Small State Foreign Policy

Cover of Handbook on the Politics of Small States by Godfrey Baldacchino and Anders Wivel

What is a small state?

My work on small state foreign policy begins from a definition of small states as the weaker actors in asymmetric relationships. In Small States: Theories and Concepts, the introductory chapter to Handbook on the Politics of Small States, my co-author, Godfrey Baldacchino and I argue that small states are defined by two characteristics (Baldacchino and Wivel 2020, p. 7). The first characteristic is that

small states are states that are characterized by the limited capacity of their political, economic and administrative systems

The second characteristic is that

small states typically find themselves as “the weaker part in an asymmetric relationship, unable to change the nature or functioning of the relation-ship on [their] own”(Wivel, Bailes and Archer, 2014, p. 9).

In a subsequent article in Small States and Territories, Godfrey Baldacchino and I revisit our definition of small states and address (1) why we should study the politics of small states, (2) how to study it, and (3) what do we actually focus on when we study small state politics.

How do small states maximize influence?

I argue that a changing security environment creates both the need and opportunity for small states to use their weakness instrumentally for maximizing interests.

Some of my work is on the grand stratregies of small states. I argue that balancing strategies rarely make sense to small states with little impact on the balance of power. Instead small states tend to trade autonomy for security from bi- and multilateral partners. Today, small state grand strategy remains tied to national security. It continues to be formulated in the shadow of great power interests. However, a changing security environment creates both the need and opportunity for small states to use their weakness instrumentally for maximizing interests.

In another analysis, Revecca Pedi and I ask: What future for small states after unipolarity? We provide an overview of existing knowledge of links between different types of polarity and the challenges and opportunities of small states. We use this overview as starting point for a comparative discussion of small state strategy under continued (weakened) unipolarity, bipolarity, multipolarity and non-polarity. We argue that in a world dominated by US- and China-led bounded orders, small states must choose their battles wisely, prioritize their resources and build networks with like-minded small states.

Journal article on small state diplomacy after the corona crisis published in The Hague Journal of Diplomacy.

Other work focuses more on specific developments and foreign policy decisions. In an explorative analysis of Small State Diplomacy after the Corona Crisis, Revecca Pedi and I document and discuss the surprising success of small states around the world meeting the challenges of of the Covid19 pandemic through e.g., minilateralist strategies.

In a comparative analysis of Estonian and Danish security policy since the end of the Cold War, Matthew Crandall and I argue that both countries pursue super-Atlanticist security policies and that these policies are based on fundamental security concerns of national foreign policy elites. However, Estonian concerns are mainly material, whereas Danish concerns are mainly ontological.

When do small states succeed?

The likelihood of small state success in international affairs depends on a pragmatic political culture and the willingness and ability to prioritize goals and means to utilize nonthreatening small state status in “smart” policies.

Some of my work on how small states succeed focus on small EU member states e.g., in Maximizing influence in the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty: From small state policy to smart state strategy, Caroline Grøn and I argue that strategies for small state success in the European Union vary with stages in the policy process and EU institutions.

In Analysing Small States in Crisis: Fundamental Assumptions and Analytical Starting Points, Baldur Thorhallsson, Külli Sarapuu, and I discuss coping strategies that small states can use to address their vulnerabilities. We map the conceptual and theoretical landscape evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of definitions of small states and discusses the strategic menu of small states in crises. Taking our point of deaprture in the European migrant crisis 2015-2016, we initiate a discussion on how small states have responded to the migration crisis, what have been the constraints and advantages of small scale and how they can become better equipped, domestically and externally, to deal with crises in the future.

Other publications explore how small states can promote their values and interests in less institutionalized settings. Christian Bueger and I explore the conditions for small island state influence in How do small island states maximize influence? Creole diplomacy and the smart state foreign policy of the Seychelles.

Also, some West European small states seek to expand their influence beyond the European realm and in less institutionalized settings. This is the focus of Vulnerability without capabilities? Small state strategy and the international counter-piracy agenda, which analyzed how Denmark used networks (most importantly its relationship with the US) and framing (e.g., strategic use of experts) to influence the international counter-piracy agenda.

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