Singapore officially applied to join the United Nations (UN) on 3 September 1965, less than a month after it separated from Malaysia on 9 August. The application was submitted via cable by then Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Rajaratnam to then UN Secretary-General U Thant. Under the UN Charter at the time, a new member application had to be sponsored by at least two Security Council members, and would be successful only upon receiving the endorsement of the Security Council as well as a two-third majority vote in the General Assembly. When Singapore applied for UN membership, there were 11 members in the Security Council consisting of five permanent members (United States, United Kingdom, France, China and the Soviet Union) and six non-permanent members (Malaysia, Jordan, Ivory Coast, Bolivia, Uruguay and the Netherlands).
Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Jordan and Ivory Coast jointly sponsored Singapore’s UN application. Malaysia was the first UN member state to declare its sponsorship, and the pledge was made by then Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman on 9 August 1965 simultaneously with Kuala Lumpur’s announcement that Singapore had left Malaysia to become an independent state. Malaysia’s then permanent UN representative, R. Ramani, visited Singapore on 20 August to hold discussions with Rajaratnam and other senior government officials on procedural matters relating to Singapore’s UN application. During the visit, Ramani assured Singapore that the Malaysian government would see Singapore’s UN application through and take the necessary measures to ensure that the application was processed promptly.
On 20 September 1965, a resolution recommending that the General Assembly admit Singapore into the UN was put to a vote in the Security Council. A delegation led by Rajaratnam and then Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye attended the session. Singapore’s UN membership application met with no objections in the Security Council and received unanimous support in the General Assembly a day later. As a result, Singapore became the 117th UN member state on 21 September 1965.
In his speech thanking the General Assembly, Rajaratnam called Singapore’s admission a “momentous occasion” and its UN membership “an international endorsement of Singapore sovereignty and integrity”. He also outlined some guiding principles that were eventually incorporated into Singapore’s foreign policy. He said, “For [Singapore], the essentials of the [UN] Charter are the preservation of peace through collective security, promotion of economic development through mutual aid and the safeguarding of the inalienable right of every country to establish forms of government in accordance with the wishes of its own people.” Rajaratnam stressed that Singapore valued peace and denounced war. The country viewed “world peace as a necessary condition for the political and economic survival of small countries like Singapore”. Therefore, it was “natural” for Singapore to adhere to the policy of “resolving differences between nations through peaceful negotiations, not by violent means”.
Following Singapore’s admission into the UN, Rajaratnam and Toh embarked on a two-month diplomatic mission of goodwill. They visited four Asian countries, eight African nations, as well as Britain, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, to establish Singapore’s status as a fully independent, sovereign state and to forge ties for trade and cultural exchanges.
1. Singapore applies to join UN. (1965, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Singapore is among UN ‘gains’. (1965, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. United Nations. (2015). Members of the Security Council in 1965. Retrieved February 2, 2014, from the United Nations Security Council website: http://www.un.org/en/sc/inc/searchres_sc_year_english.asp?year=1965
4. Unanimous UN ‘yes’ for Singapore. (1965, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Abisheganadan, F. (1965, August 10). Singapore is out. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Singapore to apply direct to the UN. (1965, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Dr. Toh in New York for U.N. session. (1965, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Singapore becomes member of UN. (1965, September 23). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. United Nations General Assembly. (1965). United Nations General Assembly twentieth session: 1332nd plenary meeting (opening meeting), Tuesday, 21 September 1965, at 3 p.m. New York (p. 12). New York: United Nations. Call no.: RCLOS 341.2322 UNI.
10. United Nations General Assembly, 1965, p. 12.
11. United Nations General Assembly, 1965, p. 12.
12. Soh, T. K. (1965, September 17). Raja off to project the world image of Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 8; Raja: Our mission a complete success. (1965, November 18). The Straits Times, p. 22; Dr. Toh’s mission is back to a ‘Hero’s Welcome’. (1965, November 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.