Bailes, Alyson J. K., Bradley A. Thayer and Baldur Thorhallsson (2016) 'Alliance theory and alliance 'shelter': The complexities of small state alliance behaviour', Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 1:1, 9–26


This study critiques traditional alliance theory because it fails to capture the nuanced alliance motivation and needs of small states. We argue that the concept of alliance “shelter” better explains small state alignment. The theory of alliance shelter has been developed to explain the alliance choices of Western small states, including Iceland, and serves as an important addition to alliance theory. Shelter is the diplomatic, economic, societal, and political alignment response of structurally weak states. Alliance shelter theory differs from traditional alliance theories for the following reasons. First, it regards small states as fundamentally different political, economic, and social units than large states. Second, their alliance shelter relationships are distinctly shaped by domestic as much as international factors. Third, small states benefit disproportionately from international cooperation, including institutional membership, compared with large states. Fourth, shelter theory claims that small states/entities need political, economic, and societal shelter (as well as strategic protection) in order to thrive. Fifth, the social and cultural relationships of the small states with the outside world are elements that have been neglected by alliance theory. Sixth, shelter may also come at a significant cost for the small state/entity. We conduct a plausibility probe of our argument against three contemporary non-Western cases: Armenia, Cuba, and Singapore. We find that the concept of alliance shelter explains their alliance behavior better than traditional alliance theory.

Coates Ulrichsen, Kristian (2016) The gulf states in international political economy (London: Palgrave-Macmillan)

About this book

 Kristian Coates Ulrichsen documents the startling rise of the Arab Gulf States as regional powers with international reach and provides a definitive account of how they have become embedded in the global system of power, politics, and policy-making.

Gigleux, Victor (2016) 'Explaining the diversity of small states' foreign policies through role theory', Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 1:1, 27–45


This paper challenges the notion that small states adopt similar foreign policies. I argue that variations also exist within cases whereby small states have undergone significant foreign policy shifts. To explain these differences and variations, I develop a theoretical framework around the concept of national role which provides an insight into the social dimension of being a small state. It builds upon constructivist precepts, introduces agency and challenges the consensus assumption in the study of small states. The paper aims to offer the theoretical foundation for future empirical works and take the small state research in novel directions.

Gvalia, Giorgi, Bidzina Lebanidze and David S. Siroky (2019) 'Neoclassical realism and small states: Systemic constraints and domestic filters in Georgia's foreign policy', East European Politics, 35:1, 21–51


Unlike structural realism, neoclassical realism focuses on how the interaction between systemic and unit-level variables influences foreign policy. This article assesses neoclassical realism against two alternative accounts – balance of threat and economic dependence – to explain change in Georgia's foreign policy. While structural realism highlights how the external security environment shapes general tendencies in foreign policy, specific strategies depend largely on unit-level factors, specifically elite cohesion and state capacity. The analysis of primary sources and exclusive interviews with high-level policy-makers suggests that neoclassical realism affords a more nuanced and precise account of foreign policy change over time than structural realism.

Gvalia, Giorgi, David Siroky, Bidzina Lebanidze and Zurab Lashvili (2013) 'Thinking outside the bloc: explaining the foreign policies of small states', Security Studies, 22:1, 98–131 


What explains change and continuity in the foreign policy behavior of small states? Given the proliferation of small states over the past century, this topic has received relatively little systematic attention. When researchers do focus on small states, the emphasis has been on external and international factors, and the primary conclusion has been that small states are more likely to bandwagon with threatening great powers than to balance against them. In this article, we suggest that state- and individual-level variables can play a greater role in explaining the foreign policy behavior of small states and that small states sometimes choose to balance rather than bandwagon, especially when elite ideology is deeply embedded in formulating foreign policy. We develop this claim in terms of elite ideas about the identity and purpose of the state and examine its plausibility using primary sources and exclusive interviews with the security and foreign policy elite in Georgia. We find that this approach offers a more plausible explanation for Georgia's otherwise puzzling foreign policy behavior than frameworks that focus on the international or regional system. Although Georgia may be the exception that proves the rule, it can advance an understanding of the conditions under which standard explanations of small-state foreign policy behavior may miss their predictive mark and when incorporating the role of elite ideas can provide additional explanatory leverage.

