The security of small states

I now see the problem in rather different terms. The small states that are in contiguity to the really powerful states should be placed in a very special category. The powerful states that I have in mind are the US, Russia, China and India. I am including India because it is now in close association with the US and is very much involved in the great power rivalries that have been evolving. We must ask why the world seems at present in a much more troubled condition politically that at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


by Izeth Hussain

( November 4, 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Some years after the holding of the 1976 Non-Aligned Summit Conference in Colombo, the Marga Institute held an international seminar on the security of small states. I wrote the lead paper for it, which was fitting because at the Foreign Ministry I was in charge of the subject of the Non-Aligned Movement which had not given specific attention to the problem of the security of small states. The seminar was regarded as one of the most interesting ever held by the Marga Institute and as a path-breaking one. Substantial chunks of my paper were reproduced in the Lanka Guardian. Thereafter the idea that the security of small states was a problem that had to be addressed fell out of sight. Around 1990 I attended as a Marga representative a UN Conference on the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace at Sochi in the Soviet Union. My address focused on the problem of small state security, which particularly interested Howard Wriggins, scholar and former Ambassador to Sri Lanka, and an American observer who was there. It was thereafter published in the Lanka Guardian. That American observer told me that my address was exceptionally interesting and he was surprised that it made nothing like the impact that it should have made. Clearly I was dealing with an idea whose time had not come.

Maybe its time has come or is coming with the international concern manifested in recent weeks over the Kashmir problem. It is time therefore to spell out some ideas on the problem of small state security. But first I must make some observations on the Non-Aligned Movement, the significance of which tends to be misunderstood. In preparing the Draft Declaration for the Colombo Summit I conceptualized Non-Alignment as standing essentially for two principles, reducing to two the five principles enunciated at the first Non-Aligned Summit at Belgrade in 1961. The first was true independence as distinct from merely formal sovereignty. The other was peaceful co-existence cutting across ideological and all other divisions. That those principles had wide appeal was attested by the phenomenal growth in membership of the Non-aligned Movement, to an extent that would have been unimaginable at the time of the Belgrade Summit in 1961.

I hold that Non-Alignment has represented something very positive in international relations and that the Movement has been a resounding success. Decolonization was virtually complete by the time of the Colombo Summit, a process in which the Non-Aligned played a very significant role. That process was inevitable and therefore more important is the fact that today the third world countries are far more resistant to covert forms of domination than in the past. The defiance shown by the Philippines President towards the US would have been unthinkable some time ago. It seems to me significant that today’s American Empire takes the form of an empire of bases, according to Chalmers Johnson’s conceptualization. The probable reason for that is that it is more problematic now for a foreign power to dominate a people than in the past.

It might seem therefore – particularly as the ideological division of the Cold War is over – that the Non-Alignment Movement has served its purpose successfully and it should now be declared defunct. What is definitely over is the problem of ensuring peaceful co-existence within the framework of the Cold War. But the problem of ensuring true independence as distinct from merely formal sovereignty continues. As long as human beings remain human beings we can expect attempts at domination of the poor by the rich, of the small by the big, of the weak by the powerful. That has been made more difficult in the contemporary world partly because of the success of the Non-Aligned Movement. But the drive to dominate has not vanished from the earth. Can the NAM be used to deal with that problem, more specifically with the problem of the security of small states? It has been pre-eminently the Movement that has stood up for the poor, the small, and the weak. But in recent times it has given the impression of a loss of direction, and it seems doubtful that it can serve the purposes of the small states.

The appropriate forum would be the UN though when it comes to effective action it is dominated by the rich and the powerful. It is the appropriate forum because the problem of the small states is at the very core of the problem of shaping a new world order. I must explain why I have that idea. At the time of the Marga seminar I and probably most of the other participants conceived of the problem of small states more or less along the following lines. In the course of time some powerful states would be emerging in Afro-Asia and Latin America, such as India, Nigeria, and Brazil and they too could show a drive for domination over the small states. The securing of the interests of the small states had still to be worked out.

I now see the problem in rather different terms. The small states that are in contiguity to the really powerful states should be placed in a very special category. The powerful states that I have in mind are the US, Russia, China and India. I am including India because it is now in close association with the US and is very much involved in the great power rivalries that have been evolving. We must ask why the world seems at present in a much more troubled condition politically that at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is now talk of a renewed US-Russian Cold War; there are fears that the world may be getting closer to a nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of the early ‘sixties; and the relations between some of the great powers are clearly becoming more and more uneasy.

I believe that this troubled condition has its roots in the aggressive policy followed by the US towards Russia in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Russia saw it, it had voluntarily relinquished a huge empire and was ready for relations of amity and co-operation with the US and the West. The US response was to treat Russia as a potential enemy, as a country that would regain its power and threaten the US, the West, and the rest of the world. Its strategy was to try to get close to Russia’s neighbors and make them pro-Western. It was essentially a policy of containment, similar to what prevailed during the Cold War. But Russia has been regaining its power, it has given the impression of behaving aggressively towards the Ukraine and other neighbors as a riposte to the US containment strategy, and it has become a major player in the Middle East. As for China, I would explain its behavior in the South China Seas also in terms of a riposte to a virtual containment policy on the part of the US.

In the preceding paragraph there is implicit a solution to the problem of small states that are neighbors of powerful states. Sri Lanka should be included in the category of such states. The traditional solution would be to include them in the spheres of influence of the powerful states. Today that would be totally unacceptable because it implies unequal relations that could range from a loose hegemony to outright domination. According to the solution I have in mind a small state should firstly have untrammeled freedom except that it should not get together with a foreign power against its neighbor. Secondly other powers should respect that principle. What I am advocating is a solution to the problem of small states based on the two fundamental principles of Non-Alignment: the small state should have true independence as distinct from merely formal sovereignty, and it should practice peaceful co-existence.

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