Secretary-General, Delivering Lecture, Says World Has Much to Gain from Singapore’s Example of Hard Work, Determination, Tolerance

23 March 2012

Secretary-General, Delivering Lecture, Says World Has Much to Gain from Singapore’s Example of Hard Work, Determination, Tolerance

23 March 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, Delivering Lecture, Says World Has Much to Gain

From Singapore’s Example of Hard Work, Determination, Tolerance

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Fullerton lecture, as prepared for delivery at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore on 23 March 2012:

Thank you for your welcome.  It is wonderful to be back in Singapore.  I thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies for organizing this special event, and for promoting regional security through platforms such as the Shangri-la Dialogue.  I am honoured today to inaugurate the Fullerton lecture series.

Long before this beautiful building was a hotel, it was, of course, a post office.  Singapore is showing what can be done with an old Government building.  We are renovating United Nations Headquarters.  You have given me a lot of ideas.  I particularly want to find a way to transport your restaurants.  I may not be well-versed in the many languages of this country, but I am fluent in rojak, laksa and bubur cha-cha.  We could use more of that in New York.

But, I must admit, I have successfully managed to bring an important part of Singapore to the highest levels of the United Nations.  I am happy to be joined today by a proud daughter of Singapore, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) — and the first woman in history to lead ESCAP — Noeleen Heyzer.

I am delighted to be with such a distinguished assembly.  You are some of the leading thinkers and doers of this great country — those who have shaped Singapore’s history and those who will write the next great chapters.  All of you care deeply about this country, this region and its role in the world.

As you know, I have been on a tour of the area.  At every stop I have seen yet more evidence of the ascendance of Asia, the clear reality that our global future rests on many of the choices emanating from this great continent.  More and more, the direction of our planet depends on the decisions of Asia.

Singapore holds a vital place for many reasons.  You are an intellectual centre and a financial crossroads.  Your policies, hard work and determination have propelled Singapore to economic growth and prosperity.  You have shown the world the dividends that come from investing in education, in health care, in people.  When you face struggle, as you did during the financial and economic crises, you rise to the challenge.  You have confronted threats of terrorism and deadly diseases.  But, you still remain strong and tolerant.  In short, you have much to give and the world has much to gain from the Singapore example.

That is why I am here.  I believe this is a crucial time to be with you.  In January, I began my second term and launched an Action Agenda based on five generational opportunities for the coming five years.  This was my thinking:  in addition to the core business of the United Nations, I wanted the Organization to look deeply at the world today — identify the key challenges we must address — and make the changes necessary to build a more modern, flexible and efficient organization.

These are times of austerity.  We need to do more with less.  These are also times of promise.  More people are getting involved and changing the world.  I wanted my team to single out areas where opportunity and need come together like never before.

As I see it, these five great opportunities are:  sustainable development; building a safer and more secure world, including by standing strong on fundamental principles of democracy and human rights; supporting nations in transition; working with and for women and young people; and expanding the way we think and act on prevention.

Prevention saves billions of dollars and millions of lives.  We will take prevention to a deeper level by incorporating human rights and democracy as integral to prevention.  Early warning and early action will also be critical in preventing violent conflict.  This is an ambitious and practical agenda to secure our future — and it requires global engagement.  No nation, regardless of size or strength, can solve all problems on its own.  We need to think and act collectively.

Singapore gets it.  You are a small country — a “little red dot”, as you proudly proclaim.  As one Singapore diplomat put it:  “We have to scratch out an existence within rather tight margins, we cannot afford to be subjective or sentimental in our world-view.”  You understand the essential nature of multilateralism in today’s world.  And you are working to enhance it because all of us have a profound stake in getting it right.  You have expanded your voice exponentially through the Forum of Small States.  You have built bridges between the United Nations and the G-20 — and between nations large and small — through the Global Governance Group.

This, too, is vital for the twenty-first century.  We need to think of global public goods, and how global governance can help us attain and manage them.  By this I simply mean sovereign States coming together, pragmatically, as partners.  I mean people transcending borders and narrow national identities to defend against common threats and take hold of common opportunities.

Today, I would like to address two challenges critical to securing our future — enhancing human protection and advancing sustainable development.  Let me start with the news — the arc of the Arab Spring and, most importantly, Syria.

The past year was a watershed for the responsibility to protect and turning back the tide of atrocity crimes.  Tens of thousands of lives were saved in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya; diplomacy turned the corner in Yemen; and much of the Arab Spring proceeded peacefully.  It may not be well understood or appreciated just yet, but we are seeing an evolution in global governance.  We are seeing the power of partnerships, of regional organizations leading to get global results.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the call for change was led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.  In Libya, it was a coalition of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the African Union and the Arab League.  In more and more crisis zones, global and regional institutions are pushing in the same direction.  This is true multilateralism for a multilateral age.  This is the beginning of a reshaping of the political landscape for the twenty-first century, and perhaps even a readjustment of the power politics within the broader United Nations.

Look no further than Syria.  The Arab League and the United Nations have forged a new partnership behind our distinguished Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan.  His mission is clear and concrete:  first, to secure a ceasefire by all sides; second, to initiate a dialogue such that the Government and opposition begin working towards a political resolution; third, in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis, to gain immediate access for international relief workers.

So far, Mr. Annan has met twice with President [Bashar al-] Assad.  He has dispatched a team of experts to Damascus, who are working to advance concrete proposals as we speak.  At the same time, teams of international relief experts from the United Nations and OIC are working with their counterparts from the Syrian Government to determine the country’s humanitarian needs.

