What is the status of small powerless states in International Relations?



The Second World-War was a turning point in the evolution of international relations. All the countries of Asia and Africa became free one by one from the European colonial domination.

These countries which were exploited by the colonial powers for centuries, became poor and backward in comparison with them. The Western type of political societies, on the basis of economic affluence and develop­ment, regarded themselves as the First World and rated the Communist societies as the Second World.

They branded these backward countries as the Third World. In addition to this they were also referred to as 'under-developed countries','developing nations' or the 'new nations'.

All these countries had common aspiration to establish them­selves as sovereign, independent nations'- on a footing of equality with the most developed societies.

Small State Explained. It is from the time of emergence of inter­national relations as an independent field of study that attention has been paid to the foreign policies of great powers, their aspirations; strategies and outcome as against each-other.

This attitude of focusing upon great powers is but natural in as much as International Relations is a struggle of power between these nations. The smaller powers have ha d no bearing upon international events.

In this way, the smaller States remained neglected. It was only during the course of the Second World- War that Annette Basker Fox in his book 'The Powers of Small States' drew attention to the understanding of the limitations and possibilities of small states.

Robert Rothstein also analysed the role of small States during the classical period of the so-called balance of power system in his book Alliances and Small Powers'.

It is in the post-war period that the smaller States began to assert themselves and drew attention of the big powers. In spite of the fact that they are economically poor, industrially backward, politically immature, administratively and culturally learning from others, they are asserting themselves in the international sphere. They are making efforts to preserve their territorial integrity, political autonomy and physical security.

Certain scholars like Cecil V. Crable hold that the smaller States, only play the role that is allowed to them by the great powers and not more that. In his book 'Elephant and Grass compares the smaller States to the grass and the bigger States to that of elephants, and holds that it is the grass which is always to suffer during the course of fight between the elephants.

At the same time, we cannot deny the role of smaller States in the defeat of United States in Vietnam. We find that the United States has to follow Israel in whatever action he takes. We also know the role Pakistan played during Ayub's regime in playing one great power against the other.

Before, however, we discuss the role of the smaller States in international relations, it is proper to discuss why they are called small. What we mean when we call these new developing nations as the small States.

In itself, the concept does not indicate anything. It is in relation to another State that a state is smalls or greater. India in comparison to the United States and Soviet Union is a smaller State while in com­parison to Sri Lanka, Bangladeshi and Pakistan she is bigger.

This criteria of bigness or smallness is based on the GNP, little area, population, armed forces etc. But this criteria does not hold good in all cases. As for example, Pakistan, in spite of its low GNP, little area, population and the number of armed forces, has manipulated in such a way as to gain importance over India.

Keeping this thing in view, David Vital believes that the functional capability of a State determines its position. He argues that only the supreme powers can afford the kind of technology which has come to characterise our times.

But here also we find that India has become the sixth member of the nuclear club of the world and also the sixth member of the space club of the world. She is thus rightly regarded as the developed of the developing countries.

In addition, various other factors have to be taken into account. Firstly, it is the foreign policy that is aimed at achieving certain defined objectives. Secondly, foreign policy also depends upon the type of the international system in which the foreign policy has to operate. Thirdly, the domestic factor also plays a leading role. AU these factors put together would determine the role of a State to be big or small. From that yard-stick, all the new nations are small as compared to U.S.A., U.S.S.R., Great Britain, France, China etc.