Think Tank (5/2023)
Dr Marty Natalegawa
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The Search for Common Ground: Third Voice in a Fractured World
12 Sep 2023
Curtis Tan

With increasing geopolitical rivalries, can countries come together to respond collectively? Beyond the commitment to a rules-based international order and the rejection of bloc politics, what are other common grounds that can unite?

With these questions in mind, Dr Marty Natalegawa, Distinguished Visiting Fellow, RSIS; Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Indonesia, and Author of “Does ASEAN Matter? A view from Within”; gave a seminar titled “The Search for Common Ground: Third Voice in a Fractured World” on 12 September 2023. Moderated by Dr Sinderpal Singh, Senior Fellow, RSIS; Assistant Director of Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), Coordinator of Regional Security Architecture Programme, and South Asia Programme, IDSS; the seminar explored how countries caught in “geopolitical push and pull” can respond to the “regality” of geopolitical competition.

Age of Geopolitics

Today, deepening trust deficits and intensifying competitions across multiple nexuses, in particular, US-China and Russia-West, have impacts extending beyond traditional security issues that threaten to stymie common action on global challenges. As geopolitical tensions heighten, multilateralism appears to have reached its nadir. The United Nations continues to struggle with the core issues of the Russia-Ukraine war while domestic actors within states driven by a “me-first” mentality, and anti-globalist sentiments hinder cooperation. Despite the challenges, Dr Natalegawa emphasised the exigency for countries to seek common ground and proposed two broad bases:

(i) Revamping Multilateralism

Dr Natalegawa proposed the urgent need to revamp multilateralism that is relevant for the 21st century. Rejecting bloc politics, fostering cooperation, inclusion, and multi-polarity is crucial to bridge the divide in today’s fractured world. Multilateral organisations like MIKTA are a testament to the potential of such cooperation.

(ii) Search for Common Ground

Dr Natalegawa holds continued belief in the power of diplomacy as an avenue for conflict prevention and resolution while rejecting the use and threat of force. Fundamental human rights, principles of democracy, the rule of law, and good governance must be upheld, although the challenges of realising some of these ideals were acknowledged.

With the Indo-Pacific being the epicentre of geopolitical tensions, Dr Natalegawa stressed that Southeast Asian countries have the opportunity to unite countries and search for common ground.

The concluding Q&A session of the seminar had a clear recurring theme – collective leadership. Dr Natalegawa’s confidence in multilateralism was referenced to India’s recent resolve for the African Union to become a permanent member of the G20. Could Indonesia perhaps, in hindsight, have led ASEAN to be part of the G20 at the 2022 Bali Summit?

The search for common ground cannot remain an aspiration but must be a necessity. Dr Natalegawa’s seminar underscores the urgency for countries to transcend their differences and seek common ground, thereby expanding the space for cooperation.

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