Smaller States And Peacemaking

By Alan Tidwell, CANZPS Director

This article concerns both peacemaking by smaller states and teaching innovation. The two come together, in part, because smaller state peacemaking did not fit neatly into the existing literature. And, in order to explore the unexplored, it required a different kind of investigation in inquiry by students. The name of the course was “Smaller States and Peacemaking”, a graduate course offered through the conflict resolution program at Georgetown University.

“Smaller States and Peacemaking” may seem an unusual course title. In previous years I have taught a course entitled “Middle Power Perspectives Peacemaking and Peacekeeping”. The subject matter in that course focused on countries such as Canada and Australia and their involvement in negotiating peace agreements and undertaking peacekeeping missions. A middle power, as distinct from a superpower, great power, or small power, is something that international relations scholars quibble over. How does one define a middle power? Middle of what? Shall we measure the size of the economy? Income? Size of the military? It’s difficult to know precisely what middle power actually means. Some have suggested that a middle power is that power which can act in some areas on its own without the support of the great powers. Others have suggested that a middle power is one that engages in cooperative internationalist multilateral behavior. There doesn’t appear to be a uniformly accepted definition of middle power.

Interestingly, many of the behavioral attributes assigned to a middle power are also used to describe the behavior of small powers. And once again one is faced with the definitional problem how small is small?

It seemed to me that one way around this difficulty was to reconceptualize the course. Rather than think in terms of several categories why not simply divide the world into two – great powers and smaller powers. This would still afford ample opportunity for students to investigate the role of states in peacemaking. And interestingly for the students, focus on powers that do not rely upon great powers to leverage their work. In other words the focus is almost exclusively on the cleverness, inventiveness, and hard work of smaller states as they pursue peace.

In meeting with students I was up front with them. I explained that I did not have a concrete outline for how the course would flow. I explained that I was actually trying to amalgamate two different bodies of literature – middle power studies and smaller states studies. Rather than play the role of expert, I invited the students to work with me, to collaborate in developing a different way of thinking about peacemaking. Happily the students accepted the challenge.

I asked the students if they would create two deliverables by the end of the semester. The first was handbook collectively authored by everybody in class. The handbook would feature case studies divided into chapters and authored individual students or pairs of students. The second deliverable was to be a Wikipedia entry that would discuss peacemaking undertaken by smaller states. The rationale behind creating a Wikipedia page was simple. All too often professors ask students to write papers, grade them, and then wait for students to pick them up. Sometimes students will pick up the papers, but more often they do not.

As it transpired developing a handbook was the easier of the two tasks. As of this writing the Wikipedia page did not eventuate, and not for any fault of the students, but rather for the peculiarities of Wikipedia page authorship.

Before turning to the task of writing case studies we needed to define smaller states. This turned out to be more challenging task than I had anticipated. What became apparent to me was that the students were not particularly comfortable with the intellectual exercise of definition. It is, of course, far easier to simply assert the definition and not provide any reasons. This, however, was not what I was asking them to do. Instead I encouraged the students to arrive at a definition of smaller states, and to be able to provide an explanation for their rationale. It was an interesting and challenging group process.

The students, working individually or in pairs, developed case studies of countries engaged in peacemaking. We had discussions probing which countries might interest the students. I did have a couple of countries in mind on which I was keen to have students work. It seemed to me that any discussion of peacemaking required a focus on Norway. The Norwegians have been so deeply involved in promoting peacemaking around the world that we would be remiss if we left the Viking peacemakers unexplored. The other important country was Switzerland, which like Norway, has played a prominent role in peacemaking around the world. Aside from these two the students were able to come up with their own cases. They selected Qatar, Kazakhstan, Vatican City, and South Africa.

Every two weeks the students presented a draft version of their case study to the class. Fellow students were invited to make comments, criticisms, and suggestions to those case studies. In addition the case studies were loaded onto Google drive so that students could read and comment on them at their leisure. This made the process of authorship a truly collective effort.

In addition to presenting their case studies we also had lecture, discussion and guest lectures. The guest lectures came from representatives of the embassies from Norway, Switzerland, and Australia. A common question put to all three representatives focused on what value their countries derived from engaging in peacemaking. All three commented on the value of peace as an end in itself, but also on the leverage that peacemaking gave their countries when engaging with others.

I believe the educational benefit derived from this course was significant. Students had an opportunity to hone their generic skills, group work skills, and presentation skills in addition to the traditional skills of writing and research. In addition the students have produced a public good – a handbook that discusses the experiences and merits of smaller states and peacemaking. In addition, the handbook will be published on the Center for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific studies website. You’ll find the handbook here.