Por Pablo César Marin Graue – International Relations Student

When it comes to Western Europe’s foreign policy, size seems to matter less and less nowadays. You see, we no longer live in 1803, 1914, or 1939. The European mentality has shifted from being state centric to union centric, through interdependence and cooperation. This massive undertaking has shifted the perception of size, to the point it doesn't even matter anymore; it just takes looking at Luxembourg and Scotland to notice this phenomenon.

Let's start with Luxembourg, a tiny country, with an equally tiny population of 600,000, who founded NATO in 1949, and still is a part of the organization to this day. One would think that given the fact that they were the only founding country that didn’t have a military expenditure above 2%, this number could not fall any lower, and instead would rise throughout time, right? Not quite. One year after joining NATO, Luxembourg was spending 1.34% of their GDP on their military. By 1961 and 1962, the years where the Cuban Missile Crisi and the Berlin standoff occurred (considered by most experts to be the height of the Cold War) that percentage had fallen to 0.82% and 0.96% respectively. Fast forward to 2014, and that percentage was 0.42% (Wołkonowski, 2018). Yet, if anyone woke up today and decided they wanted to invade Luxembourg, they wouldn't face a measly 0.28 billion dollars, they would face $1.1 trillion dollars, and the combined might of all the militaries of NATO.

Speaking of 2014, it was kind of a big deal in Scotland. A referendum on whether they could become independent from the United Kingdom was held. The increasingly big gap between the politicians in London and the people in the outer regions of the Union had caused resentment, and the people of Scotland had had enough. But let's be honest here, in many aspects, this endeavor would have simply failed had it not been for the European Union. In the past, as annoying as provinces found their capitals to be, they had to have them to exercise basic nationhood; that is, to defend them from outside forces, to provide a formidable economy, and to establish a market for their goods. In September of 2014, it was not at all clear if that larger national entity was required anymore.

National capitals have been reduced to the middle managers of European governance, and they can easily be replaced by smaller entities. That is why one of the questions in the referendum debate -- whether Scotland is large enough to be a “viable” state -- is misplaced. If the EU and NATO provide defense from external aggression and the EU guarantees free access to the world’s largest market, then a state of any size can be viable (Hill and Shapiro, 2014).

In an imaginary world where every single state is an island, large states would always benefit from increased productivity, lower costs for public services, and more troops to defend themselves, but it is clear that globalization has increased the navies of our actual islands, and, as a result, it has reduced those advantages. Due to the exploitation of their greater cultural and political variety, and the incentives we have mentioned in this paper, larger democratic states are weaker today than they have been in the past. Time will only tell if every province that has an identity, an ambitious agenda, and a loathing of its capital city can have the cake and eat it too.


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  • Hill, F. y Shapiro, J. (2014, September 16). Size doesn't matter. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/europe/2014-09-15/size-doesnt-matter
  • Wołkonowski, J. (2018). NATO defense expenditures in 1949-2017. https://www.shs-conferences.org/articles/shsconf/pdf/2018/18/shsconf_infoglob2018_01032.pdf