Qatar and Nepal: Power of the small

Does size matter? The conventional theory claimed it does matter and does so because only large states are powerful enough to influence world events.

That no more is the case today.

The seams of the sizeand-power hypothesis are fast coming apart, and with the might of machtpolitik-based empires long gone and unipolarity unhinging fast, a glocalised transition of values is now on the way altering the role of states as also the modes of their transactions, epitomised in the irreversible Universal Transition of Paradigms (UTOP).

As a matter of fact, every element in nature seems to have been given its role where size and scale may matter, but within their own strictly specified limits.

A needle certainly cannot do what a nuclear bomb can but imagine that same bomb being used to stitch clothes!

Do small states then matter in the unfolding scenario of the day? Yes, says R. James Breiding, and they are already mattering in a way scarcely imagined before.

Too Small to Fail, the book authored by him, is an eye-opener in this regard.

Acronymed TSTF, the small states he falls upon to substantiate his premise include Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland.

Pointing to the diminishing role of scale and heterogeneity in the rise of these states, Breiding makes four conclusions of critical value for our discussion. One: there is no correlation between a nation’s size and its GDP per capita. Two: seven of the top ten economies in terms of innovation in the 2017-2018 Global Competitive Report produced by the World Economic Forum are TSTF countries.

Three: across a range of five competitiveness metrics at the global level, the TSTF nations rank among the top ten. Four: ten of the TSTF nations rank among the most democratic nations in the world, scoring from 8.81 to 9.87, and the top ten happiest countries in the world have populations of less than 40 million people, according to the World Happiness Report 2019.

There is, of course, no dearth of naysayers to the power of the small that ranges from Treitsche and Ratzel, Walter Lippmann and Karl Haushofer, Joseph Chamberlain and Strausz- Hupé down to Adolf Hitler, and the list also includes names such as Charles P. Kindleberger as well as Jawahar Lal Nehru. Contemporary history, however, is giving a sharp lie to their claims.

On the other side, refuting the old claim is the list of the 50 wealthiest countries released by the World Bank on September 17, 1995 that includes 24 small, mini and microstates and a whole array of critics of that school– Peter Bauer, Colin Clarke, Robert Dahl, Marc M. Lindenberg, Peter Lloyd, Mancur Olson, Tom Payne, T.W. Schultz, Schumacher, Alvin Toffleras well as Edward Tufte.

In this regard, what Zhou En-lai told Tank Parsad Acharya in Beijing in the mid-fifties is no less relevant: “How big is Japan? The Japanese captured us.

Size does not make any difference.

It is man who counts. It is man’s mind that counts, not man’s number.”

The unique position of certain small states (San Marino as the world’s oldest republic, Iceland’s Althing as the world’s oldest parliament, Luxembourg as the world’s fourth largest steel producer and Liechtenstein’s highest status in the EU in GDP per capita) and the specialised role of some others - the Nordic countries’ norm entrepreneurship, Finland’s crisis management and Sweden’s capacity to deter a foe by denial - suggest their role will be hard to ignore as before.

In this context, the transformation of torrid desert-state Qatar within half a century from probably the poorest colony of Britain, with scarcely any infrastructure worth the name, into one of the richest states where education, energy, medicine, water and tax are free along with jobs guaranteed for the well-educated is no less amazing.

Boasting a civil society freer than those in many other Arab countries, it seems set to emerge not only as a strong powerhouse in the future but also as a new face and voice of the Middle East.

Situated between five macro-regions of Asia - Arab West, Turk Central Asia, Confucian Northeast, Buddhist Southeast and a largely Hindu Peninsula - and overshadowed by three nuclear powers, Nepal offers a stark contrast to Qatar in multiple ways, but its geopolitical contiguity offers it the scope to emerge as a vital corridor belt for trade, transport and communication connectivity tomorrow.

The rich cultural heritage of Nepal plus the security skills of its human power and the saga of valour it has carved in history apart, the bounty of natural endowments and the breathtaking diversity of its fauna, flora, energy and topsoil would be the envy of any state and nation. Rating quite well in the 14 criteria of a financial centre, Nepal also holds a strong competitive advantage on this front.

Yes, isolation has taken its heavy toll and given the choice between freedom and subjugation, Nepal did refuse to become a pawn or protégé of the large powers.

The mass privation and poverty that followed were the price it paid for the choice it made, but of all the closed lands of the world, as Perceval Landon put it famously long ago, Nepal became the only survivor.

Much of the terrain here is difficult to tame, but that same factor combined with its martial spirit also lend it a combat efficiency in war of top global value (Bang per Dollar). Growing out of its centuries-old chrysalis, it has a society with a glorious past, a hospitable present and a bountiful future beckoning the citizens to shed their size pessimism and historic amnesia to unlock the hidden potentials of the land.

It must be some such feelings that prompted Landon to announce: “The great days of Nepal are before her, not behind.”

The rich cultural heritage of Nepal plus the security skills of its human power and the saga of valour it has carved in history apart, the bounty of natural endowments and the breathtaking diversity of its fauna, flora, energy and topsoil would be the envy of any state and nation