For too long the international community has been divided.  That is why the presidential statement by the Security Council two days ago is so welcome.  In clear and unmistakable terms, it calls on the Government of Syria to cooperate fully with Mr. Annan’s mission.  As the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, it is more urgent than ever to find a solution.  I hope that this strong and united action by the Council will mark a turning point in the international community’s response to the crisis.

In a larger sense, when it comes to enhancing human protection, I believe there are many lessons to learn from this region.  Take your response to natural disasters.  In recent years, two of the strongest earthquakes of the recent centuries struck the Asia-Pacific region.  The resulting tsunamis destroyed whole communities and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

After the December 2004 tsunami, the region and the world came together.  We applied resources and the latest technology to anticipate and respond to these natural threats to our people and our economies.  Early warning systems were adopted, evacuation plans put in place.  The human toll from last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan was about one tenth that of the similar magnitude events of seven years before.  As the unprecedented damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant underscored, however, even the most advanced economies are vulnerable to nature’s wrath.

Clearly disaster preparedness and early warning systems make a difference.  They require national capacity-building, plus regional and global collaboration to meet a common threat.  To meet the needs of each population and each country in the region, leaders of sovereign States chose to work together on a common plan rather than going it alone.  That is practical sovereignty at work.  We must apply these lessons on meeting natural disasters to cases of man-made disasters.

Specifically, we must explore the possibilities for regional and global collaboration in preventing mass atrocity crimes.  After all, violence, like water, comes in waves.  Here too, early warning and assessment are essential.  We need to feel the earthquakes within fragile societies and see the social and political tsunamis they produce before they gain unstoppable momentum.

Neighbours can be of immense help in identifying and mediating such problems at an early stage.  We need your local knowledge, sober assessments and wise counsel.  I know the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum and its Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific is working to produce fresh ideas to emerging challenges.  I was pleased to learn that it recently produced a consensus report on implementing the responsibility to protect.  The recommendation to establish a Risk Reduction Centre in South-East Asia that could work with the United Nations and our Joint Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is most promising.

Since I am in the region, let me also add a word on Myanmar.  Like all of you, I am encouraged by recent steps taken by the Government under President Thein Sein.  I have visited Myanmar twice as Secretary-General, most recently in 2009, when I was last in Singapore.  My Special Advisers have travelled there many times.  I have chaired the Group of Friends of Myanmar to keep this issue on our collective radar screen and to help bridge different views.

The role of Asian nations — and ASEAN, in particular — has been instrumental in supporting international engagement in Myanmar and political reform.  Whether it was through quiet diplomacy or more public efforts, we have been working diligently and consistently alongside Myanmar.  Our collective work — the consolidated engagement of all partners — has helped lay the foundations for change.  We must continue as Myanmar prepares to assume the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2014.  Myanmar still faces many challenges and will need our support along the way.  I look forward to visiting Myanmar in the near future to continue advancing our common efforts for national reconciliation and reform.

With respect to another regional issue, I am very troubled — very deeply concerned — by the announcement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to launch a so-called “application satellite” next month.  Security Council resolutions clearly prohibit the launch of any satellite using ballistic missile technology.  Such an act would undermine recent diplomatic progress and, in its effect on international donors, would likely worsen the humanitarian situation inside the country.  I have spoken to Chinese, American and Russian leaders and urged them to exercise their influence to persuade the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to reconsider its decision.

In the end, the global effort to achieve sustainable peace requires sustainable development.  You know this well.  This is your history.  It is the core of your success.  Singapore was once a poor fishing village.  Now, you are now a prosperous global city-State.  As a densely populated small island, you have shown leadership on issues of climate change and sustainable development.  Once again, you are an example for us all.  Singapore may be a “little red dot” on the map, but our planet is a “pale blue dot” in the galaxy.  We desperately need to think and act together to build a sustainable future.

We are now fewer than 100 days from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or “ Rio+20”.  In the next 20 years, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water.  To address these challenges, we need to think and act in an integrated way.  Food, water and energy security are inextricably linked and must be pursued together.

Earlier this month, we announced that the world has met the target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty.  We have also reduced by half the proportion of those without sustainable access to safe drinking water.  These are major achievements.  But, we have much to do before all people have the access to the water and sanitation they need to lead lives of dignity and well-being.  I look forward to visiting the NEWater complex here in Singapore later this afternoon to see all that you are doing.

In a wider sense, the international institutional architecture for sustainable development needs to be improved.  That is why I have urged Governments to consider fresh ways to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development — environmental, social and economic.  And we need to bring together all relevant actors.  In addition to national Governments, we need the active involvement of civil society, the private sector and the scientific community.  And we must fully utilize the tremendous energy and initiative of the world’s women and young people.  All of this is critical to promoting the well-being of humanity while preserving the planet for future generations.  This is critical to securing our future.

We have big challenges before us.  But, being here in Singapore, I cannot help but be optimistic.  We are at an inflection point for Asia and our world.  The rise of new Powers, the emergence of new technologies, the growing engagement and empowerment of people are all combining to give us more tools to secure our future.

Singapore is at the frontier of this new era.  You are a nation that continues to be at the leading edge of innovation and change.  You continue to show the way to building a tolerant society where different races, ethnicities, religions and cultures co-exist in peace and harmony.  You may be limited in your geographical borders, but you are showing there is no limit to creativity, possibility and imagination.

Let us harness that energy and work together for sustainable peace, sustainable development and a secure future for all.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.