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The long-standing assumption in the IR literature is that small states have very little influence in IOs. Or, if they do appear to have influence, their impact is a chimera that masks the power of larger ‘system influencing’ states who are the ones really determining outcomes. If this is correct, why do small states participate in IOs at all? The creation of a large number of small states in the second half of the 20th century has seen the membership of IOs expand rapidly. The Pacific state of Samoa, for example, which has a resident population of little more than 200,000 people, is a member of 33 IOs (not including numerous regional organizations, sporting, religious, and other social organizations), while Vanuatu, which has a similar population size, is a member of 36: crude but impressive measures of this expansion (Corbett and Connell, 2015: 442). The aim of this chapter is to explain why some SIDS have sought to participate when their limited capacity would appear to favour free-riding or opting out of multilateralism altogether.
The short answer is that small states see their participation in IOs as serving their interests. But to understand this we have to differentiate between different types of small states and the ideas they have about their interests. We distinguish between three common narratives about how SIDS see their participation. At the most basic level, small states participate to secure sovereign recognition of their status as states. That is, participation is a form of conformity that incidentally secures survival (Sharman, 2015, 2017). For some SIDS this is the sum total of their engagement with IOs and their membership of different organizations is tightly bound to those that will maximize this objective at the lowest cost (that is, the UN). This has led to the perception that they get a ‘free ride’ (Olson and Zeckhauser, 1966). A second reason is they participate because they believe it will contribute to their development. These states engage selectively on certain issues and in certain IOs where they believe they are likely to either extract the most resources or gain S&DT for their economies. The majority of SIDS are in this group. The final reason is that SIDS have the greatest stake in the function and continuity of the LIO.
Climate change is the policy issue most commonly associated with the influence of small states and SIDS in particular. It is therefore a ‘most likely’ case (Eckstein, 1975) for their influence. Climate change magnifies the common dilemma for small states – that they have to fulfil the minimum requirements of modern statehood with limited resources or capacity. It also represents a significant challenge to the legitimacy of IOs because the smallest members will bear the disproportionate impact while the largest and richest are responsible for the vast majority of emissions. The impact of climate change on SIDS thus infringes on two key norms of the LIO – the sovereign equality of states and the right to development.
The consequence is that the creation of the SIDS category and the prominence provided to SIDS in climate change negotiations and policy suits both small states and IOs: it allows the countries we call SIDS to ‘perform vulnerability’ while also enabling IOs to generate ‘throughput’ legitimacy. But to understand this we have to recognize that the category SIDS is not a neutral or technical label. It is a political tool designed to realize specific ends. The creation of the label SIDS, the associated groupings at different IOs, and the fact that actors talk about a ‘SIDS agenda’, is the most compelling evidence we have for the way these states have altered the practices of IOs.
This chapter tells this story from both sides. We start with small states and show how they have pressured IOs to recognize their unique vulnerabilities. We then tell the story of IOs and how they have responded to these concerns. Small states, acting as a group, have been central to each of the major climate summits since Rio. They are key negotiators at COP. They were integral to the formation of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) in the lead up to the Paris COP and thus played a central role in the subsequent agreements. This story is well documented so we pay particular attention to the IMO and the way SIDS have recently positioned themselves to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.
The climate and economic vulnerabilities of SIDS are now well established and widely accepted by IOs. But the idea that small size creates specific vulnerabilities is not restricted to these policy arenas. Indeed, once the idea that being small is a unique condition is accepted, it is no great leap of imagination to consider how other policy areas might be shaped by state size. In doing so the relevant IOs have the potential to become co-opted to the SIDS agenda. For instance, food quality is one of the main drivers of health outcomes and so small, remote economies are more vulnerable to price fluctuations and availability of supplies. Likewise, economies of scale – the cost of equipment and pharmaceuticals, and the availability of skilled labour – limit medical treatment in small states. But, despite their interests and the fact that individual small states have found the WHO to be receptive to these arguments, SIDS do not have the same profile in that IO as they do in the UNFCCC. Likewise, SIDS may have intellectual property concerns but, like many middle powers with few direct interests, they rarely engage with the WIPO.
