS. Both Switzerland and Venice lasted nearly a millennium. This is because small states have no intrinsic relevance to the workings of the international system. Unlike larger and more powerful countries, we do not set the agenda or decide the mega trends. If Singapore disappears tomorrow, the world will continue probably just fine. In fact, if we do not manage our external relations carefully, our freedom to determine our own destinies can be severely circumscribed, even if nominally, we remain sovereign or independent.

This does not mean that small states are helpless or have no agency. On the contrary, being small does have its upsides, which we must make the most of. We can respond more nimbly and adapt more easily to changing circumstances. Our sense of insecurity and even paranoia are also constructive as they motivate us to deal more decisively with challenges and threats. With our options more constrained, our collective minds are more readily focussed, and we are less hampered by regional interests and differences, or multiple levels of government, that bigger countries have to grapple with.

But to amplify our influence in the world, small states have to work together to advance our shared interests. That is why small states are united in our strong support for and commitment to the UN, an important institution where we do our best to contribute to the comity of nations. I am happy to note that FOSS members are making significant contributions to the UN. Many small states have served in the Security Council and hope to do so in the years ahead. This year, FOSS Members are chairing five of the six Main Committees of the General Assembly. Small states can and must make a contribution to the work of the UN, because it is in our interest to have a strong UN and a sound and stable multilateral system.

Singapore has been privileged to serve as Chair of the FOSS. We are glad that this informal FOSS grouping has also been formed in Geneva.

We look forward to working with all of you, fellow small states, to speak with a louder voice, to continue to advocate for a rules-based system, and to find enduring solutions for the challenges that affect all of us.

By working together, we can make a difference, not only to our own people but also to the international community. Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore