Walsh School of Foreign Service

Project History

NATO is at a pivotal moment as it responds to a complex new security environment. The Alliance must reassess these threats and plan how to respond. The SSANSE project is a preparedness initiative examining the defence and foreign policy choices and challenges of small states in NATO and those faced by NATO partner small states in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and Oceania in the new security environment.

Small states make up half of the membership of the United Nations. Small states may be small in population and territory, but they have frequently had a disproportionate effect on global politics and they are more often affected by global shifts in power. Our project “Small states and the new security environment” (SSANSE) assesses the defence and foreign policy choices and challenges of small states in NATO and NATO partner states as they face the new security environment. One third of the membership of NATO are small states; while most of NATO’s partners are small states too. All the major NATO powers have strategic interests in the regions of their partner states—so any security challenges or new developments there are of direct interest to NATO priorities. How are the small states of NATO and its partners adjusting to the new geo-political, geo-economic, security environment? Do NATO small states manage the tension between alliance commitment and economics differently from non-NATO small states? What are the core strategic interests of the small states we study and how can they be strengthened? How can NATO better work with its partner small states in future, whether through defence capability building, stabilization, reconstruction, or humanitarian aid?

Small states are generally defined as those nations which are small in landmass, population, economy, and military capacity. Small states are unable to protect themselves militarily or economically against larger powers. According to Henderson (1991) the characteristics of the small state are as follows: 1. low participation in international affairs due to limited resources; 2. narrow scope, as limited resources lead to the limiting of foreign policy interests and the small size of the state’s foreign affairs bureaucracy restricts its ability to have a broad international role; 3. economic focus, a tendency to focus foreign affairs interests on economic issues and trade; 4. internationalism, as small states tend to rely heavily on multilateralism, international organisations, agreements, and alliances to protect national interests; 5. moral emphasis, as small states tend to be moralistic, but have no resources to back up their rhetoric; 6. small states tend to be risk-avoidant, fearful of alienating powerful states, but occasionally they can be risk takers.

The new security environment is forcing NATO to consider reconceptualising its Strategic Concept, set at the 2010 Lisbon Summit. SSANSE connects to the existing stated priorities, and contributes to preparedness for reassessing the Strategic Concept. SSANSE connects to SPS key priority 4. security threats that link to NATO’s strategic objectives (collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security); SPS priority 1. to facilitate international efforts to meet emerging security challenges; and SPS priority 3. to enhance awareness on security developments. SSANSE’s findings will assist NATO and its partner states to respond to the changing global international security environment, to respond to current and future challenges, and to better defend the members of NATO and their allied partners. SSANSE is a preparedness initiative which will explore how NATO and its partner states can better cooperate in the future.

The last two years have been a turbulent period in global politics. A series of events is putting massive pressure on the international order and on NATO cooperation. To name just a few of these new challenges: Russia’s aggression in Crimea and new naval doctrine; China’s intransigence over South China Sea territorial disputes and emerging maritime strategy; the rise of ISIL and spread of radical terrorist acts on a global scale; the refugee crisis; climate change; the uncertainties of the future foreign policy of US president-elect Trump; all accompanied by rapidly spreading isolationist sentiment in many NATO and NATO partner states. Small states in NATO such as Estonia, Iceland, Lithuania and Latvia; and NATO partner small states such as Djibouti, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, New Zealand, and UAE are on the front lines of these challenges in the new security environment. Each has limited resources to protect itself, yet as history has shown, the weakness of small states in a time of rising security threats can undermine the security of larger powers; each must find their own way to manage relations between the dominant powers, while protecting their national interests; SSANSE will extend theoretical debates on the role of small states in the changing international system as well as on the issue of how states manage their relations between the major powers in the new security environment.

The four co-directors will coordinate and lead a large team of international specialists on the foreign and defence policies of the small states of NATO, Eastern Europe, MENA, and Oceania. Collectively, the SSANSE team of scholars will deliver a package of academically rigorous, evidence-based, policy-relevant research on the evolving foreign policy choices of NATO small states and NATO partners states and the small states of their regions. The SSANSE project will result in a range of outputs—scholarly papers, public and closed door presentations, policy briefs, theses—that will contribute new thinking on how NATO and its partner states can respond to the “new normal” in international security. The impact of our findings will continue well beyond the funding period, making a major contribution to understanding of the place of small states in the current global environment and contributing to NATO preparedness to respond to the new security challenges and develop new strategies.