In this chapter we explore the absence of small states in these two IOs. This absence is relative: we are not claiming there is no activity but rather that this activity has not generated the same profile and attention for SIDS, as a global group, that it has in the IOs we covered in the previous chapters. Indeed, in the interests of generating ‘throughput’ legitimacy these IOs are much more interested in finding a way to serve the small states agenda than the small states themselves who have typically been passive members. These cases therefore reinforce our claim that to understand the variation in outcomes across institutions we need to account for both sides of the story: the interaction between IOs and small states.
To underscore this point, we reverse the structure used in the previous two chapters – we start with the IOs and then discuss the SIDS. This reversal reflects that the participation of SIDS and the adoption of the SIDS agenda in these IOs have largely been supply-rather than demand-driven. It has also typically been tokenistic.
IOs are facing serious challenges in continuing their active role in managing collective problems, whether being climate change, migration, cybersecurity, pandemics, or economic and financial stability. Diagnoses range from: ‘the growing gap between yesterday's structures and today's problems’ (Goldin, 2013: 3); that the large, rich, and powerful states continue to use a combination of options – threat to exit, voice, and the creation of alternative institutions – to dominate the agenda (Morse and Keohane, 2014); the increasingly diverse number of members have caused constant gridlocks and impasses that paralyse decision making; that IOs have become ‘the Frankenstein problem’ themselves – that is, they develop preferences independent of the governments that created them, leading states to fight back by refusing to cooperate (Newman, 2010; Guzman, 2013); that a lack of popular elections and insulation of organizational leaders and bureaucrats creates a ‘democratic deficit’ (Koppell, 2008; Hurd, 2008); and the inability of IOs to manage the challenges stems from a lack of leadership, especially leadership of leading powers. All of these statements have some merit and capture aspects of the development of a complex IO world.
Our intervention starts with the straightforward point that the inclusion of the countries we now call SIDS in IOs has occurred against this backdrop. In the next chapter we show how SIDS sought to pursue their agenda in IOs. In this chapter we explain why IOs accommodated their involvement. We argue that the key reason they have created groupings like SIDS is that it contributes to their ongoing attempt to resolve these challenges, all of which threaten to undermine their legitimacy as authoritative global actors. To be effective IOs needed to be trusted by their member states to represent their interests. Without legitimacy, nothing will be achieved; legitimacy is a necessary condition for success but not a sufficient one. The significance of this research agenda derives from Buchanan and Keohane's (2006: 407) argument that ‘[t] he perception of legitimacy matters because, in a democratic era, multilateral institutions will only thrive if they are viewed legitimate by democratic publics’.
The legitimacy of IOs is the subject of intense academic debate (Agne et al, 2015; Gronau and Schmidtke, 2016; Lenz and Viola, 2017; Tallberg and Zürn 2019).
This book has sought to explain the interaction between IOs and small states and how it has changed over the last three decades in particular. We used SIDS as a proxy for small states as they represent the smallest of the small; if these states want to be involved, however marginally, in the activities of IOs, then the findings on their strategies should be applicable to other slightly larger states too. Their experience reveals two perpetual dilemmas. SIDS argue they need to participate in IOs to safeguard their sovereignty, extract resources, and promote a permissive liberal order. The problem is that the costs of participation are disproportionately high for the smallest who face acute capacity constraints. The IOs’ dilemma is that while the norms of sovereign equality and the right to development impel them to be inclusive of those who have been approved as members, the active participation of an increased membership can increase ineffectiveness due to gridlock and delay. IOs thus attempt to balance inputs and outputs by way of throughputs in order to include states in such a way that it enhances, rather than constrains, their effectiveness.
By competently performing their vulnerability SIDS are able to both demonstrate that they are functioning states worthy of system membership and illustrating that they require S&DT to remain viable, especially in the face of climate change. For IOs, the establishment of groupings, and thereby collective participation, represented here by the SIDS category or analogous examples like the SVEs at the WTO, allows them to achieve a level of support from its member states by way of ‘throughputs’: that is, adopting processes and practices that both include small states, thereby honouring their commitment to sovereign equality, but also sharing responsibilities for outcomes with them. Labels such as SIDS that incorporate otherwise disparate member states are therefore useful to both small member states and IOs even though the constitutive norm they represent – in this case, differentiated development – remains contested by larger and more powerful countries.
