SINGAPORE, Sept 23 — While the global multilateral order is imperfect, it is vital for small states' security and survival and is “by far (their) best bet”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

“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 added in a video message for a reception of the Forum of Small States (FOSS), which was on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York yesterday (September 22) night (Friday morning, Singapore time).

Lee said that small states must therefore actively participate in strengthening the multilateral system to level the playing field and protect their interests.


FOSS is an informal group of small states formed by Singapore in 1992 and it now has 108 members.

The group marked its 30th anniversary this year in the midst of “heightened geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty”, which poses immense challenges for small states, Lee added.

Singapore has chaired the group since its founding, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states on its website.


Some challenges that Lee highlighted in his speech include the impact of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, which “flagrantly violates the UN Charter and undermines the rules-based order”, the growing tension between US and China, rising food and oil prices and supply chain disruptions.

He added that climate change, novel pathogens and cyber threats also endanger the safety, security and well-being of people around the world.

“These uncertainties and threats can pose grave dangers to the economies, societies, and very existence of small states like us.

“We are inherently vulnerable, with very little buffer against shocks.”

However, he emphasised that small states have agency, and can do their part to support and uphold the multilateral rules-based system.

They need to work together on many specific interests, such as sustainable development, climate change and cybersecurity, as well as emerging issues affecting the global commons. These include the governance of oceans and outer space.

“We should participate in shaping the international agenda. Right from the start, the concerns and interests of small states should be taken into account,” Lee added.

He noted that small states often lack the resources and capacity to engage effectively across the whole range of international issues. This is why FOSS is a valuable platform for informal exchange and mutual support, capacity-building and technical cooperation.

“Remarkably, FOSS has not only endured but thrived now for 30 years. It shows the value that small states find in working together to advance our shared interests.”

He noted that many FOSS members are represented in important UN organs, such as the UN Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.

“We need to support each other’s candidatures for UN elections. It is vital that small states always have a voice in the key bodies making up the UN system.”

Lee concluded by calling on small states to continue working together to “further strengthen the multilateral rules-based system and advance our collective interests”. ― TODAY