Small states are not game controllers, and not even game changers, in the international economy; but they have tended to survive fairly well, even by deploying unorthodox policies. This chapter offers a synthesis of the arguments which highlight the (mainly economic) vulnerabilities and opportunities faced by states because they are small. It does so mainly by reviewing four, interlocking sets of policy issues which have serious implications on the nature of politics in small states. First is making a virtue out of smallness: scrambling to exploit one economic niche or opportunity, for as long as it lasts. Second is managing the mixed blessing of market concentration: given the small size of the economy and society, any successful economic sector can quickly achieve market dominance. Third is market failure: power and influence, economic as much as political, tends to be concentrated in the hands of single (hence, monopoly power) or a few (hence, oligopoly power) individuals, institutions or organizations. Fourth and last, is the disposition towards economies of scope: within the public administrations of small states, there are critical mass requirements and indivisibility constraints but without economies of scale.
The Caribbean comprises thirteen island and archipelagic states. Former imperial possessions of France, Spain and the United Kingdom, these states must navigate a political economy dominated by the United States (and its embargo of Cuba), but also influenced by Venezuela and China. The imperative to work together and develop multiple of selective cooperation is confronted by the temptation to advance a pseudo-ethnic island nationalism, which lies at the power base of politicians in the region. The chapter reflects upon the epistemological salience of small size that governs the Caribbean mind-set in its dealings with the region and the world. It also offers insights into how democracy is practised ‘on the ground’ in small, democratic jurisdictions.
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.