VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, said his “tiny, vulnerable and open-island city-State” strongly supports the UN and the indispensable rules-based multilateral system. However, the SDG Summit “shows that we have fallen behind our targets”. With free trade in retreat and supply chains being fragmented, the international community “must avoid turning competition into a zero-sum game”, he stressed. The need for compromise and mutual understanding is a feature, not a bug, of the multilateral system as, “in the face of planetary challenges, there is no winner who can take it all”. Member States should accept and respect the diversity of experiences, systems, and ideas, as no one has a monopoly on culture and wisdom. He pointed to the Summit of the Future as an opportunity to strengthen the multilateral system by taking into account diverse points of view and building a common framework.
Turning to the artificial intelligence revolution, he called for preparing for the risks while distributing the benefits fairly. “In the past year, generative AI has captured popular imagination,” he stated, “but we are already on the verge of the next stage — AI agents with the ability to negotiate and transact with each other and humans”. This has profound implications; and autonomous weapon systems without human fingers on the triggers are already here. Artificial intelligence will disrupt assumptions on military doctrines and strategic deterrence, as the speed at which such weapons systems can be almost instantaneously deployed would dramatically reduce decision times for leaders. Warning that there will be many occasions when humans may not even be in the firing loop, he called for an inclusive global dialogue now at the UN, while welcoming the Secretary-General’s decision to convene a High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence to explore such important issues.
In reality, he noted, many nations are not ready for the wave of digital transformation sweeping the world, as more than two billion people still lack Internet access. Working to bridge that digital divide, in 2022 Singapore launched “Digital FOSS”, a platform for members of the Forum of Small States to learn from and support each other in digital technologies. The international community can address global challenges, he affirmed — as shown by the recent adoption of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement. “We need to bring the constructive spirit of the BBNJ process to the global commons, including AI, cybersecurity, digital technology and outer space,” he stressed. The High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism has put forward six “transformative shifts” that will make the UN and the multilateral system future-ready — and the survival and success of many small States requires just such a strong UN and effective multilateral system, he stated.
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