I am honored and pleased to be able to address the first ministerial Conference of the Forum of Small States. In this regard, I would like to voice sincere appreciation to Singapore for consistently championing the course of Small States in the United Nations for two decades now. Likewise, I would like to extend my warmest greetings to the fellow panelists, and express confidence that our discussion today will be fruitful and thought-provoking.
In Belarus, we prefer to use the concept of the ‘bridge’, when we talk about our geopolitical position – a ‘bridge’ between East and West. Belarus has a unique experience, which not many countries in this room have. Indeed, we have experienced transformation from being part of a superpower with the biggest territory, state-of-the-art space programs, nuclear warheads, into a medium or small-sized state. We believe that this unique experience helps us better understand the nature and policies pursued by big and small countries.
The question of what role Small States can play in international relations would have hardly emerged until a few decades ago. At least, no one with credible political background would have then treated it seriously. So, what has changed in the world that lets us seriously debate today the topic of Small States and their contribution to international relations?
To put it in a few words, it is the Rise of the Rest that has made it possible. Many in this room may know, it is the title of a relatively recent flagship publication by an outstanding Indian-American political scientist Fareed Zakaria. The author appears to have truly captured in the book the overriding dynamic of international relations over the past two decades.
Indeed, we no longer live in a world where only great powers matter, as used to be the case throughout almost all of history. We, Small and Medium-size Countries, have risen too, and thus become a force that can neither be put aside nor ignored by great powers.
What has enabled our rise?
It is a combination of factors like the spread of innovation and modern technologies, open trade, increased flows of investment, labor and ideas. All of them serve to strengthen interconnectedness and interdependence. In short, it is globalisation.
The rise of Small States has set in motion two trends – one positive and one with potential negative implications.
In terms of the former, it serves to establish a truly global multipolar order based on equality, justice and co-operation. Crucially, it is happening for the first time in human history. After all, the 19th century multipolar pattern was a European rather than a global construction.
In terms of the latter, our Rise created a multitude of international ‘players’. Imaginably, they might find it harder to agree among themselves on common action than a few stakeholders could do. Besides, the emerging global order continues to be persistently burdened by ever-growing transnational threats and challenges.
Thus, as we see it in Belarus, the international community is currently at the crossroads. It is still an open question, whether we will have a functional or dysfunctional global order.
With this in mind, I would like to briefly outline a few ideas in the emerging global context.
First, we must continue to be a moral force for the good on the globe. Actually, it is our destiny, whether we like it or not. Indeed, Small States are not the ones that usually unleash wars and violate international law. Far too often international law is their only available means of defense against threats and violence on the part of the strongest. Hopefully, the mighty of the world will follow the Small States’ example, sooner rather than later.
Second, we should not let our Rise somehow be lost. Indeed, great powers seem to have put their bet on close ‘clubs’ through which they hope, to put it mildly, to ‘govern’ the world. We, Small States, can hardly have an interest in such developments, if they leave us excluded from global decision-making. That is why we should do our best to unite into a coherent force and stand together in various international fora like the United Nations or the Non-Aligned Movement. In other words, we can make ‘clubs’ of our own that would stand on equal footing with great powers.
Third, ‘clubs’ alone, whether those representing Small or Large States, are not enough to address constantly growing transnational threats and challenges. We should bear in mind one crucial feature, namely, that the Rise of the Rest is not only about the Small States. It is also about other players like international organizations, civil society and global business. They have become increasingly important stakeholders in international relations.
That is why we are convinced that a state-based approach to tackling global threats and challenges is insufficient. Instead, we must get on board non-state actors. The way to connect them all to states is through the tool of global partnerships. Belarus has been advocating the idea for a long time. We believe that it is the Small States, which should take the lead on specific partnerships. Belarus has shown that it was worth it. In particular, in 2005 we proclaimed the idea of a Global Partnership against Slavery and Human Trafficking. It is gratifying that ever since the Partnership has been both institutionalized and effectively implemented.
Finally, we should work hard to empower and embolden the United Nations. It is clearly in our common interests. If international law is our first line of defense, the UN is surely the second. It is here, where we articulate our common challenges and vulnerabilities and take action to address them.
In this regard, we must support our fellow Small States aspiring to be elected to the UN Security Council. Likewise, we should support each other’s candidatures to various UN institutions and organs in general.
We have to consistently contribute to the revitalisation of the UN General Assembly. It is our main deliberative body. The UN General Assembly should be able to function effectively and fully realise its Charter mandate.
What is more, we need to promote our common economic, social, and environmental interests. The Economic and Social Council and other UN development agencies are the places where we should do that. In this regard, our common action on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of UN operational activities for Development is of particular importance at the current session. This effort is expected to establish guidelines in this crucial area for the next four years.
The overwhelming number of us is small and resource-poor countries. That is why we must decisively advance together on the interrelated issues of energy, climate change, and food security. Action on all of them is indeed urgently required at the current session in the wake of the recent Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development.
Furthermore, we should decisively stand by one another, when Small States become subject to unilateral sanctions or malicious attacks by great powers. After all, such sanctions and attacks affect development capacities of the targeted Small States.
Belarus has only recently become a member of the Forum of Small States. Yet, it is fully committed to working closely with Small States, because it fully understands and shares their common agenda.