Small States and COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities for Multilateralism

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This article tests one of the core theses in the burgeoning literature on small states, which asserts that small states must seek shelter within larger organizations or in partnership with large states in order to mitigate their inherent vulnerabilities and build resilience against externally originating shocks. This article tests this theory by conducting comparative case study analysis to investigate how small states have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. It examines the extent to which small states have been seeking shelter that is economic, political, and societal from existing multilateral frameworks, as well as the conditions under which they are developing new work-arounds when the existing multilateral arrangements have not functioned as intended. These ad hoc multilateral and minilateral arrangements, necessitated by the crisis, have filled the gap when the expected benefits of collective security have not been forthcoming from long-standing frameworks, yet they also reveal how a more unified and proactive approach to remedying the failings of existing, credible multilateral frameworks would serve to maximize and spread the benefits more widely, rather than fragmenting efforts and unevenly distributing the gains. Consequently, while the conclusion acknowledges small state successes in coalition building, innovation, flexibility, and proactivity in harnessing multilateralism or developing sovereign initiatives to respond to this crisis in the short term, it also highlights several emergent problems that will require shoring up and remedying the failings of existing regional and international multilateral mechanisms in the long term. The article closes by offering several recommendations, including the critical necessity of commitment from large counterparts to overhaul international financial mechanisms to ensure that no small states get left behind in the pandemic recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Article number57708
JournalGlobal Perspectives
Issue number1
Early online date20 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2023


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