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Norm entrepreneurship and diffusion ‘from below’ in international organisations: How the competent performance of vulnerability generates benefits for small states

  • Jack Corbett (a1), Yi-chong Xu (a2) and Patrick Weller (a2)

Abstract

For decades, the world's smallest states – the structurally weakest members of the multilateral system – have been considered incapable of influencing international organisations (IOs). So, why has the label small state risen to prominence over the last two decades and become institutionalised as a formal grouping in multiple IOs? Drawing on more than eighty in-depth interviews, we explain the rise of Small Island Developing States in the United Nations system, the expansion of their agenda to the Small and Vulnerable Economies group at the World Trade Organization, and then to other IOs. The adoption of the labels is evidence of small state norm diffusion. We identify the competent performance of vulnerability within multilateral settings as the key to explaining this norm emergence and diffusion. The lesson is that diffusion ‘from below’ is not always driven by a desire to increase rank. In this case small states have gained benefits by maintaining a lowly position in a hierarchy in which large is stronger than small.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: j.corbett@soton.ac.uk

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27 For a review, see Bishop, ‘The political economy of small states’.

28 Sharman, ‘War, selection, and micro-states’.

29 See Rezvani, David A., Surpassing the Sovereign State: The Wealth, Self-Rule, and Security Advantages of Partially Independent Territories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) on partially independent territories.

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31 Baldacchino, Godfrey, ‘Thucydides or Kissinger? A critical review of smaller state diplomacy’, in Cooper, Andrew and Shaw, Timothy (eds), The Diplomacies of Small States: Between Vulnerability and Resilience (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 2140; see also Cooper and Shaw (eds), The Diplomacies of Small States; Jaschik, Kevin, ‘Small states and international politics: Climate change, the Maldives and Tuvalu’, International Politics, 51:2 (2014), pp. 272–93; Long, Tom, ‘Small states, great power? Gaining influence through intrinsic, derivative, and collective power’, International Studies Review, 19:2 (2016), pp. 185205.

32 See, for example, Betzold, Carola, Castro, Paula, and Weiler, Florian, ‘AOSIS in the UNFCCC negotiations: From unity to fragmentation?’, Climate Policy, 12:5 (2012), pp. 591613; Chasek, Pamela S., ‘Margins of power: Coalition building and coalition maintenance of the South Pacific island states and the alliance of small island states’, Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, 14:2 (2005), pp. 125–37; and Corneloup, Inés de Agueda and Mol, Arthur P. J., ‘Small island developing states and international climate change negotiations: the power of moral “leadership”’, International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 14:3 (2014), pp. 281–97.

33 See also Jourde, ‘The international relations of small neoauthoritarian states’; Lee, ‘African agency in global trade governance’; and Laker, African Participation at the World Trade Organisation, on African States.

34 Towns, ‘Norms and social hierarchies’; Towns, Women and States.

35 de Carvalho and Neuman, Small States and Status Seeking.

36 Lisa Cox, ‘Vanuatu says it may sue fossil fuel companies and other countries over climate change’, The Guardian, available at: {https://www,theguardian,com/world/2018/nov/22/vanuatu-says-it-may-sue-fossil-fuel-companies-and-other-countries-over-climate-change} accessed 22 November 2018.

37 Towns, Women and States, p. 53.

38 Alesina, Alberto and Spolaore, Enrico, The Size of Nations (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005).

39 Schimmelfennig, ‘The community trap’; see also Browning, ‘Small, smart and salient?’.

40 See, for example, Jourde, ‘The international relations of small neoauthoritarian states’; Lee, ‘African agency in global trade governance’; Laker, African Participation at the World Trade Organisation.

41 Deitelhoff and Wallbott, ‘Beyond soft balancing’; Panke, ‘Small states in multilateral negotiations’.

42 Panke, ‘Small states in multilateral negotiations’.

43 See also Wallis, ‘“Friendly islands” in an unfriendly system’; Corbett and Connell, ‘All the world is a stage'.

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45 Sommerer, Thomas and Tallberg, Jonas, ‘Diffusion across international organizations: Connectivity and convergence’, International Organization (2019), pp. 135, available at: {https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818318000450}.

46 Corbett, Jack, Xu, Yi-chong, and Weller, Patrick, ‘Small states and the “throughput” legitimacy of international organizations’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs (2018), pp. 120, available at: {https://doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2018.1493048}.

47 Vaughan A. Lewis, ‘Studying small states over the 20th into the 21st centuries’, in Cooper and Shaw (eds), The Diplomacies of Small States, p. vii.

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50 Bevir, Mark, The Logic of the History of Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

51 Hobson, John M. and Sharman, Jason C., ‘The enduring place of hierarchy in world politics: Tracing the social logics of hierarchy and political change’, European Journal of International Relations, 11:1 (2005), pp. 6398.

52 Katzenstein, Peter J., Small States in World Markets: Industrial Policy in Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).

53 Gerring, John, ‘Is there a (viable) crucial-case method?’, Comparative Political Studies, 40:3 (2007), pp. 231–53; Veenendaal, Wouter P. and Corbett, Jack, ‘Why small states offer important answers to large questions’, Comparative Political Studies, 48:4 (2015), pp. 527–49.

54 Sharman, ‘Sovereignty at the extremes’.

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56 Whether economic or human capital and population size, see Krasner, Stephen D., Structural Conflict: The Third World against Global Liberalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Kotschwar, Barbara, Low, Patrick, and Mendoza, Miguel Rodriguez, Trade Rules in the Making: Challenges in Regional and Multilateral Negotiations, Organization of American States (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999); Tussie, Diana and Lengyel, Miguel, ‘Developing countries: Turning participation into influence’, in Hoekman, Bernard, Mattoo, Aaditya, and English, Philip (eds), Development, Trade and the WTO: A Handbook (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2002), pp. 485–93, ch. 47.

