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What Is a Small State?

By CJHBDH Jan 25, 2013 664 Words
What is a small state?

The relativity of influence
 In the period before the Cold War, the size of a state and its power within the international arena were mainly determined by traditional criteria. Factors that were taken into account included a state´s military capabilities, the size of its territory and its population. In times that a state´s main concerns were to survive and, preferably, to enhance its territorial gains along the way, a large population was essential in a way that it could provide a solid and large army as well as enough people to maintain the economic development of the state.  Over the last decades however, the international arena has developed into a more integrated and globalised environment. This changed environment presents us with new criteria for defining the size of states. Amongst others, Archer and Nugent (2002) stress that there is not one perfect method to define the size of states. Endogenous or exogenous factors can be taken into account: does the size depend on internal aspects of the state or does it depend on the state´s relations with other states? Another axis examines objective and subjective evaluations: is size based on ´measurable´ elements (for example: territorial size or population) or on ´impressionistic´ elements (perception of the state´s size and capacities by the state itself or others)? According to Archer and Nugent (2002), at least all four of the elements should be analysed in order to arrive at a sound definition of the size of a state. One could say that many states, especially in the Western world, are less concerned with survival nowadays, in terms of expansionary, direct military threats. When a state is, for example, a member of the European Union, no matter what the size is of this state, it is highly unlikely that it will be attacked by a power from outside the European Union, as its protection by all the other members of the European Union is guaranteed. Thus we can conclude that military capabilities are of less importance to small states within a protected region such as the European Union, whereas human capital with expertise, in for example technical or environmental areas, or natural resources are of much greater importance. In general, the focus has shifted from military power to economic power as more and more international issues are dealt with diplomatically and political and economic stability is valued in the international arena. An interesting take on small states and their role within the international community comes from Fridtjof Nansen in 1918, just before the end of World War I. He categorises the Scandinavian states as small, which is mainly based on the traditional criteria of their little military capacities and small size of population. Nansen categorises them as less powerful in terms of being practically insignificant in active warfare. However, he assigns the small, and therefore almost forcedly neutral states a much greater role in times of warfare: to keep the peace as much as they can and to keep the chain of human development intact. In situations where the larger states occupy themselves with power politics, small states have the duty to ensure that developments in science and commerce do not come to a hold. Nansen mentions the legacy of revolutioary developments of the human mind that originate from small states in the past, whereas nowadays states with less military capacities such as Denmark and Sweden are indeed leading in scientific and environmental areas. In this aspect, Nansen quite adequately pointed out that smaller states sometimes have an advantage over the larger ones. Opinions on the size of a state and its role in the international community are diverse. Especially if one starts comparing states from different regions or in different situations, it gets all the more complicated. Fortunately, within the European Union small(er) states enjoy relative security and a relatively greater voice in the international community, which makes them in fact not so small after all.

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