SINGAPORE

STATEMENT BY
PROFESSOR S. JAYAKUMAR

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
57th SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
NEW YORK, 13 SEPTEMBER 2002


After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the world joined America in expressing grief and outrage. Citizens from nearly one half of UN member states perished. A swift, determined UN response set the stage for a united global effort to weed out terrorism. Never in recent history have so many states acted in such unison as members of one international community than they did in the months following 9/11.

This was not inevitable. The international community could have fractured after 9/11. Hence, it is useful to reflect on the forces that brought us together. What key lessons have we learnt?

Post 9/11, the international community rallied together because we all realised that the challenges posed by 9/11 affected the common interests of all states. The common menace of terrorism elicited a cohesive psychological response. Everyone is vulnerable. In Singapore, we discovered terrorists belonging to a regional network with links to Al-Qaeda whose tentacles spread to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and even Australia. Its targets were American, Israeli, British and other foreign interests.

But a cohesive response also requires a galvanising force. The UN provided this. The UN also legitimises international action. On 12 September, the UN Security Council adopted, by consensus, Resolution 1368 condemning the terrorist attacks, and expressing its readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the attacks. This was followed shortly by a consensus resolution of the General Assembly. Within three weeks of the attack, the Security Council negotiated and adopted, again by consensus, Resolution 1373, a landmark resolution which dealt comprehensively with counter-terrorism, and provides a common legal basis for all states to take action against terrorists and their supporters.

The Security Council's response to 9/11 was impressive and was possible only because all the major powers agreed on the need to respond decisively to the terrorist threat. Indeed, the war on terrorism has reordered international priorities and created new opportunities for partnership, casting a new strategic overlay over great power relationships.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Many of us have long had unhappy experiences with it. But 9/11 focused its globalised nature and stressed the need for coherence and coordination in international cooperation. After 9/11, a number of international, regional, sub-regional and national plans of action and strategies to combat terrorism have emerged. Some of these proposals took the form of specific and practical counter-terrorism measures. Others assumed a more normative character. These efforts are the building blocks for coordinated international action against terrorism. This commitment to collaborative international action, however, has only recently begun to take shape.

Since 9/11, various organs of the UN system have examined their respective responsibilities and available tools so as to undertake this collaborative mission in the most effective manner. The report prepared by the Policy Working Group on the UN and Terrorism (A/57/273-S/2002/875 of 6 Aug 2002) is a clear example of this. Coordination and coherence within the UN system should certainly be enhanced. The common enemy we face has built up a sophisticated and complex global network that requires an appropriate response.

But as we consider new international mechanisms to fight terrorism, we should pause to reflect on a key question: how can we ensure effective coordination between the UN, other regional and international organisations and member-states? How can we synergise respective international, regional and national competencies to maximise operational effectiveness against terrorism? The UN's comparative advantage and aptitude resides in its consultative, coordinating and facilitative functions.

Ultimately, however, the contributions made by the UN depend upon the political will of its member-states to make its laws and norms work. Achieving the right equilibrium of responsibilities and obligations is crucial if we are to succeed in our common mission to defeat international terrorism.

The battle against terrorism has also to be fought at the philosophical level. Some terrorists have tried to depict the current global anti-terrorism campaign as a war against Islam. This is obviously not true. No religion tolerates terrorism, and Islam certainly does not. But we should not ignore the extent to which the appeal of extremists such as Osama bin Laden resonates with the marginalised and disenfranchised, feeding upon stereotypes and prejudices. Osama bin Laden has tried to tap into some of the rivers of resentment in the Islamic world. At a time of confusion and uncertainty, the value of cross-cultural understanding and communication cannot be underestimated.

As an international organisation with near universal membership, the UN can play a key role in promoting tolerance and understanding between nations, cultures and religions. The UN's Dialogue Among Civilisations is a key initiative that we should build upon. The Dialogue Among Civilisations celebrates diversity and introduces a new paradigm of international relations, promoting a dialogue among the major world religions and cultures. Dialogue between the different cultures and religions would help to reduce the sources of prejudice and intolerance that currently colour individual and societal perceptions.

Another longer-term challenge is to address the economic and social conditions that encourage terrorists. International economic integration is ultimately the only guarantor of prosperity. But the fact is that globalisation is both incomplete in scope and uneven in its distribution of costs and benefits. Many developing countries remain imperfectly integrated into the world economy. Despite the miracles of modern science and technology, never have the differences of wealth and opportunity in mankind been so great. These problems must be addressed by capacity building and infrastructure development within developing countries, with whatever international assistance is necessary, and by the elimination of trade barriers and protectionism in the developed countries.

9/11 underscored that in an interdependent world, no one is invulnerable. Local problems can easily be transformed into global problems. Each day that we do not act to address and contain these problems increases their potential to do more harm. Our collective security is dependent on our ability and willingness to confront new challenges. We should not await another catastrophe on the scale of September 11 before we are forced to act on other equally challenging global problems that confront us. The war against terrorism has to be waged with both guns and butter.

Mr. President,

I would also like to conclude by sharing our experience on the Security Council. Almost two years ago, members of the General Assembly gave Singapore the honour of serving as one of the elected members of the Security Council. Our term ends this December. I want to thank all those who showed their trust in us by giving us this unique opportunity.

Our experience has been a fulfilling and enriching one, from which we drew important lessons and insights. The Security Council has gone through many phases. Designed first of all to deal with inter-state conflicts, the Security Council has increasingly moved towards handling intra-state conflicts in the post Cold War era. But the terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 were an unprecedented development. 9/11 produced a new era, confronting the Security Council with a new and distinct threat to international peace and security. Singapore has therefore served in two very different Security Councils, one before 9/11 and another after those tragic events.

For the Security Council to remain effective, it has to demonstrate that it can respond effectively to new challenges. Otherwise, its relevance and credibility would be compromised. As a small state, we are vulnerable to such terror attacks. As a member of the Security Council, we have supported initiatives which address this new threat.

A key lesson that we have learnt is that for all its imperfections and occasional failings, the Security Council often does work. It is, nevertheless, too early to gauge the success and effectiveness of the Security Council in responding to the scourge of terrorism. Whether the Security Council can continue to develop appropriate responses over the long run at this plastic phase of the creation of a new strategic era will be a critical test of its relevance in the new century.

It is naive to expect that the swift unity of global action post 9/11 will henceforth be demonstrated on all global issues. Our experiences in the Security Council attest to protracted processes being the norm rather than the exception for coalescing international action. But where international consensus has not yet consolidated over situations posing serious and immediate threats, the lack of international consensus in itself cannot be an excuse for inaction. This would be an abdication of individual and collective responsibility.

Mr. President,

Finally, as one of two Asian elected members of the Council, we were pleased to make a small contribution to the East Timor success story. This success was made possible only by the hard work and sacrifices of its people, with the support of the international community. Today, the UN continues to play a critical role in preserving the peace in East Timor, and in ensuring that the government and people of East Timor have the opportunity to succeed in their quest to build a democratic, stable and viable state. We look forward to welcoming East Timor as the 190st member of the UN.

Let me conclude by warmly congratulating Switzerland for becoming the 190th member of the UN. Switzerland may be a new member. However, it has also provided the second most important venue for UN activities. It has therefore long been a partner of the UN. This partnership will be deepened with its membership.

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