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Yaroslav Lissovolik

Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, RIAC Member

Some of these developed small economies also have taken on a neutral status in international relations that enabled them to become credible mediators in key international disputes. In particular, Austria and Switzerland have the principle of neutrality enshrined in their Constitution. In the case of Austria the Declaration of Neutrality was enacted in 1955 as a constitutional act of parliament. In Switzerland neutrality as a foreign policy norm was included into the Constitutions of 1848, 1874 and 1999 and also featured in the country’s accession statement to the United Nations in 2002.

In Singapore neutrality has been pronounced as a de facto key foreign policy orientation, most notably with respect to the competitive tensions between the US and China in the South East Asia regions. Due to these strong de facto neutrality credentials Singapore was able to serve as venue for talks and negotiations between the US and North Korea in 2018 as well as between China’s leader Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s leader Ma Ying-jeou in 2015. In the words of Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, when it comes to the country’s foreign policy and its efforts be a credible and consistent partner, “the key to this is our neutrality… We will be nobody’s stooge, we will not act on behalf of any other power” We cannot be bought, nor can we be bullied”. It is this neutrality that enables Singapore to expand the network of alliances in the world economy and to raise its weight in international affairs. Back in 2009 the architect of Singapore’s modernization Lee Kuan Yew observed: "Small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation... We must make ourselves relevant so that other countries have an interest in our continued survival and prosperity as a sovereign and independent nation."
Amid the spikes in geopolitical risk witnessed in recent years, there may be a need to explore some of the reserves in international mediation and diplomacy, including those pertaining to the mediation roles of regional organizations and small advanced economies. The distinguishing feature uniting some of the small open economies is that they perform important mediation roles not only in their respective regions, but also on a global scale.

Some of these developed small economies also have taken on a neutral status in international relations that enabled them to become credible mediators in key international disputes. In particular, Austria and Switzerland have the principle of neutrality enshrined in their Constitution. In the case of Austria the Declaration of Neutrality was enacted in 1955 as a constitutional act of parliament. In Switzerland neutrality as a foreign policy norm was included into the Constitutions of 1848, 1874 and 1999 and also featured in the country’s accession statement to the United Nations in 2002.

In Singapore neutrality has been pronounced as a de facto key foreign policy orientation, most notably with respect to the competitive tensions between the US and China in the South East Asia regions. Due to these strong de facto neutrality credentials Singapore was able to serve as venue for talks and negotiations between the US and North Korea in 2018 as well as between China’s leader Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s leader Ma Ying-jeou in 2015. In the words of Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, when it comes to the country’s foreign policy and its efforts be a credible and consistent partner, “the key to this is our neutrality… We will be nobody’s stooge, we will not act on behalf of any other power” We cannot be bought, nor can we be bullied”. It is this neutrality that enables Singapore to expand the network of alliances in the world economy and to raise its weight in international affairs. Back in 2009 the architect of Singapore’s modernization Lee Kuan Yew observed: "Small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world. A small country must seek a maximum number of friends, while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation... We must make ourselves relevant so that other countries have an interest in our continued survival and prosperity as a sovereign and independent nation."

The United Arab Emirates has also significantly increased its peace-making efforts in recent years, with the Emirates brokering negotiations between Pakistan and India that resulted in their declaration that they would respect the 2003 cease-fire accord. Earlier in 2018 the UAE together with Saudi Arabia played a key role in mediating the 2018 peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In 2020 Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed played a key role in the attainment of the Abraham accords between Israel and several Arab states. The UAE is also seeking diplomatic solutions to tensions around countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Small countries do possess important advantages in conflict mediation compared to large economies – as noted by D. Lanz and S. Mason, “small states have unique comparative advantages in the field of mediation, as they are generally more nimble than larger mediation entities. Mason et al note that “small states benefit from the fact that they are not threatening. They are perceived as having less geopolitical interests and pursuing a more value-based approach in mediation”.

At the same time, small countries need to cooperate and build networks “with other mediators in order to increase efficiency and minimize negative competition”.  
Along the same lines as argued by Mikael Wigell, “coordinating the activities of the different tracks of mediation is essential to avoid mediator overlap and congestion that will result in wasted resources and inefficient operations”.

The potential for such small states to successfully mediate conflicts is further magnified in case they are able to bring on board regional organizations that they are an important part of. In fact, regional organizations have notably increased their contribution to crisis resolution in the past several decades – according to Touko Piiparinen and Ville Brummer, “regional and sub-regional organizations have recently become more active in managing and resolving conflicts” – “before 1975 regional organizations conducted only two mediations per year on average. Between 1985 and 1995 regional organizations undertook 116 attempts at mediation, which represents almost 20 attempts per year”. Rather than the largest countries invariably leading these regional groupings in the negotiations/resolution fora, it may the smaller countries that could perform this role with greater effectiveness.


Source: Valdai. Discussion club

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