IISS Shangri-la Asia Security Dialogue Singapore, 31st May – 2nd June 2024

Remarks

By J. RAMOS-HORTA

President of Timor-Leste Nobel Peace Laureate Singapore, 1st June 2024

Excellencies,

Warmest greetings to all.

Profuse appreciation due to Singapore authorities for the warm the welcome and to IISS Secretariat for the flawless arrangements.

In the midst of the heartbreaking stories of human suffering caused by the insanity of the wars in Myanmar, Gaza, Sudan, Ukraine, and as darker clouds are forming above us, I

should share with you the good news of my country. In Timor-Leste we are at peace, living in total tranquility with ourselves and with our two neighbors, Indonesia and Australia, with whom we have active defense and security partnerships.

The ASEAN leaders Summit in November 2022 in Phonon Penh unanimously endorsed

Timor-Leste’s stated desire to join the organization; we are making impressive progress in

implementing the Road Map approved by ASEAN Leaders in the Labuan Bajo Summit in May 2023.

As tropical islanders we are naturally slow, relaxed, good at improvising, but ASEAN membership is already transforming us, we see more discipline, more planning and better execution. We are working round the clock towards 2025 formal admission as ASEAN’S 11th Member. We profusely thank ASEAN Secretariat for their constant guidance.

Indonesia and Singapore are providing comprehensive packages of capacit upgrading of our civil servants, diplomats, young leaders. We are grateful to all who have offered support to improve our HR.

In 2023 we were rated 10th globally in media freedom and a top performing democracy in Asia. Frankly I would prefer to be ranked best performing economy and corruption free. This isn’t the case.

But we are at peace, we do not have political, ethnic or religious based violence, we do not have organized crime. I think this has more to do with the fact that we are generally pretty disorganized and our criminals are also very disorganized. We have minor drug trafficking and negligible cannabis consumption. We do not have serious human trafficking cases.

We are 99,6% Catholics with small Protestant and Muslim minorities living in perfect harmony.

This is Timor-Leste. Visit us, there is a weekly flight Singapore-Dili, daily flights Bali-Dili, Darwin-Dili.

His Majesty Sultan of Brunei Darussalam recently visited us and he thoroughly loved the experience. Foreign Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan visited us few months ago, he liked it so much and stayed 4 days with us.

His Holiness Papa Francisco is visiting in September. His Majesty King Filipe of Spain promised to visit in near future. We are planning for President Marcos Junior’s visit.

At independence in 2002 we had the wisdom and courage to pursue national healing and reconciliation, “sine quo non” conditions for peace and stability. But we also owe much to our neighbors, friends in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, for the peace and progress of the last 22 years.

We owe it to the international community that is organized into our collective institution, the United Nations, a UN that is at a crossroads. We must reimagine it, recreate it to reflect today’s power distribution and to make it our best conflict prevention and peace making

institution.

Excellencies,

In Timor-Leste we do not face or fear conventional security threats. We are friends of all, enemies of no one.

We do face plunder of our living maritime resources; illegal fishing in the Timor Sea is rampant and costs us an estimated $200 million in lost revenues every year.

In regards maritime security, it does not require a PhD dissertation to figure out that small

insular countries cannot afford costly strategies and equipment to protect the resources in our vast EEZ. Maritime security reqiires supporting air surveillance and intercept

capabilities. We advocate transparent maritime security arrangements with countries sharing the Timor Sea.

Excellencies,

I haven’t done a thorough reading of all the ongoing hot wars, low intensity conflicts, latent threats and high risks of war, in our region and in the world at large. But I’m very informed onthe endless wars in Myanmar, Gaza, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, to

name some of the ongoing catastrophes. Being attentive to humanity’s achievements and tragic failures, I have a very good “wide angle” and “close up” understanding of the State of our World.

In addition to man-made catastrophes all throughout the world we can all feel the effects of decades of human desecration of Mother Earth.

However we may wish to define the conflict situations in the Asia region, the reality is that they all carry human cost, loss of lives and property, destabilize communities, cause high level of displacement of peoples, exacerbate states fragility, impede economic recovery, weaken national authorities, undermine law and order, sow chaos, cause fragmentation of

countries that are a rich tapestry of ethnic, culture, linguistique and religious diversity.

We all know about the unresolved land and maritime border disputes, the high tensions and flare ups between heavily armed border forces and the risks of conflict escalation.

The combined Asian standing armies is almost half the combined forces of Africa, Latin America and of Western allies. Of the nine countries possessing nuclear weapons, with a total of 12.100 warheads, five are in Asia. Globally total active military personnel is 20,646,000. Asia’s share is 9,029,000.

We can indulge in reading about the vast array of weaponry at the disposal of Asian powers, mind boggling.

If illuminated by God, Leaders in Asia were to convert 50% of our respective defense budgets and military personnel into engineering, construction, schools, health centers, rural development and environmental brigades, what would happen? I’m not suggesting that 50% of the armed forces personnel should be sent home; rather they should be

redeployed to essentially civilian, civic, social, humanitarian and sustainable development missions with national defense resources enhanced by international partners grants and soft loans. This would in fact be built on decades of experience of many armies around the world. We would just expand many times over.

