This is the first of a number of posts pulling off my M.A. thesis. In a previous post, I provided a link to the full document. In these posts, I want to give a basic introduction to the main sections of the thesis, essentially attempting to condense a 70-page document into 3-4, 2-page posts, for my more casual readers.
One key contribution of my thesis is a new way to distinguish small states in today’s international system. I argue that “smallness” must be approached from a relative perspective, and divide my criteria into two sections: asymmetry and small behaviors.
All four of the following factors are required for a relationship to be defined as asymmetrical and to begin classify a state as comparatively small. (Some of you might recognize that the factors are vaguely similar to the first draft of figures I posted here- note,however, that I updated the images since making that posting!). This section is based largely on the following: Womack, Brantly, China Among Unequals: Asymmetric Foreign Relationships in Asia (World Scientific Publishing: New Jersey, 2010).
1. Difference in Perspectives: Two states in an asymmetrical relationship will have differing perspectives on both their own goals and the goals of the other side. The smaller state will perceive a direct threat from the larger power, and the larger state will see the smaller as irrelevant. Conversely, the small state will see itself as a victim, while the larger power will view its own policies as fair and justified.
2. Difference of Attention: The smaller country will give priority to its relationship with the larger power. For the small country in an asymmetrical, bilateral relationship, the larger country is the largest potential threat, and the relationship must be carefully managed. The larger country often has more important relationships with other large powers, and the relationship with the smaller state will not appear as pressing a concern.
3. Difference of Options: The smaller state in an asymmetrical relationship will be limited in what, how, where, and when it can resist actions taken against it by a larger state. That is not to say that it will have no options, but the options available will be limited by the overwhelming disparity between itself and the larger power.
4. Excludes Differing Symmetries: The relationship is not asymmetrical if State A>B for one variable and State B>A for another indicator.
With the addition of specific small state behaviors we can achieve a working definition of “smallness” in the contemporary international system that will better lend itself to analyzing small state foreign policy decision-making. I identify the following four behavioral characteristics as indicative of what I call an “engaged” small state, meaning a state that seeks to adapt to the international system without simply bandwagoning with a protector power (ex. Laos) or seeking isolation (ex. North Korea).
1. Perception of Vulnerability- The perception that the state is vulnerable to loosing its sovereignty and autonomy. Example: The state perceives that a neighbor could eventually control their economy, government, etc. (As explained in the following: Katzenstein, Peter J. “Small States and Small States Revisited.” New Political Economy 8, no. 1 (March 2003). p. 11)
2. Lack of Military Options: Asymmetrical military strength means the state cannot rely on military solutions for defense. Example: The state’s military capacity is so small, that the other side could win easily.
3. Adaptability- Changing course and policies in reaction to changing balances of power. Example: The rise of a neighboring state necessitates resetting relations with that country.
4. Specialized Balancing: Neither balancing nor bandwagoning with any state, but keep as many partners as possible. Example: The state seeks to improve relations with two other states that are widely acknowledged as rivals.
For the purposes of this blog post, I do not feel it is necessary to explain each behavioral factor, but I do want to point to the fourth factor in a little more detail. “Specialized balancing” refers to the fact that small states will seek to develop mutually beneficial relations with various partners in such a way as to most effectively safeguard their own sovereignty. While not necessarily a soft balancing measure since it is unlikely to escalate and the “balancing” partners will often include both the rising power as well as the established powers, small state balancing behavior does include many key elements of soft balancing. Through specialized balancing behavior, small states can more effectively balance the influence of large neighbors with the influence of extra-regional powers. In my thesis, I compare this balancing as akin to Evelyn Goh’s concept of hedging and omni-entrenchment in Southeast Asia, especially as in this publication: Goh, Evelyn. "Great Powers and Hierarchical Order in Southeast Asia: Analyzing Regional Security Strategies." International Security 32.3 (2008). p. 119.
By defining “smallness” as both a relational concept based on asymmetry and a series of behaviors, I have sought to establish a model for identifying small states beyond cut-offs in population, geographical size, economic or military power, and strategic importance. I have also differentiated between “engaged” and “non-engaged” small states, allowing future analysis to focus on those small states that seek to actively engage with, adapt to, and change their external security environment.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.