Law and society blog

Small States as Experts in Their Specific Field and thus Changing the World

27.06.2017 10:23:30

The world seems to be run by big states and their foreign policy is important and powerful. But being small has its benefits and making small state foreign policy is often easy. It’s not easy to define the line between big and small in different parts of the world. The country’s physical side is only one of the many aspects that make it big or small. The population, economy, location and cultural relevance are all important. European small states are more important than African ones because their voice is heard more via the European Union, for example. Then again, Israel is very small but very important. Some countries are small on a global state but big and important regionally. All of Europe is globally a fairly small state but we have our own local giants here.

Still, some cases are easy, one can in general agree that United States is a big country and Estonia is small. The US foreign policy could change the whole world but why would it be good to be a country like Estonia? There are two reasons why being a small state makes foreign policy easier and in a way, better.

First, when you are small, nobody really cares what you do. It can mean that you can try very hard but nobody notices but it can also be a positive thing. You can support your friends around you or far away, for example Estonia has supported all kinds of small states without it being strange. A small state can take controversial positions like Sweden who has declared support for the state of Palestine which bigger countries like Germany or USA can’t do, it would cause an international situation. Small state foreign policy can even make money! The small island nation of Nauru has acknowledged far away breakaway regions like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, something only them and three other states have done. At the same time they received investments from Russia who is a big supporter of both those regions. Those things are officially not related, of course.

Second, you can become an expert. Small states are not often noticed but they can become relevant when it comes to certain topics. As small states often don’t have a lot of resources to deal with many foreign policy topics, they focus. They can become experts in their specific field and change the world there. Small states around big states like Russia are trying to be experts on the country, Nordic small states like Finland are seen as experts on diplomacy and small island nations from the Pacific are teaching others about environmental dangers. Small states can become both good and bad examples of being experts but they definitely can make a difference.

It’s good to be small, nobody expects much so you can surprise everyone!

Author of text is Catlyn Kirna, Lecturer of International Relations at School of Governance, Law and Society

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