Academic journal article Global Governance

Can Small States Be More Than Price Takers in Global Governance?

Academic journal article Global Governance

Can Small States Be More Than Price Takers in Global Governance?

Article excerpt

Existing debates suggest that small states can exert more influence than their size alone implies. This article contributes to such extant literature by addressing more specific questions about the conditions under which such ostensible price takers can play outsized roles. Generic claims of tiny Singapore punching above its weight have not yet been examined in light of its leaders' proactive initiatives in global governance to advance its national interests. Drawing on two strategies identified within theoretical debates on how small states project influence, this article analyzes Singaporean initiatives in coalition building and use of its comparative advantages in specific issue domains and how these strategies have evolved historically. Driven by an innate sense of vulnerability, Singapore's flexibility to embrace emerging modes of governance beyond its traditional UN-centric focus is a relatively overlooked feature in the literature deserving further attention.

Keywords: global governance, small states, price taker, Singapore.

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HOW CAN STATES BE ASSESSED ON THEIR LEVELS OF INFLUENCE AND ACTIVITY in shaping global governance norms and processes? One approach has been to address this question in dualistic terms of whether a country has to "take" (meaning it has little influence and commonly refers to small states) or can "make" (it has more influence and usually used to describe large powers) rules and norms of global governance. For instance, analysts suggest that India is becoming more of a norm maker than a norm taker in global energy governance. (1) Another large power, China, is also moving from rule taker to rule maker, and possibly rule shaker, in global trade governance. (2) Japan, according to Miles Kahler, has acted since the 1980s in a way "that might change the existing system by its behavior, as a 'price maker' rather than a 'price taker.'" (3) While leading players in global affairs, such as the great powers, are usually "price-makers of the system," it is conversely assumed that adjusting to accommodate the actions of these price makers is the perennial role of the smaller states, "the price-takers in the system." (4) This notion is often deployed by policy elites, particularly in the tiny Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore, whose population numbers 5 million and, with 714 square kilometers of land area, is less than half the size of London. Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew once said, "Quite simply, Singapore takes the position that we are price-takers; we are not price-makers. Our strategy simply is to make ourselves relevant to all the countries that matter to us." (5) Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam reiterated in 2012 that "we are a small state and a price-taker in international relations." (6)

However, the idea that small states are not necessarily helpless is an emerging theme of recent literature, and as this article shows, it rings true for Singapore as well. Several methods are available to such states, from adopting "small but smart strategies" to the use of "resilient diplomacy." (7) Small states can also build networks and linkages with other similarly sized like-minded states such as the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Other methods such as alliances, bandwagoning, and balancing allow small states to pursue stability in the international system. (8) Building on these existing theoretical debates, in this article we examine Singapore's strategies over the years to increase its role in global governance, with an eye toward continuity and change in its policies. From a British colonial outpost to a developed nation with impressive gross domestic product (GDP) per capita rates, Singapore has ambitions to "transcend the limitations of physical size and punch above our weight class among the global competition." (9) The idea that Singapore is "punching above its weight" is a pretty standard element of discussions regarding its foreign relations, a notion repeated, for instance, by Hillary Clinton in 2010. …

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