A Geography of Islands: Small Island Insularity

By Stephen A. Royle | Go to book overview

7

Politics and small islands

Island powerlessness

Some of the world’s largest nations are insular. Indonesia, at around 192 million people, has fewer inhabitants than only China, India and the USA. Japan (c. 123 m) is the seventh largest nation in the world; the Philippines (c. 64 m) comes 14th and the United Kingdom (c. 58 m), 16th. In terms of area, Indonesia at 1.9 million km2 is the world’s 15th largest country; Greenland, at almost 2.2 million km2 is even bigger, in 13th place. On occasion, some of these island nations have had economic and/or political power commensurate with their size. The United Kingdom entered the twentieth century as the world’s leading power and controlled one-fifth of the world’s land surface and a quarter of its population. Japan, too, had an extensive regional empire in Asia, stretching into Australasia on occasion, during the twentieth century. Upon recovery from its eventual defeat in World War II, Japan, like Germany, made a remarkably quick recovery and ended the twentieth century as one of the world’s mightiest economies.

That there have been large and powerful island nations does not gainsay the fact that the more usual insular position regarding politics, especially for small islands, is one of powerlessness, dependency and insignificance. The problems of scale, isolation, peripherality, etc., normally handicap small islands in the political arena as they do in every other aspect of human life. An outside force can usually scale up sufficient economic, political and/or if necessary, military force to impose their will upon the people of an island. If islanders resist what is proposed for them, history, including very recent history, gives us scores of examples of islands being invaded. When it comes to war, small islands are very vulnerable. Thus the only parts of British homeland territory to be taken by Germany during World War II were the Channel Islands from which the British forces withdrew, recognising that the islands could not be held:

They were wide open to attack from France by sea and air. To defend them adequately would be costly. To defend them inadequately would expose the people to the horror and privation of war for no good reason.

(Cruikshank, 1975, p. 23)

-134-

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A Geography of Islands: Small Island Insularity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vi
  • Tables viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - Islands 1
  • References 23
  • 2 - Islands 25
  • References 40
  • 3 - Insularity 42
  • 4 - Islands in the Past 68
  • 5 - Islands 87
  • 6 - Islands 110
  • 7 - Politics and Small Islands 134
  • 8 - Making a Living 166
  • References 186
  • 9 - Islands of Dreams 188
  • References 208
  • 10 - Conclusion 210
  • Index 227
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