The Russian invasion of Ukraine has upset the Cold War security order in Europe and sent shockwaves around the world as fundamental assumptions about cooperation and security have been shaken. While the European response has been to strengthen its existing multilateral organizations such as the EU and NATO, the response in Asia has been far more mixed. Beyond the dissensus over how the conflict in Ukraine should be characterized, Asian states lack a shared perception of common threats, a variety of political regimes and foreign policy alignments, and a very different sense of regionalism that to date has centred around ASEAN.
Yet fundamental questions remain: How should small and medium states respond to great power unilateral actions that affect them? Do they realistically still have strategic autonomy in their foreign policy decision-making? Is the dreaded moment of taking a side now inevitable? How can regional order contend with divergent great power interests and increasing pressure on smaller states to align with their positions and priorities?
To explore these questions, the Centre for Multilateralism Studies will host a unique seminar in the form of a debate between two of its research fellows, Dr Frederick Kliem and Dr Joel Ng, where they will examine the space for small states to navigate disruption and try to reform the international order after the Ukraine conflict.
Resolution: ‘Small state strategic autonomy only exists when great powers allow it’
Proposing: Dr Frederick Kliem
Opposing: Dr Joel Ng
Moderator: Mr Lawrence Anderson
About the Speakers
Frederick Kliem is a Research Fellow and lecturer at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. Frederick is with the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at RSIS, and his main research interests are regional integration and multilateralism in as well as the geopolitics of Asia and Europe. Specific research projects include the study of ASEAN and EU institutions, inter-regionalism and comparative regionalism as well as European Indo-Pacific engagement. In addition, Frederick is a freelance Consultant and a EU Key Expert on ASEAN-EU matters. His latest book is Great Power Competition and Order Building in the Indo-Pacific: Towards a New Indo-Pacific Equilibrium (London and New York: Routledge, 2022).
Joel Ng is Research Fellow and Deputy Head of the Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS). His research focuses on regionalism, integration, security, and intervention norms, focusing on ASEAN and its dialogue partners as well as the African Union. He began his career in international affairs working in Uganda on peace, conflict, and refugee issues. He has also worked in the private sector in Singapore in public and investor relations. He is presently in the Singapore committee for the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP). Dr Ng is the author of Contesting Sovereignty: Power and Practice in Africa and Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2021). He has a DPhil from the University of Oxford, where he was an Oxford-Swire and Tan Kah Kee scholar, and also holds a MA (Distinction) from the University of Sussex, and a BA (Hons) from the University of East Anglia.
About the Moderator
Lawrence Anderson is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Previously, Lawrence had a 37-year career in the foreign service. Lawrence served at the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York and the Singapore Embassies in the US and Thailand. He was appointed Ambassador to Cambodia (2004-2007), as well as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and concurrently Ambassador to Bahrain (2013-2019). Back home at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence at various times held appointments covering Singapore’s bilateral relations with its Southeast Asian neighbours; regional policy and strategic security issues involving ASEAN and its relations with the Dialogue Partners; overseeing Singapore’s technical assistance cooperation programmes; as well as managed Singapore’s relations with Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific Islands, the European Union (EU) and other European countries. He retired from the foreign service in late 2021 after a secondment to the Asia-Europe Foundation. He is also Singapore’s representative on the Advisory Board of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) and a Senior Fellow at the MFA Diplomatic Academy.