Small enough to fail: the structural irrelevance of the small state as cause of its elimination and proliferation since Westphalia

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Abstract

Since the Peace of Westphalia, few great powers have “died”, while the “death rate” and proliferation of small states has been dramatic at times. What causes these fluctuations? In this paper, I claim that the dominant reason for the extinction, emergence and proliferation of the small state over the last three and a half centuries is to be found at the system level. Ultimately, small state survival is determined by the particular set-up of the state system. I advance this argument from the perspective of international relations theory, integrating the relevant scholarship of the English School and realism, especially structural realism. The latter’s systemic perspective provides the basis for arguing that small states are structurally irrelevant. It is this feature of the small state, its irrelevance with regard to the power-based structure of the state system, which has caused the small state to “struggle for existence” in the past, and which has allowed small states to proliferate during the bipolar Cold War.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1303-1323
Number of pages21
JournalCambridge Review of International Affairs
Volume29
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 1

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small state
proliferation
cause
realism
death rate
great power
fluctuation
international relations
peace
school

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations

Cite this

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