Jostling with Giants: Small States

Natalie Tan – Singapore

click here now Editor’s Note: The first topic that Fox & Hedgehog has chosen to examine through a series of pieces is ‘Small States.’ For the next two weeks, we will publish a series of pieces that deal with the conceptual, sociopolitical, economic, and cultural implications of being a ‘small state’ in a world seemingly dominated by larger powers. 

Small states exist in a variety of ways; the most basic metric by which we define small states is established by the World Bank, which defines a country with a population smaller than 1.5 million to be a “small state.” The geographic size of a nation has important implications for its economic prospects—accessing capital, being disproportionately vulnerable to shocks, and struggling to achieve economies of scale are some of the difficulties small states face. Moreover, natural disasters may have particularly damaging effects on small island and coastal nations.

There is, however, a wider perspective to adopt vis-à-vis small states. For the purposes of our examination, Fox & Hedgehog will not limit itself to the World Bank’s definition. We will broadly investigate the issues that states face in comparison to significantly larger counterparts; therefore, a small state can be defined as geographically constrained, politically subordinate, or economically dwarfed by neighbours. Using this framework, we will ask several critical questions about the relationships between small states and larger powers.

Can small states leverage geopolitical vulnerabilities or advantages to have more sway in the international arena? Does the theory of power politics properly describe the relationship between comparatively weak states and their regional power counterparts? Small states act in drastically different ways depending on their resources—or lack thereof—political culture, internal demography, and alliances. The emergence of the so-called Islamic State, the continued relevance of break-away regions, and increasingly autonomous communities that operate within traditional nation-states all challenge the foundations of the very conception of statehood and what it means to be a small state. We must therefore reconsider the fundamental relationship between sovereignty, power, legitimacy, and the political landscape—both in theoretical and practical terms.

This topic aims to address the plurality of ways that we can conceive of small states as well as navigate the challenges they face, how they aim to assert themselves, how they make themselves relevant in global politics, how they respond to the modern conception of statehood, and how they choose to employ soft and hard power tactics. click here for info Although most pieces will be published simultaneously, we recommend that you read the pieces in the order that they are advertised on our Facebook page. We will begin with an assessment of traditional theories of international relations and their shortcomings in properly encapsulating small states; we will then consider a pair of arguments as to whether small European nations can control their own destinies in the shadows of the EU and Russia’s sphere; finally, we will examine small states from two unorthodox perspectives—the emergence of ISIS and autonomous indigenous communities. On balance, these pieces aim to provide a more intimate picture of what small states have to offer, and refocus the ways in which we think about them.

Collectively, small states—conceived of more broadly than just those countries with fewer than 1.5 million people—are an important part of the international arena; in “Jostling with Giants: Small States” we tackle the issues.

Illustration – Natalie Tan