Tharman Shanmugaratnam says rules-based order is weakening but sees opportunity to respond.
“The world we knew is gradually unraveling,” said President Tharman Shanmugaratnam of Singapore, “and there’s no telling where this will end.”
The weakening of the rules-based order, he said, is visible in the rise of more frequent and protracted conflicts, escalating threats to the sovereignty of smaller nations, and the fragmentation of the global economy. And a diminishing faith in multilateralism — particularly in the developing world, he said — compounds the challenges at hand.
The President delivered SIPA’s annual Silver Lecture on November 28 at Low Library. The event, cohosted by the Institute of Global Politics, was part of Columbia’s World Leaders Forum.
“It’s very hard to summon up trust in the global community only when you need it most.”
— President Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Shanmugaratnam’s message emphasized the need to address the undercurrents driving an array of global challenges and called for building resilience and optimism, with a focus on three key areas.
First, Shanmugaratnam highlighted the importance of a stable US-China relationship, both technologically and economically. Second, he called for a paradigm shift in environmental strategies, to embrace sustainable growth through investments in new technologies and models. Finally, he sought to redefine multiculturalism, with an emphasis on Singapore-style integration and rebuilding trust through democratic reforms.
“We have to move away from a concept of multiculturalism that was about a quilt of different colors — with different threads in each of the patches — towards a concept of multilateralism, of multiculturalism, that is about threads that together weave the fabric of society, without separate patches that over time are vulnerable at their seams. We’ve got to weave that entire fabric with all the threads of that society.”
Shanmugaratnam, who held numerous offices in Singapore before being elected president, has also served as a member of committees and boards of international organizations like the IMF, G20, and the UN.
After concluding his speech, Shanmugaratnam’s joined the journalist and author Fareed Zakaria for additional conversation and questions from the audience.
The president touched on a wide range of issues, including the United States’ role in the international order.
“It’s very hard to summon up trust in the global community only when you need it most. It’s very hard for the US to summon up enough support from the developing world only when you need a vote in the UN on Russia/Ukraine.” he said. “You’ve got to do it by addressing the needs of nations in normal times.”
He also talked about the need for democratic nations to change their postures as they grapple with the effects of climate change.
Democracies, the president added, are really structured to focus on the domestic and the short term, but, more than ever, they need to look ahead 10 or 20 or 50 years. “Rewiring democracies for the long-term and for the global challenges that we all face is a central challenge,” Shanmugaratnam said.
Watch the complete event: