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“Small states' success is not the tyranny of the weak”
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“Small states' success is not the tyranny of the weak”

Latoyaa RobertsThe size of a small nation is a great advantage. It can facilitate efficient use of resources and good governance. Although larger states are more influential in international affairs today, small states are increasingly making meaningful contributions through strong coalitions, argues Latoyaa Roberts, 26, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago. 

The distribution of states in the world can be based on the international division of labour. As Immanuel Wallerstein explained, the core is the larger industrialized nations and the periphery is the small under-developed states. 

However, this article posits that to some extent smallness can be an advantage. According to Cooper and Shaw (2009) , “what small states lack in structural clout they can make up through creative agency”. Small island developing states (SIDS) have through legitimate but unconventional means made their small size a beneficial tool for advancing their national interests in world affairs. 

It is uncommon that small states possess ‘hard power’ such as economic or military might. However, small states continue to exhibit ‘soft power’ through their strategic geopolitical location, upholding of their sovereignty, attempts at alliances and the benefits of globalization. Joseph Nye coined soft power as “the ability to get others to want what you want through cooptation or appeal as opposed to hard, coercive power”. For example, small states used their geopolitical salience to their advantage during the Cold War (1949-89). 

Small territories – then referred to as satellites or vassal states – used their strategic location to gain their national interests while the two blocs were pre-occupied fighting amongst themselves. The satellite states gained monetary benefits, military protection and social benefits during the Cold War. 

Small states have continually advocated for their sovereignty and this is visible through the continuous role that small states played in raising awareness of their peculiarities in global regimes. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) within the United Nations (UN), the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) within the World Trade Organizations (WTO), the New International Economic Order (NIEO), non-aligned movement (NAM), African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP), G-77 and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) all recognize the importance of small states. 

Consequently small states have been able to use their lobbying power to challenge unfair practices of the international economy such as relying on ‘one state, one vote’ policy of organizations irrespective of financial contributions of larger countries, their diplomatic capabilities or hard power in international relations.   

Being small contributes to a reduction in administrative cost in overall economic performance. Small states may have scale diseconomies in creating international telecom links, ports or airports because of lack of capital. But once such infrastructure is created, the bulk of the population will access it. For example, Guyana and Vanuatu continue to earn revenue from selling its international telephone country code or domain names because of their sparse population. This is not the case in larger states. In larger states there is more disparity in the urban-rural divide and access to certain resources because of population or topology. 

Many small states manage to generate a relatively high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita when compared to other developed countries in spite of their high exposure to exogenous economic shocks. This phenomenon is called the Singapore Paradox. Using the Caribbean as a case study, even though we are small island developing states, no island in CARICOM is a low-income state except Haiti. 

CARICOM states have been able to use their resources skilfully, whether the oil boom of Trinidad and Tobago, or the tourism and servicing industry of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean states effectively. With that said, one can argue that small states on average have a high gross national income and are performing at superior levels than predicted. 

Homogeneity of population in small states makes leadership relatively intimate. It usually reduces fractionalization of the society and social civil unrest. The fewer number of people to administrate transcends into less diversity and the lesser diffusion of interest across boundaries and social groupings. Small states tend to be more politically insular and display favourable levels of good governance. There is a level of intimacy between government and civil society. This helps to develop good policies that benefit all, as seen in Luxembourg or Barbados. 

Small states should not cower because of their inadequacies in terms of natural resources, population or ‘hard power’ wielded in the international society, but rather they should tap into their ‘soft power’ and ingenuity while relying on endogenous policies. The advantages of small states may be few in number, yet there have been success stories as small states graduate from low income producing countries to middle- income countries and even higher. 

Undoubtedly, in the future one may be able to see small states occupying more pre-eminence in global affairs and as a result making their size a more viable asset. The successes of small states should not be remembered as ‘the tyranny of the weak’ or ‘the few and far between successes’ but rather an appraisal of their nurtured resilience and creativity in an ever-changing globalized world.              

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About me:
The world is my oyster and I love exploring it. My best exploration thus far was as an English teacher in Japan, frequently visiting other Asian countries. Now, I am a Secondary School English teacher in my country but in the future I want to become a Communications Specialist for an international organization.
My first degree is in Communication Studies with Linguistics and International Relations. I also obtained a M.Sc in Global Studies and I am currently pursuing a M. Phil in International Relations.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit:
http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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