Small States in the Global Society You do not have access to this content

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David McLean
01 May 1985
9781848593985 (PDF)

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This study is the result of a decision by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their 1983 Meeting in New Delhi. It was conceived in the framework of the Commonwealth’s long-standing concern with the economic problems of its very many small member states. The ‘vulnerability’ of small states is the essential concept informing the enquiry and it is considered in all its relevant aspects – military, political, economic, technical, social and cultural.  

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  • Foreword by the Commonwealth Secretary-General

    When they met in New Delhi in October 1983, Commonwealth Heads of Government were deeply concerned about the precarious state of the international situation. They reflected this concern in their Goa Declaration of International Security. But, while their anxieties encompassed the global situation, they were at the time acutely aware of the peculiar vulnerability of small states which had been brought so dramatically to the world's attention over the preceding month with events in Grenada.

  • Focus of the Study

    This study is the result of a decision by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their 1983 Meeting in New Delhi, following their discussion of the situation created by the military intervention in Grenada in October of that year. However, although the study was requested in the context of the security implications of the Grenada crisis, it was also conceived in the wider framework of the Commonwealth's long-standing concern with the special economic problems of its very many small member countries.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Dimensions of the Problem

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    • The Characteristics of Smallness

      The dismantling of the various colonial empires that had been consolidated during the 19th century or even earlier has been one of the most significant developments of the post World War II era, transforming the political map by bringing close to 90 newly independent states into the international community within the space of 40 years. It was not, however, until the seventies that decolonisation started to be applied extensively to territories with only a few hundred thousand people. Among British colonial territories, for example, only 12 such countries had become independent by 1969; whereas, with the exception of three states, all of the 20 countries that have become independent members of the Commonwealth since 1970 possess small populations.

    • The Vagaries of Vulnerability

      A distinction is often made between a ‘weak state’ and a ‘weak power’. In line with this distinction, a state, because of its great size, considerable economic resources and large population, may be rated as a strong power capable of mustering considerable military might. But, due to internal factors such as a weak institutional structure, lack of a strong sense of nationhood or the existence of unassimilated ethnic minorities or poorly defined borders, it may at the same time be a weak state.

    • The Threat Scenario

      With the working definition of national security as “the absence of threat to the capacity to govern, protect, preserve and advance the state and its peoples consistent with the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states”, a threat to security can be legitimately interpreted as any type of specific action or situation which could damage national integrity. However, in offering this interpretation, it should be acknowledged that no government, not even of the most powerful states, is able to function entirely free of some form of external constraint. Certain constraints, for example, automatically flow from the fact that membership of an international community is founded upon agreed principles of conduct, including the principle of non-intervention itself.

    • External Threat and Internal Security

      The stability and well-being of a society are necessary prerequisites for domestic security. In reality, domestic security and external security are to some extent interdependent. In many cases, the greater the degree of domestic security, the less is the vulnerability to external threat.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Reducing Vulnerability

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    • Strengthening National Defence Capability

      Although security is an absolute concept, governments necessarily have to accept that in practice it can be achieved only in relative or partial terms, determined by the conditions limiting each nation's capabilities. This means that they are compelled to rely, in varying degrees, on a strategy of deterrence whereby each nation seeks to demonstrate to others that the military and political price of any attempted attack either on its territory or its sovereign status is likely to be too high. Deterrence is normally discussed in the purely military context.

    • Underpinning Economic Growth

      In considering the economic problems of small states the issue of viability inevitably arises. Now that independent small states are a reality in the international system, the question has become less prominent. Nevertheless, it remains important since many states are finding it difficult to overcome the constraints smallness places in their way and reach reasonable levels of prosperity.

    • Promoting Internal Cohesion

      In view of the recognised link between internal unrest and the emergence of political and military threats, the need for measures to strengthen internal cohesion is great. This is particularly true in small states.

    • Diplomacy and Foreign Policy Management

      In many respects a skilful use of diplomacy within the framework of a prudent and well thought out foreign policy is a small state's first line of defence. Since these states have no military or economic power to wield they are forced to rely on diplomatic means in order to convey to other countries the nature of their national interests in the different areas of international relations that are vital not just to their security but to their very survival. And it is only through effective diplomacy that they can hope to persuade wealthy and powerful nations to enter into relationships with them which can work to their material advantage without necessarily entailing unacceptable constraints on their sovereignty and genuine independence.

    • The International Response

      In our interpretation of the mandate for this study at the beginning of our Report, we drew attention to the emphasis Commonwealth leaders had placed on the obligation of the international community to, at the very least, provide for the territorial integrity of its smaller member states. As we said there, we see this obligation as essentially stemming from the fact that small states have been welcomed into the world organisation by all member states including the major powers. However, in view of the need for a comprehensive approach to security issues we feel that the international community's obligation should extend beyond safeguarding small states' territorial integrity to include action to strengthen their overall capacity to deter and/or resist the many different types of security threat to which they may be subjected.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Conclusions and Recommendations

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    • Conclusions

      The conclusion of our preceding analysis is that, because of their intrinsic characteristics, small states need a special measure of support. In a loosely ordered international community of over 150 states varying in size, power, capacity and goals, they can easily be overlooked and left at a disadvantage. On the other hand, it is widely recognised that many small states have made a major significant contribution to the international community.

    • Recommendations

      The various measures advocated in Part III of our Report are set out below as formal recommendations. They are arranged in terms of the three levels at which they would be implemented: national, regional and international. However, since this is a study requested by Commonwealth Heads of Government, the recommendations specifically for Commonwealth action are presented separately from the other international measures.

    • Annexes and Glossary of Abbreviations
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