Small states get security conscious

October 24, 1997


Well over half the Commonwealth's 52 countries have populations of less than 1.5 million and are defined as small states.

A concern for Commonwealth leaders over the decades has been the vulnerability of such countries, who often lack resources and are frequently isolated and more exposed to hazards, both natural and man-made, than larger states.

Heads of government will this weekend consider a report on the status of the 31 Commonwealth countries that fall into the small-state category. It is the first small-state report in 12 years, during which one of the superpowers has collapsed and the global balance of power has shifted.

Paul Sutton, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Hull, acted as a consultant to the report authors. Head of the university's centre for developing area studies, he said the report updated a 1985 document drawn up in the aftermath of the invasion of Grenada.

"The earlier report was concerned with the vulnerability of small states to invasion.

"Now the Cold War has gone, the issues are now about economic and environmental vulnerability. The new report has a significant economic and environmental dimension as well as a political one.

"Environmentally, small states will be marginalised in the new global order. But disasters tend to have a larger impact on them because they are physically more vulnerable."

The political and security dimension has changed too, Dr Sutton said.

"Small states are vulnerable to transnational crime - money laundering and drug trafficking. These are more likely than the chances of a larger state just walking in and taking over."

The report has been drawn up by representatives of the small states, and from India and New Zealand. It was commissioned after the Auckland heads of government meeting.

It makes more than 45 recommendations to ensure small states are not overlooked in the Commonwealth and in the wider world.

They include an approach to the World Bank for special lending assistance to small states, a special index of vulnerability, and a stronger role for the special office for small states at the United Nations that the Commonwealth helped to create.

It also calls for the encouragement of distance learning to aid small states in the Commonwealth, with funding and support from other small states.

Dr Sutton is one of the few academics in the United Kingdom specialising in development and security issues in small states.

Research at the centre includes studies of rural development, regional disparities, and the political economy of small and island developing states.

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