The existence of the label SIDS also reveals a number of internal problems. The countries we now call SIDS had a vision for collective action, and have put out their ‘tentacles and planted SIDS issues’ across the multilateral system, but we find no evidence of a shared grand strategy
On 11 July 2018 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) met to debate the nexus between climate change and security. In total, 19 countries participated in the discussion. In addition to the president (Sweden) and the permanent members, statements were invited from countries for whom climate change is already having a significant impact, including regional representatives from Africa, Central America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. A statement was also delivered by the Maldives on behalf of the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS). Egypt was invited to make a statement as chair of the G77 but declined at the last minute. No nation explicitly dissented to the discussion taking place. This was not the first time the UNSC had debated the nexus between climate change and security, having previously discussed the issue in 2007 and 2011. At the 2007 meeting more than 50 countries participated. In 2011 that number grew to over 60. On both occasions, views were essentially split with EU countries and some climate-affected small states on one side, and the G77 plus China on the other. This latter group were opposed to the UNSC, rather than the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the Second Committee, being used as the forum for these discussions.
The difference between 2007 and 2011, and 2018, raises important questions. First, why did climate change get placed on the UNSC agenda in 2007 and 2011, and again in 2018, despite initial opposition from large and powerful states in the G77 plus China grouping? Second, why is there such a difference in the number of countries speaking on this issue and their views, as evidenced by the strong statement of the G77 against using the UNSC as a venue to debate climate change in 2007 and 2011, and their silence in 2018? The short answer is the increased level of coordinated engagement of the smallest members of the international system – Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and those from the Pacific (PSIDS) in particular – who learnt from the experience of 2011 and adapted their strategy for 2018.
This path-breaking book shows the efforts that small states have made to participate more fully in International Organizations (IOs). It highlights the challenges created by widened participation in IOs and develops a model of the dilemmas that both IOs and small states face as the norms of sovereign equality and the right to develop coincide.
The emergence of a distinct SIDS grouping and identity in relation to climate change is a ‘most likely’ case for their influence on IOs. It is an issue on which they hold the moral high ground as the first and worst effected: the canaries in the coal mine. A much higher threshold for their influence is whether similar strategies would be successful in other IOs and especially those that deal with economic affairs. In these IOs SIDS are not the poorest – most are middle-or upper middle-income countries – and account for a very low proportion of global trade. And yet, they have unique economic circumstances and vulnerabilities that are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
This chapter documents the interaction between small states and the key economic IOs. The story is not as straightforward as the climate change story; the initiative does not always come from the SIDS; there is as often leadership from other countries; it is determined in part by the mores of the IOs themselves, by their traditional practices, and by their institutional rules, leading to a range of intermediaries speaking on behalf of the SIDS. Despite this complexity, the claim that the countries we now call SIDS have uniquely vulnerable economies due to their heavy reliance on a small number of economic sectors has become orthodoxy in IOs. The WB and IMF both recognize the SIDS agenda. The WTO has created the SVEs. These are important successes for SIDS that emerges from the complex interaction between large and small member states, donors, IOs’ leaders, and their secretariats. But there is less evidence that this recognition has been translated into tangible benefits for SIDS or IOs. Our economic story is thus less optimistic about SIDS influence than our account of climate change.
The chapter follows a similar structure to the last. We start by explaining the SIDS circumstance. We show how concerns about their economic viability explain their delayed decolonization and that despite some variations the perception of enduring vulnerability has persisted into the postindependence period. We show how this has become synonymous with an argument about ‘differentiated development’ – that economic development models designed for large states will not work for small ones.
How do bureaucracies remember? The conventional view is that institutional memory is static and singular, the sum of recorded files and learned procedures. There is a growing body of scholarship that suggests contemporary bureaucracies are failing at this core task. This Element argues that this diagnosis misses that memories are essentially dynamic stories. They reside with people and are thus dispersed across the array of actors that make up the differentiated polity. Drawing on four policy examples from four sectors (housing, energy, family violence and justice) in three countries (the UK, Australia and New Zealand), this Element argues that treating the way institutions remember as storytelling is both empirically salient and normatively desirable. It is concluded that the current conceptualisation of institutional memory needs to be recalibrated to fit the types of policy learning practices required by modern collaborative governance.