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60 Jason C. Sharman, ‘War, selection, and micro-states’.

61 Marsh and Sharman, ‘Policy diffusion and policy transfer’; Maggetti and Gilardi, ‘Problems (and solutions) in the measurement of policy diffusion mechanisms’.

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64 The officials came from: AOSIS, ComSec, FAO, IMF, IMO, OECS, PIDF, PIFS, UNDP, WB, WHO, WTO, and WIPO. In many cases we interviewed far more than one official from each IO.

65 The small states were: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Brunei, Botswana, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Estonia, El Salvador, FSM, Fiji, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, Jamaica, Kiribati, Maldives, Malta, Malawi, Mauritius, Nauru, Palau Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Tanzania, and Vanuatu. In many cases we interviewed more than one diplomat from each small state.

66 See, for example, United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and New Zealand.

67 Pouliot, Vincent, ‘Practice tracing’, in Bennett, Andrew, and Checkel, Jeffrey T. (eds), Process Tracing: From Analytic Metaphor to Best Practices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 237–59, ch. 9.

68 Vital, The Inequality of States; Vital, David, The Survival of Small States: Studies in Small Power/Great Power Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).

69 Group, Commonwealth Consultative, Vulnerability: Small States in the Global Society (London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 1985); Group, Commonwealth Advisory, A Future for Small States: Overcoming Vulnerability (London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 1997).

70 Sutton, ‘The concept of small states in the international political economy’.

71 See Thorhallsson, Baldur and Wivel, Anders, ‘Small states in the European Union: What do we know and what would we like to know?’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 19:4 (2006), pp. 651–68; Panke, Small States in the European Union.

72 President of the Republic of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, ‘Address to the 42nd Session of the UN General Assembly on the Issues of Environment and Development’, New York, 19 October 1987.

73 Sutton, ‘The concept of small states in the international political economy’, p. 143.

74 Secretariat, Commonwealth and Bank, World, Small States: Meeting Challenges in the Global Economy (English) (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2000), p. 19.

75 Betzold, Castro, and Weiler, ‘AOSIS in the UNFCCC negotiations’.

76 Chasek, ‘Margins of power’.

77 Betzold, Carola, ‘“Borrowing” power to influence international negotiations: AOSIS in the climate change regime, 1990–1997’, Politics, 30:3 (2010), pp. 131–48.

78 Ashe, John W., Van Lierop, Robert, and Cherian, Anilla, ‘The role of the alliance of small island states (AOSIS) in the negotiation of the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC)’, Natural Resources Forum, 23:3 (1999), pp. 209–20.

79 Ibid., p. 210.

80 Ibid., p. 219.

81 Betzold, ‘“Borrowing” power to influence international negotiations’.

82 UNCED, Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development: Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (New York: United Nations, 1992).

83 Sutton, ‘The concept of small states in the international political economy’, p. 147.

84 Authors’ interview, March 2017.

85 TN/AG/W/4/Rev.4, para. 157.

86 Authors’ interview with a former Chief Medical Officer from a European small state, November 2017.

87 Authors’ interview, August 2016.

88 Authors’ interview, October 2016.

89 Betzold, Castro, and Weiler, ‘AOSIS in the UNFCCC negotiations’.

90 For discussion, see Ourbak, Timothée and Magnan, Alexandre K., ‘The Paris Agreement and climate change negotiations: Small islands, big players, a commentary’, Regional Environmental Change, 18 (2017), pp. 17.

91 Fry, Ian, ‘The Paris Agreement: an insider's perspective: the role of small island developing states’, Environmental Policy and Law, 46:2 (2016), pp. 105–08.

92 de Agueda and Mol, ‘Small island developing states and international climate change negotiations’, p. 281.

93 Fry, ‘The Paris Agreement’, p. 106.

94 Nicolette Goulding, ‘Marshalling a Pacific response to climate change’, pp. 191–204; Carter, George, ‘Establishing a Pacific voice in the climate change negotiations’, in Fry, Greg and Tarte, Sandra (eds), The New Pacific Diplomacy (Canberra: ANU Press, 2016), pp. 205–22, ch. 17.

95 Chasek, ‘Margins of power’; Fry, Ian, ‘Small island developing states: Becalmed in a sea of soft law’, Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, 14:2 (2005), pp. 8999.

96 Chasek, ‘Margins of power’; Fry, ‘Small island developing states’; Fry, ‘The Paris Agreement’; Betzold, Castro, and Weiler, ‘AOSIS in the UNFCCC negotiations’.

97 Chasek, ‘Margins of power’.

98 Goulding, ‘Marshalling a Pacific response to climate change’; Fry, ‘The Paris Agreement’, p. 107.

99 Authors’ interview, March 2017.

100 Corbett and Connell, ‘All the world is a stage’.

101 Houel, Fatou C., ‘Promoting universality of human rights in Geneva: Participation of LDCs/SIDS in the work of the Human Rights Council’, Universal Rights Group (2017), available at: {http://www.universal-rights.org/blog/promoting-universality-human-rights-geneva-participation-ldcssids-work-human-rights-council/}.

102 Ibid.

103 Alesina and Spolaore, The Size of Nations.

104 Sharman, ‘War, selection, and micro-states’; Sharman, ‘Sovereignty at the extremes’.

105 de Carvalho and Neuman, Small States and Status Seeking.

106 Vaha, Milla Emilia, ‘Drowning under: Small island states and the right to exist’, Journal of International Political Theory, 11:2 (2015), pp. 206–23; Angell, Kim, ‘New territorial rights for sinking island states’, European Journal of Political Theory (2017), pp. 121, available at: {https://doi.org/10.1177/1474885117741748}.

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