Thank you very much, Foreign Minister, and thanks also to the Secretary General and the UN General Assembly President for their remarks and for their leadership. I’m delighted to have been invited by Singapore to join you at the Forum of Small States to mark the 20th anniversary of its founding. I think organizing this event and the program that follows this opening provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on the issues that we face as a global community, and in particular, the roles and responsibilities that small states have.
In my time as Secretary, I’ve been honored to travel to over 100 countries and to meet with leaders in government, business, and civil society in every corner of the world. Now of course, this means frequent visits to larger nations and traditional centers of power, but for me, it has been equally important to visit many of your countries, to understand what you’re going through, to share ideas about how we can make progress together, to meet the Millennium Development Goals and then the initiative of the Secretary General, the Sustainable Development Goals.
Just last month, I attended the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands to talk with leaders of the region about how the United States can build stronger partnerships with their countries, and I’ve had similar conversations with small states from around the world. Now I believe this is absolutely essential because we have a lot of challenges that we are confronting, and I don’t think it’s unfair or inaccurate to say that smaller states often bear the burden of a lot of these challenges. These challenges don’t respect international orders, whether it’s a global financial crisis or climate change or transnational crime. And none of these problems can be solved by three or four big countries sitting around a table. We need partnerships from large and small nations alike.
That means we do have to transcend the lines of size or geography, because 21st century challenges require a 21st century approach to foreign policy where we build broad and diverse coalitions with states of every size from every region. That recognizes the reality of the world in which we live, where our futures are inextricably linked, and as we increasingly have seen, that when one of us prospers, the chances for others as well to prosper increase. But when one falters, then everyone will be hurt.
If you look at the global economic meltdown and how it spread across the world, it was because we are now interconnected through markets that are bigger than any one of us. Therefore, we have to address these challenges not just in the G-8 or the G-20, but across the globe. And the economy is one area where even the smallest country can make a significant difference. Singapore, for example, with just over 5 million people, is one of the busiest trade ports in the world, and a frequent destination for investors and CEOs alike. So although it may be a small state, it plays a large role in the global economy.
Our cooperation is also necessary to address climate change. As the Secretary General just said, many of your states are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and you have played a major role in sparking global action. In fact, had it not been for a coalition of small states helping push larger countries, including my own, toward agreement and action, we would not have had the outcomes at the Durban meeting that I think moved us forward in the fight against climate change. That agreement is one step, but an important one in the long process of curbing global climate change, and small states will continue to be critical in mobilizing the international community’s response.
It’s also important that we learn from each other. We have a tradition in our federal system in the United States of individual states playing a role in trying out new policies. We call it the laboratories of democracy. So if California or Delaware or Montana or Alabama or New York try something, then other states within our union can see whether or not it works, can adapt it, or even move to make it a national responsibility. I see something similar with small states. Every one of you is doing something that works, and all of us are doing things that don’t work, and we need a better mechanism for sharing what works and being able to follow through with technical advice and assistance where necessary.
I’m particularly intrigued by Bhutan’s gross domestic happiness measurement. After all, what is the purpose of our lives together if it is not to try to provide a better future, particularly for the next generation? Well, that’s just one example. I go places, I see things that work in the smallest states. But too often, we don’t know how to bring it to scale and we don’t know how to spread it broadly. So I hope that through the UN and through this forum, we can get smarter about how to learn from each other to see what works.
I remember very well after the terrible hurricane of Katrina, we learned a lot from the Netherlands and other states that faced periodic and constant threats from flooding. There is a lot that the United States can learn, a lot that we can share, but I hope we can be more intentional in pursuing that.
I also want to thank the — President Jeremic for his emphasis on the rule of law, because ultimately, that is what will determine the success of development — whether investors feel safe, whether there’s predictability, whether people can get about the daily business of having families grow and prosper, businesses grow and prosper, and thereby countries grow and prosper, because there is a sense that justice is available for all.
And certainly, small states play a leading role in human rights. Over the past three years, the United States has been privileged to work with a number of members, as I look about this forum, on the UN Human Rights Council. And along the way, we have overcome traditional divisions that hindered the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council in the past. We have partnered with a set of small states that feel as passionately about human rights as anyone — countries like Mauritius and Slovenia, just to name two. And together we have built a Human Rights Council that is far stronger and more capable than it was just three years ago.
And I thank all of the small states that have stood up and said, “We want the rule of law and human rights respected everywhere.” We’ve come a long way getting past the outdated divides. Yes, there is still north-south, there is still east-west, there is still developed and developing, but we ought to move toward a standard of expectation for all of our nations and hold ourselves to it.
Now there are a number of other areas where I know many of you are leaders — nonproliferation, peacekeeping, clean energy, just to name a few. And I want to assure you that the United States recognizes and appreciates the contributions that you are making to solving these important challenges. We are committed to continuing not only to work with you, but to learn from you. And so I appreciate this opportunity to express appreciation to you individually and through you to the forum for inviting the United States to be part of this conversation, and I look forward to our continued partnership together.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)