Can small countries have significant voice in world affairs?

It would be presumptuous, though perhaps intuitive, to claim that the size of a country determines its influence on the rest of the world in today’s hyperconnected, globalised world. In the past, geography and a country’s demographics were essential to it’s success, because labour intensive work like construction and agriculture depends on the quantity of resources a country possesses. However, today, taking into account modern trends such as globalisation, geographically small countries do indeed have the potential to become influential, and have a significant voice in world affairs. Not only can globalisation help to introduce small countries’ culture ot the rest of thew world,an increased global interdependence between countries has encouraged small countries to develop a comparative advantage to gain a significant voice on international platforms. In addition, small countries can form coalitions to get their voices heard.

Critics would argue that the size of a country determines its ability to get its voice heard, because big countries have larger labour forces that give it powerful militaries and stronger economies. By extension, this gives it bigger spheres of influence over its neighbours, so its voice becomes more significant. On the other hand, however, smaller countries have found a way out of this problem — by finding a niche, and developing it into a comparative advantage, they can become influential countries with significant voices as well. In a globalised world where trade is the way in which countries get cheaper and better quality goods, many, especially small ones, specialise in a particular field so as to create a niche in it. This gives them the ability to trade on the larger international market, even becoming a market leader for the product sometimes. For example, the Ivory Coast is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa beans, controlling about 40% of the world’s supply, making it the leader of the industry. This is in spite of its small geographical size and political insignificance in the world. When so many countries around the world, especially developed ones, depend on it for cocoa beans, they have a vested interest in listening to the Ivory Coast on issues regarding their beans, and helping them in every way possible to increase crop yields to satisfy their demands. Evidently, small countries that are able to capitalise on their strengths to become market leaders do have significant voices, at least within the field they specialise in. 

Some others also disagree with the significance of small countries’ voices, for the reason that they lack the military might to reinforce their decisions. According to these groups, having a powerful military is essential to backing up their plans and proposals, or others with do possess military capabilities will override these smaller nations. This is a questionable claim which does not stand true given modern contexts. First, small nations can have strong militaries — in an age empowered by technology, the strength of one’s military is determined not by quantity but by quality. Singapore is a good example — possessing many modern military technologies, such as Leopard Tanks and many fighter pilots, Singapore is more than capable of fighting off potential aggressors from the region. Further, the 21st Century has been marked more by its tendency towards diplomatic solutions, rather than fighting all out wars between nations. Countries like Costa Rica have even begun disbanding their armies. Hence, many small nations have decided to pool their resources together in order to force coalitions and alliances — doing this allows them to ensure their interests are heard, and acted upon. For instance, the formation of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has helped smaller countries some degree of mediation to deal with territorial disputes with larger nations like China. Such regional or sometimes international organisations help earn geographically small nations a significant say in international issues — UN’s rule of each country having one equal vote when deciding on resolutions aids small nations to become politically important and subsequently having a bigger say on international affairs. Essentially, forming blocs and coalitions can help smaller countries represent a general, shared interest that cannot be ignored by other larger nations when it comes to world issues.

In addition, some would also argue that small nations cannot have significant voices because they lack soft power that developed nations possess. They argue that due to the sheer size of larger nations’ cultures, the rate of these cultures spreading is much greater than that of small nations. Without presenting their unique cultures to the rest of the world, they say that smaller nations will never possess significant voices. Despite this claim, the rise of social media and the effect of globalisation has aided the cross-border spread of cultures, even that of smaller nations. With the Internet, unique cultures can showcase themselves to the rest of the world through video channels like Youtube, through songs that they compose and through articles shared with others all around the world. This helps them spread their culture quickly, and individuals who are piqued by such unique cultures help to spread them further through word of mouth within their own communities. For instance, the Korean culture has of recent managed to obtain a worldwide audience that listens to and appreciates their music, films and art. This is in spite of their small size, relative to superpowers like the United States, China or Russia. Clearly, the process of globalisation has aided cultures’ spread around the world, allowing them to be increasingly on par in terms of demand with larger, supposedly more powerful nations. 

Ultimately, in the modern world full of new trends like globalisations and the shift towards diplomacy away from war and conflict, it has become increasingly possible for small nations to have a significant voice. They now have a variety of options to do so — be it on the political, economic or cultural field, small nations can now find larger audiences to which they can appeal to, to ensure that their interests are heard by larger nations, instead of being bullied as they were in times past. Therefore, small nations can indeed have a significant voice in world affairs. 


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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.