Studying small states in international security affairs: a quantitative analysis

The international security architecture of today has incrementally evolved through numerous international negotiations taking place in a broad variety of international organisations and regimes. Over time, this has led to a large body of international security rules and norms, covering a wide range of different security issues, such as nuclear weapons and non-proliferation, arms trade, disarmament, interventions, conflict resolution or peace-building. Thus, multilateral negotiations provide crucial building blocks for the current international security architecture.

Despite the great importance of international security negotiations for international security practices, there is little comparative scholarly work on the negotiation dynamics across a variety of different contexts and between many different state actors. My article “Studying small states in international security affairs: a quantitative analysis” seeks to fill this gap. It studies dynamics of 100 different international security negotiations and examines differences in the participation of states. To this end, it addresses the general questions: How vocal are states in international security negotiations? Are some rather silent while others participate more actively despite the fact that voicing a national position is important to make a mark? The paper also addresses the specific question whether and if so why smaller states differ from larger states in how they act in international security negotiations.

International security negotiations take place in a variety of different context. This encompasses two of the UN’s six principle organs, the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA-C1) and the Security Council (SC), as well as several international organisations and regimes created and subsumed under the UN umbrella, such as the ATT regime and the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 100 negotiations taking place between 2008 and 2012, coding of the records (in verbatim protocols, minutes, press releases) captures how often each state speaks up in a negotiation. This reveals that there is considerable variation in the extent to which states participate in negotiating international security rules and norms.

On average a state spoke up 36.29% of the time. The most vocal countries are the U.S. (204 speeches), Iran (188 speeches), Russia (166 speeches), France (157 speeches), the UK (137 speeches), Pakistan (135 speeches), Brazil (130 speeches), and Canada (129 speeches). On the other end of the spectrum, countries such as the Republic of Congo, Greece, Mali, and Mozambique made only five speeches each and the Central African Republic, Tajikistan, Tuvalu, Benin, or Kiribati even remained totally silent. The fact that some countries voice positions very often, while others remain completely silent in international security negotiations is puzzling for several reasons. First, in these contexts the international security architecture is negotiated, which is important for all states. Second, actively participating in international security negotiations is not only an expression of state sovereignty, but also a means to influence the shape of the international security architecture. Hence, all states should be motivated to actively participate in the international organisations and regimes that deal with international security issues.

In order to explain the puzzling variation between how active states are in international security negotiations, the paper distinguishes between capacity and incentives as driving forces of state activity. The empirical examination of the plausibility of the hypotheses through a combination of quantitative regression analysis and narrative interview evidence reveals that – in line with realism – smaller states are indeed often less vocal when it comes to negotiating international security. Yet, unlike realism, this activity gap between smaller and larger states is not only due to power differences, but also differences in financial capacities. Smaller states have slimmer budgets for the Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in their capitals and for the negotiation teams at the headquarters of the international security organisations or the international security regimes. Thus, unlike larger states, smaller states are more often confronted with situations in which the cannot actively participate in international security negotiations, either because the MFA was not quick enough to develop national positions for all ongoing issues and send negotiation instructions to the diplomats at the international negotiation table, or because the number of diplomats the small state has posted to the international negotiation arena is too small to cover all ongoing negotiations. The article shows that not only political and financial capacities matter, but incentives as well. States with strong incentives in military affairs are more active in international security negotiations, while smaller and poorer states are more likely to shelter under the security umbrella of larger counterparts instead of getting active themselves.

However, smaller states can punch above their weights and become active in international security negotiations, but this requires adjustments. Smaller states have fewer capacities and cannot cover all international negotiation issues to the same extent and with the same intensity as larger and richer states. Yet, smaller states can revisit their priorities and adjust them when need be in order to free resources from other negotiations in order to closely follow international security negotiations.

Diana Panke holds the Chair in ‘Multi-Level Governance’ at University of Freiburg. Her research interests include international negotiations, multilateral diplomacy, comparative regionalism, small states in international affairs, European Union politics as well as compliance and legalisation. In these fields, she has published several monographs and journal articles (including BJPIR, RIO, IPSR, EJIR, CPS, Cooperation and Conflict, Millennium, JCMS, JEPP, WEP, JEP and International Politics).


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