When there are big boys in the playground the physically less well-endowed gang up for survival, protection and advancement. You cannot be bigger or stronger than you are made whatever they say about ‘punching above your weight’. Bullying takes many forms other than physical abuse. The very existence of threat is a distraction. Coercion, however smiling, is unsettling. I have seen the weak suffer enough to know that ‘united we stand’ does mean something, even if not always as much as we would like.
Small countries – those with, say, a population of between 1 million and 10 million – face particular problems when dealing with the big boys. They tend to be made into commercial or geographical pawns in the rough game of world chess. This means they devote a disproportionate amount of their time and money defending their rights – all of which could be spent in using their normally outstanding brains for development and innovation. Because small is quick as any bat will tell you.
Our world groupings are based mostly on geography. EU, ASEAN and several others are about ‘the neighbours’. It makes sense to be on good terms with them but nobody imagines they are less competitive than the team on the other side of the world. If we put up tariff barriers around such a grouping it merely incites other groups to create trade barriers against us. We may think that being physically close offers an opportunity for protection against attack whether by other countries or the climate. Protection has two meanings. Proximity has a relevance but so does size. Dinosaurs discovered this rather painfully.
Geographical position is nothing like as important as it was. For all the Trumpeting, we live in a global world and urgently need to accept the fact. But we also live in a world of big boys and small fry. Smaller countries are often the source of new development and more enlightened thinking. They are quicker on their feet, engage in less bureaucratic nonsense and understand that a flat hierarchy is the only one that works today, however big you are.
Many of them are already cooperating. For example, Denmark and Singapore share experiences of the smart city. Other small countries enjoy special relationships with Singapore, too, on a range of subjects from tourism to healthcare, from high technology to conservation. All smaller countries could cooperate better and have a louder voice in the world if they joined together in a loose entity – not a Union (heaven forbid), not a Federation (as in the USA) but a Fellowship.
The purposes would be
# to exchange ideas of how smaller countries finance, grow and develop,
# to cooperate in areas of protection, especially the coming need for much stronger cyber protection (small countries have a particular advantage here)
# early on to have a voice in the role and dismantling of trade barriers
# longer term to have a seat at the security council of the United Nations.
To be effective they would have to avoid the bureaucratic disaster that EU has become while also avoiding the largely purely social connections the Commonwealth establishes. Their relationships would be about real trade, real protection and real voice.
Small needs a better voice. This is one way to achieve it.
For your convenience I list below the 70 countries that have populations between 1 and 10 million: