Dr Hillary Briffa looks at what characterises small states, their challenges, and the strategies they utilise to overcome these. She argues that small states can very successfully protect their autonomy and security, and exert considerable influence.
When major powers clash, or grow more competitive, the historical record shows that small states are the first to be buffeted by the actions of their larger counterparts. Small states do not set the international agenda. This means that if the fears of a breakdown of the rules-based order are well-founded, it will have profound implications for their security. Thus, these actors must look within their own armoury – at the tactics and strategies available to them, within certain bounds – and consider how much leverage they can exert within the context in which they operate. Can small states do anything more than move swiftly to avoid being trampled when elephants collide? This talk will examine the strategies pursued by small states to safeguard their autonomy (including ‘strategic hedging’ and ‘seeking shelter’); as well as innovative means of projecting influence (ranging from the harnessing of multilateralism to bind great power behaviour, to serving as ‘smart states’ in the international system). Today, increasing antagonism between great powers is already creating serious dilemmas for smaller international actors, and this is likely to intensify in the near future. However, the ability of small states to strategically navigate risk and influence the behaviour of Great Powers means that they can be expected to adapt to these changes. As small states navigate a fading rules-based order, this talk will argue that they have several time-tested strategies in reserve.
Dr Hillary Briffa is a Lecturer in National Security Studies and the Assistant Director of the Centre for Defence Studies in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, where she read for her Ph.D, asking whether small states can have a grand strategy. She is also a founding member of the Centre for Grand Strategy at King’s, where she serves as the research lead for the Climate Change and International Order portfolio. Previously, she has taught courses across the spectrum of global politics, international relations, defence, foreign policy, security and strategy at the Royal College of Defence Studies, the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, University College London, Birkbeck University of London, and Queen Mary University of London. Beyond academia, she served as Malta’s official Youth Ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for three years, and worked at the Malta High Commission to the UK throughout Malta’s tenure as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. After running peace-building projects in Eastern and Central Europe, in 2015 she was appointed an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and in 2016 became a recipient of the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Emerging Young Leaders award.