Over a decade we would meet SDGs goals, eliminate extreme poverty and illiteracy, improve air quality, secure clean drinking water and sanitation and hence assure overall life quality for hundreds of millions of fellow human beings. This would best guarantee for all an Age of Peace, a new era of a more equal humanity.

It should help not to forget past wars in Asia and the catastrophic consequences in human lives lost and destruction of infrastructures. The wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, the never ending wars in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Yemen, etc. should remind all about the costs of wars.

Let’s imagine scenarios of miscalculation in the Korean Peninsula or in South China Sea. Let’s imagine, a nervous pilot flying over and through contested South China Sea firing missiles at a perceived hostile aircraft. Hopefully there’s a system of communications

between military and political leaders that may be promptly activated to clarify and deescalate the crisis.

I wonder if the images of the Korean Airline Flight 007 en route from New York to Seoul shot down by a Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 interceptor aircraft on September 1st 1983, killing all 269

passengers and crew, are still in the minds of all involved in political and security management; this should remind everyone of the potential for accidental military action;

another reminder, the July 17, 2014, premeditated downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by pro Russian elements killing all 298 passengers and crew, including 80 children.

Consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should be intensified. Active dialogue and bilateral negotiations between claimant States on South China Sea must be

intensified, always in good faith and avoiding “fait accomplis” so as to maintain trust.

Ideally the South China Sea should be a Zone of Peace and Fraternity, regionally managed, and free of permanent military installations.

I wonder if in the euphoric days of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Pact,

NATO planners dealing with the extreme and understandable pressures from the newly liberated Soviet captive States demanding to join the EU and NATO, did ask themselves, how far, how deep NATO can encroach into Russia’s legitimate security arch?

I wonder if when considering a response to NATO’s audacious Eastward movement, was President Putin thoroughly briefed about the state of Russia’s armed forces, the state of Ukraine’s armed forces, equipment, manpower, leadership, etc. and the potential

catastrophe unleashed by an invasion of Ukraine ?

Obviously, we know UN Charter and International Law were mere details not in consideration. Overestimating one’s own resources, preparedness and sustained

capabilities, underestimating the other side has been a historical mistake. Napoleon, Hitler, regretted their decision to invade Russia.

Leaders of the defunct USSR surely regretted their temerity in invading Afghanistan in late December 1979. I’m sure US and NATO allies regret not to have retained the Afghanistan

lessons of history when they went into Afghanistan.

We all know about how countries often react with suspicion when a neighbor acquires new, advanced military equipment or signs defence agreements with a particular neighbor.

Dialogue, consultation, transparency, are part of conflict prevention syllabus.

In view of all the above…how can we prevent conflicts, de-escalate tensions, prevent wars?

Obviously there are no magic or easy prescriptions and there are no lacking of national, regional and multilateral mechanisms. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of how even the world’s best mediators failed to bring all parties to dialogue and end the war

because those involved did not listen, each side overestimating their strength. Often politicians do not listen to their generals.

Over 70 years American Presidents, Secretaries of State, highly-rated Special Envoys, all

failed the Palestinian people and in the process they failed to deliver on Israel real security.

The Gaza catastrophe could have been avoided IF the Palestinian leadership were united, principled but pragmatic, moderate, conciliatory, focusing on turning Gaza and West Bank into models of peace and reconciliation, good governance, freedom, prosperity, and

respecting Israel’s right to live in security.

However, Israel chose to undermine the Palestinian Authority, chose to support radical

islamist Hamas as a way to undermine the 2 State solution. And Hamas, supported by Iran, waged a vicious campaign against the Palestinian Authority, expelling it from Gaza, and use Gaza as a spring board to continously harass Israel. Hamas and PM Netanyahu contributed to today’s catastrophe. They were “allies”.

There has to be a way forward…Israel has the right to live in peace and security within the pre 1967 borders. A Sovereign Palestinian State is built on the Saudi Arabia Peace Plan. Iran desists from destabilizing Arab neighbors.

Myanmar is another case of failed conflict prevention but as the TATMADAW faces real risk of implosion, there is a unique opportunity for a mediated resolution that would prevent the conflict from spiraling out of control. The only valid, still workable proposal on the table, is the ASEAN 5 point consensus.

We must seriously reflect on the international community abysmal failure in preventing the current global conflicts and re-think conflict prevention and mediation mechanisms, both regional and global, so we can do better in the future.

For the ongoing wars, those involved must pause and ask themselves, when will we stop all this death and destruction? Are we going to continue this madness, the further destruction of our cities and the death of our people? Or all sides should agree to a humanitarian pause of at least six months to care for the dead, wounded, orphans, reunite families, re-start

schools, reactivate essential services and the economy and international trade. During this

period, mediators facilitate, would go between, explore ideas for a comprehensive peace agreement.

Excellencies, I apologize that in these 10′ prescribed to me, I have not guided you out of the dark tunnel into a beautiful shinning day.

God Bless You All.