Small States in the Modern World
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Small States in the Modern World

Vulnerabilities and Opportunities

Edited by Harald Baldersheim and Michael Keating

Small States in the Modern World comprehensively assesses the different modes of adaptation by small states in response to the security and economic vulnerabilities posed by global change. It uses a diverse collection of case studies to explore the complexities of change and to place them in their temporal and geographical context.
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Chapter 2: Small states and security: does size still matter?

Alyson J.K. Bailes


Security is the field where the drawbacks of being a small state in the international system are most glaringly obvious. As one author puts it, being small ‘has been viewed as a handicap to state action, and even state survival’ (Browning 2006, p. 669). Whether smallness is defined by statistical parameters such as size of population, or by a state’s relative capacity vis-a-vis its neighbours, its gravest effect is to leave the state in question with little chance of preventing a hostile physical takeover – which in turn heightens the risk of political and economic blackmail. Being on the wrong side of an asymmetrical power balance further constricts a state’s space for manoeuvre, minimizing its chances of acting as leader or rule-setter at any international level (Wivel et al. 2014). The consequences of existing in a system built by and for players of other sizes were summed up in the fifth century BC by Thucydides as ‘the weak accept what they have to accept’ (Thucydides 1972, p. 302). The modern tradition of small-state studies, after the Second World War, began by stressing small actors’ basic problems of survival.

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