Speech by PM Goh in honour of His Excellency Mr Kofi Annan and Mrs Nane Annan at the Istana, 14 Feb 2000


Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mrs Nane Annan
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to extend a very warm welcome to you and your distinguished delegation. You have done us a rare honour by your visit.

After fifty years, only the most extreme of critics would doubt the UN's value. For small states like Singapore, the UN's role in promoting the rule of international law is critical. Despite its imperfections, the UN has made for a more predictable and safer world.

I believe that the UN will play an even more crucial role in the next half century. To do so, it must come to grips with two interrelated factors. First, the end of the Cold War seemed to open up a new era of promise. But it is now clear that there are as many challenges as opportunities after the Cold War. Second, globalisation and the technology that has contributed to a more integrated world economy both pose serious dilemmas for many.

Globalisation benefits those countries which can seize its opportunities. It evokes a sense of helplessness and loss of control for those who cannot. Technology has accelerated time and compressed space, linking us in ever tighter webs of interdependence. While this globalisation and technology have brought unprecedented prosperity to many countries, they have also marginalised the weak and the less developed.

Per capital income differences between countries narrowed from the 1950s to the 1970s. Now, they are widening. In much of the former Communist bloc, per capita GDPs have dropped sharply. Elsewhere, much of the world has per capita incomes well below their previous peaks. In most of Africa, per capita incomes are below where they were in 1965. In much of Latin America, they are below where they were in 1980. Even though their economies are recovering, large parts of Asia are still below where they were in 1997. Indonesia lost much of almost all the gains it made in the previous three decades of development.

There is a risk that some countries which cannot adapt to change may be marginalised permanently. The UN has always played an active role in aiding the development of the Third World. But the challenge today is qualitatively different.

A world permanently divided into the prosperous few and the marginalised many, will be unstable. An integrated world economy does not automatically bring about a politically integrated world. At issue ultimately, are basic questions of conflict and security. The UN's role in maintaining international peace and security therefore becomes all the more vital.

Sovereignty is the key principle of the current state system and premise on which the UN is based. I do not expect states to vanish. But sovereignty has never been absolute. It must take into account the sovereign rights of others. Even the most powerful have had to restrain their sovereignty in their interactions with others. We voluntarily abrogate some portion of our sovereignty by joining the UN. We do so by agreeing to abide by the UN Charter and all its provisions.

The traditional international law in which sovereignty was the paramount principle, now co-exists with another current of international law defined by the rights of individuals. Sovereign rights can be challenged internationally by human rights. This is Both are part of the post Cold War international reality. Not everybody is comfortable with this though.

Mr Secretary-General, we admire and support your many initiatives to make the UN and the world better. Your task to create a new paradigm for the next phase of the UN's development is daunting. Change is always painful and will always be resisted by some. Singapore is a small country with limited capabilities. But we will do what we can to help because we believe in the UN. After thirty-five years of membership, we will seek election to the Security Council later this year. If we succeed, we hope to work closely with you and your staff.

Singapore has participated in several peacekeeping operations and will continue to do so. We work with the UN agencies on technical assistance for capacity building for developing countries. We have contributed to the establishment of the international regimes on such issues as the environment and the Law of the Sea. And, I must add, we have paid our dues in full, on time and without conditions. If the UN is to succeed, its member states must meet their legal obligations to give the UN the resources to do the job that member states expect and require it to do.

The challenges facing the UN are only one facet of a broader need to restructure the overall international multilateral architecture to make it relevant for the 21st Century. Existing institutions were established in the 1940s to deal with the problems of a different age. We welcome your initiative to convene a Millennium Summit in New York this September. It is my hope that this will be an occasion to start a debate on designing a new global order incorporating a refurbished multilateral architecture for the 21st Century.

Such a debate, and the consensus that will hopefully emerge, are vital. As the world becomes ever more interconnected and complex, leadership by fiat is not merely undesirable, it is impractical and self-defeating. It is not just developing countries that must adapt. All countries, even the most developed and powerful, must embrace the need to change themselves. The UN is for all of us - the rich, and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I now invite you to rise and join me in a toast to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his wife, and to the continued success, adaptation and growth of the United Nations in the new Millennium.

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