Significant, though small
By: Associate Professor Dr Roy Anthony Rogers
The United Nations (UN) was established after the Second World War on 24 October 1945. The UN is an intergovernmental organisation that promotes international peace, harmony and cooperation in economic and social activities. At its founding, there were 51 member states, and at the present, there are 193 member states. The UN is the largest international organisation, and it has six major organisations they are the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Trusteeship Council and the UN Secretariat.
After achieving independence on 31 August 1957, the Federation of Malaya applied to be a member of the UN. Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman wrote to the then Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, expressing the state’s intention to be a member of the UN. Subsequently, during the 12th Session of the UNGA on 17 September 1957, the Federation of Malaya became the 82nd member. Tun Dr Ismail Abd Rahman was appointed as the ambassador of Malaya to the UN and the United States of America. Tun Dr Ismail Abd Rahman gave the inaugural speech in UNGA dressed in the Malay warrior costume, and he stressed the importance of friendly negotiation and the spirit of compromise, especially coming from Malaya, a multiracial country. He also pledged that Malaya would observe the UN Charter.
True to its pledge, Malaysia has demonstrated its commitment to the UN Charter and multilateralism and international cooperation. Throughout the years, Malaysia has participated in various peacekeeping missions. For example, three years after its independence in October 1960, the Federation of Malaya deployed 3,500 troops to participate in the United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC). Malaysia has supported the UN peacekeeping operations by participating in 39 UN and deploying nearly 40,000 peacekeepers from the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP).
Among the UN peacekeeping operations in which Malaysia has participated were the Protection Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), the United Nations Transition Assistance Group, the Interim Force in Lebanon, Operation in Somalia, and the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao. It is noteworthy to mention that Malaysia ranks 19th among 122 troop-contributing countries. According to data from UN Peacekeeping, Malaysia is ranked the eighth highest troop contributor to the UN in Asia. Besides, Malaysia has established the Malaysia Peacekeeping Training Centre in Port Dickson to train the armed forces, police and civilian personnel involved in the UN peacekeeping operations worldwide.
Besides peacekeeping operations, Malaysia has also demonstrated its commitment towards maintaining international peace and security by participating in debates and discussions in the UN Security Council on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Conflict, and the Kosovo War. Malaysia has been elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council four times, first in 1965, subsequently 1989-1990, 1999-2000 and latest from 2015-2016. Apart from the UN Security Council, Malaysia has also participated actively in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Tan Sri Razali Ismail, a Malaysian diplomat, was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly during the 51st session in 1996. Tan Sri Razali Ismail was the third regional representative to preside over the UNGA after Dr. Carlos Pena Romulo (the Philippines) and Adam Malik (Indonesia). In addition, Malaysia has also served as the Vice-President of the UNGA six times: 20th session (1965-1966), 39th session (1984-1985), 41st session (1986-1987), 46th session (1991-1992), 60th session (2005-2006) and 68th session (2013-2014).
Malaysia has also played a crucial role in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It has been a member of the ECOSOC seven times, beginning in 1971-1973, 1976-1985, 1991-1993, 1995-1997, 2003-2005 and 2008-2010. Among Malaysia’s earliest female ambassadors to hold a critical role in the ECOSOC was Tan Sri Lim Phaik Gan, known as P. G. Lim, who served as Malaysia’s ambassador-level Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN. She also served on the Economic and Social Council’s Social Committee and was a Permanent Representative to the United Nations Industrial Development (UNIDO).
Another distinguished Malaysian diplomat in the United Nations is Tan Sri Hamidon Ali. On 19 January 2010, Tan Sri Hamidon Ali was the first Malaysian diplomat to be elected as the President of the ECOSOC. In addition, he has served and headed other committees within the UN, such as the Head of the UN Population Award Committee, the Head of the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Management and Budgetary), Vice President of the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 2008 and Vice Chairman of the UN Forum on Forest from 2006 to 2007.
Recently, on 22 September 2023, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim gave his maiden speech during the 78th Session of UNGA in New York. He touched on several key issues affecting international security, such as the war in Ukraine, the situation in Myanmar, the Middle East and Afghanistan. In his speech, Prime Minister Anwar expressed grave concern over increasing Islamophobia as a new form of racism. Prime Minister Anwar’s speech in the UNGA expresses Malaysia’s continuous commitment to multilateralism.
Malaysia may be small compared to other Asian countries, but since its independence, it has demonstrated unceasing support to the UN in maintaining international peace and cooperation.
The author is the Deputy Executive Director (Internationalisation, Research, Value Creation and Enterprise), Asia Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at [email protected]