Jahan, Sarwat and Ke Wang (2013) 'A big question on small states', Finance & Development 50:3


Can they overcome their size-related vulnerabilities and grow faster and more consistently?

For every large country like China, India, and the United States, there is a small state like Suriname, Tuvalu, and Seychelles. And just as big states are a diverse lot, so are states with populations of less than 1.5 million.­

Lanteigne, Marc. (2016) Choppy waters: The 'return' of Fiji to pacific affairs after the 2014 vote. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal 1(1), 46-62


Although Fiji held a successful election in September 2014, the country still faces problems related to the completion of its democratic transition following its emergence from a difficult period of regional and international isolation. Fiji continues to find itself pushing against the political order in the South Pacific, while maintaining a balance between established powers like Australia and New Zealand, and new partners including China. The case of Fiji as a small state which, by virtue of its perceived ‘centrality’ in the region, can shape diplomacy and regime development on a larger scale, is examined.

Maass, Matthias (2009) 'The elusive definition of the small state', International Politics, 46:1, 65–83


The small state has so far escaped a consensus definition because ‘the’ small state has in fact been conceived of very differently. Different studies of ‘the’ small state have characterized it quite distinctly. In fact, there is substantial disagreement even over what type of criteria, quantifiable or qualitative, are most appropriate to characterize the small state. However, I argue that such fundamental disagreement over what makes a state small has actually benefited the area of small states studies by providing it with conceptual flexibility to match different research designs as well as the quite substantial variations among actual small states in the world. In short, in the discipline of international relations as well as in reality, more than one definition of the small state does and should exist.

Miller, Roy and Harry Verhoeven (2020) 'Overcoming smallness: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and strategic realignment in the Gulf',International Politics, 57:1, 1–20


Geography and the anarchic state system incentivise the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar to collaborate in managing the threat posed by being neighbours of two (aspiring) regional hegemons, Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, both small states have responded very differently to the causes and consequences of instability in the Gulf region and developed very different foreign policies to deal with their structural IR problem. Just how divergent their external relations now are is clearly seen in the UAE’s lead role in the diplomatic boycott and economic embargo launched against Qatar in June 2017—including the de facto dissolution of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Framing our examination in the theoretical literature on small states, we explain the ultimately colliding foreign policy trajectories of the UAE and Qatar in terms of diverging ideational and strategic considerations in the cause of what we term ‘overcoming smallness’. 

Misra, A. (2004) 'Theorising 'small' and 'micro' state behaviour using the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal', Contemporary South Asia, 13:2, 133–148


The aim of this paper is to examine the normative justification of 'small' and 'micro' state behaviour. Whatever theoretical position one assumes in order to examine the issue of small state performance, some pertinent facts appear fairly consistent including their vulnerability to external forces, inability to interact effectively with the outside world, and relative backwardness. Adopting a comparative approach for the consistent elaboration of the analysis, this article concentrates on Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. Its focused comparison ensures that both the specificities and the generalities are addressed in all three cases. Using the Weberian notion of 'patrimonialism', this study highlights the peculiar 'power politics' that is prevalent in these polities, and shows how it dominates the discourse on democracy. By cross-examining various developmental theories, its also asks whether there is any basis to the axiom that 'small states are generally backward' and destined to remain so. The overwhelming picture that emerges from this investigation highlights the facets of state failure. The paper concludes with an assessment of the place and context of small state in a globalised world. 

Rickli, Jean-Marc. (2016) 'New alliances dynamics in the Gulf and their impact on the small GCC states', Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal 1:1, 132–150


The 2003 Iraq invasion and the social revolutions triggered by the Arab Spring have profoundly altered the security of the Gulf countries. This article looks at the way small Gulf states have adapted their alignment strategies as a consequence of these sociopolitical changes. It argues that despite the perceived disengagement of the USA from the region, Washington nonetheless remains the ally of choice for the small Gulf states. However, under the pressure of the new leadership in Saudi Arabia, these states are increasingly expected to contribute to regional security. Similarly, they are also looking to diversify their alliances.





Top of Page