Pillar 3: Foreign policy and security challenges of small states


Pillar 3 focuses on foreign policy and security challenges for small states and builds on key concepts of small state literature, such as vulnerability, and lack of capabilities, and how small states can compensate for these weaknesses. Furthermore, the course examines how important it is for small states to form alliances or seek shelter in order to prevent outside hostile attacks.



In this seminar we will discuss the failure of the traditional alliance theories to capture the relationship between small states on the one hand and their larger neighbors, regional and international organizations on the other. We will discuss a new approach which might be better suited to explain the relationship – i.e. the alliance shelter theory. It claims that small states/entities need economic, political and societal shelter from their larger neighbors and/or regional and international organizations. 

Baldur Þórhallsson, Professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair in European Studies, University of Iceland.



To what extent is smallness a category or a variable in defining small state foreign policy? The seminar discusses the strategic environment that forms and formulates the decisions and foreign policy agenda of Lithuania. It look into security issues and national security strategy. How much of it corresponds with foreign policy initiatives and issues and which of those are Lithuania related, which are small states related and which are based on the geopolitical situation of the country?

Vilius Mačkinis, Lecturer, Institute of International Relations and Political Science.



The Nordic countries are sometimes characterized as norm entrepreneurs in international relations. The seminar discusses how, why and to which extent the Nordic countries may be viewed as norm entrepreneurs and what other small states may learn from the Nordic experience.

Anders Wivel, Head of Studies, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen.



This research seminar examines continuity and change in the relations of states of the former Yugoslavia. Students will be encouraged to examine how nations transition from a joint state to independent entities and how these newly formed states relate to each other. How do they deal with common history? Do they seek to break with their joint past or use it to their advantage? How do they cope with their changed status in international relations? The seminar will examine how diplomatic, economic and cultural ties of the former Yugoslav states feed into each other and what kind of contradictions they expose. It will also look into external incentives for cooperation. Students are asked to familiarize themselves with the region and think about these issues before the seminar.

Mateja Peter, Lecturer in International Relations, University of St Andrews and Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).



Baltic states have walked a long way in ensuring their security since the nineties, after they have regained their independence. They have managed to create democratic and stable institutions from the scratch, reform their economies, become members of the major international and regional institutions. The aim of this seminar is to discuss main security challenges of the Baltic states and try to define the best recipes to address them.

Margarita Šešelgytė, Studies Director, Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University.



Member states of the EU have always had and still have fairly different attitudes towards Russia. The aim of this seminar is to discuss and rationalize the position of Baltic states vis-à-vis Russia in the EU.

Margarita Šešelgytė and Gediminas Vitkus, Vilnius University.



Among the many alternative definitions of security now available, the five Nordic states have converged around one called „societal security“ for defining their official security policies. What is special about this concept and what makes it potentially useful for small states in general?

Alyson Bailes, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Political Science, University of Iceland.



Additional reading material for Pillar 3

Arreguin-Toft, Ivan. 2005. How the Weak Win Wars. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Bailes, Alyson J.K., Bradley A. Thayer and Baldur Thorhallsson. Forthcoming. “Alliance Theory and Small State Alliance “Shelter”: The Complexities of Small State Alliance Behavior.” Third World Thematics.

De Carvalho, Benjamin and Iver B. Neumann. 2015. “Introduction.” In Small State Status Seeking: Norway’s Quest for International Standing. New York: Routledge.

Elman, Miriam Fendius, 1995. “The Foreign Policies of Small States: Challenging Neorealism in its Own Backyard.” British Journal of Political Science 25: 171-217.

Fazal, Tanisha. 2004. “State Death in the International System.” International Organization 58(2): 311–44.

Keohane, Robert O. 1971. „The Big Influence Of Small Allies.“ Foreign Policy 2: 161-182.

Lanoszka, Alexander. 2015. „Do Allies Really Free Ride?“ Survival 57(3): 133-152.

Olson, Mancur and Richard Zeckhauser. 1966. „An Economic Theory Of Alliances.“ The Review of Economics and Statistics 48(3): 266-279.

Panke, Diana. 2012. „Small States In Multilateral Negotiations. What Have We Learned?“. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 25(3): 387-398.


Suggested essay topics Pillar 3

  1. Do small states need political, economic and societal shelter
  2. Do you agree that ‘societal security’ is a more relevant and helpful security concept for a small state than traditional military security (alone) would be?
  3. Define two main security risks for each of the Baltic countries, what are the main differences between them and why?
  4. What objectives became main foreign policy priorities of Lithuania after achieving membership of NATO and the EU?
  5. From an economic point of view, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a small state?
  6. What are Peter Katzenstein’s predictions regarding the linkages between economic openness, political legitimacy, domestic compensation, and economic performance? Does the empirical case of the Baltic countries match the predictions of Katzenstein’s model?
  7. What is the strategy of internal devaluation/adjustment in response to economic crises? What economic and political challenges does it pose?
  8. How can analyses of small countries be used to draw broader theoretical and practical implications?
  9. What would you consider as the main aspects of strategic environment shaping foreign and security policy of small states (you can use the case of Lithuania)?
  10. In your opinion, to what degree small states are capable of forming and pursuing independent foreign policies?
  11. In what ways did the states of the former Yugoslavia break with their joint past? How do they use their joint past to their advantage?
  12. What are some similarities in the foreign policies of the states of the former Yugoslavia? What are the reasons for these similarities?