Singapore must have what it takes to defend itself'

Singapore must have what it takes to defend itself'
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong walking the streets of Luxembourg town with his counterpart Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel (right) on their way to lunch on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

LUXEMBOURG - A small state like Singapore must have the wherewithal to defend itself against acts of invasion that Ukraine has found itself subjected to, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

The situation in Ukraine has reminded Singapore of this very important lesson, he said at a press conference during his visit to Luxembourg, another small state.

Crimea, a peninsula in the south of Ukraine, was annexed by Russia last week, a move that provoked a firestorm of reaction and reignited old tensions between the West and the former Soviet empire.

Russia has shrugged off retaliatory sanctions, fuelling fears that it may have designs deeper into eastern Ukraine.

Mr Lee and his Luxembourg counterpart Xavier Bettel were asked about the situation and how they felt as leaders of small states surrounded by more powerful neighbours.

The Singapore PM noted that Ukraine had entered into a treaty in 1994 in which Russia agreed to respect its borders in exchange for it giving up its nuclear arsenal. But the treaty is clearly in tatters.

As a small country, Mr Lee said, "we believe that international laws have to be upheld and that countries should not be making unprovoked invasions of other countries. We believe that international treaties are sacrosanct".

But on top of that, Singapore takes a multi-layered approach to security.

The first level, he said, is to develop a network of friends.

The second is to have a very effective foreign policy and diplomacy, and the third is international agreements which partners are held to.

"When somebody enters into agreement with us, we have to take it very seriously. The only thing small states have is words and treaties," he said.

Finally, besides depending on the goodwill and good faith of others, a small state like Singapore must ensure deterrence and defence.

This is why it is important to have a strong Home Team and the Singapore Armed Forces.

"In extremis, you must be prepared to stand up to defend your position, if necessary, with your lives," he said.

"That's a long, old lesson but is one which is worth repeating and which the Crimea situation reminds us is still very important."

Mr Bettel said: "We cannot, in 2014, have countries unilaterally decide to move borders. But we want a pacifist solution. War or any escalation won't help anyone."

zuraidah@sph.com.sg


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