The post-1945 international order increased national security, prosperity and influence for small states in Europe. Today, small European states are challenged by changes in the transatlantic relationship, a new balance of power between Europe’s great powers, and a more fluent and complex institutional order in Europe. While sharing these challenges, small states in Europe differ significantly in terms of institutional affiliation, outlook on the role and function of Euro-Atlantic institutions, and economic capacity and competitiveness. They are now less likely to be stereotyped as inconsequential actors; but more likely to be excluded from decision-making processes unless they take a proactive stance towards new initiatives and developments. This benefits small states with strong human resource capabilities and effective bureaucracies able to take advantage of the various opportunities for influence-seeking in an institutionalized environment.
Godfrey Baldacchino and Anders Wivel
Attempts to define small states can be largely distilled into three, ideal-type definitions: as non-great powers; as states with limited material capacity and capabilities; and as political constructs. After discussing these ideal-types, this chapter proposes a pragmatic working definition of small states: those characterized by the limited capacity of their political, economic and administrative systems, along with a position as weak actors in asymmetric relationships internationally. Consequently, small states tend to be price and policy takers. From this position, small states face three dilemmas: nationalism versus cosmopolitanism; democratization versus group think; and autonomy versus influence. The effects of these dilemmas are discussed, before moving on to review the organization, contents and major findings of the Handbook on the Politics of Small States. Three findings are highlighted: capacity and capabilities matter; institutions make a difference; and history creates a strong precedent.