Small states and military power: A realistic approach

Christos Loizou*

Published on 14/08/2021 at 20:17

In the context of public debates on the Cyprus issue, the term “realism” is often associated with defeatism and acceptance of the terms of the one who is superior; in this case, Turkey. 

Following on from such reasoning, the value of the armed forces of Cyprus is underestimated, as they cannot reach the level of Turkey in numerical and material terms. But to what extent is this view consistent with the assumptions of political realism and the conclusions of the scientific literature on international relations, and ultimately what can a small state pursue in an international system dominated by the law of power?

The internationally renowned professor of strategy Michael Handel, in his book Weak states in the International System, attempts to answer questions about the potential of small states in the international system through realistic theory of international relations and rational foreign policy theory. According to Handel, although small states are vulnerable against the superior ones, they are not helpless and can implement strategies for their national security. 

Initially, they can gain help from great powers when they can move freely in the international system, choose allies and exploit the conflicts of the great powers. The two greatest dangers to the security and independence of great powers are the isolation and confinement to the influence of a great power.

In addition, small states need to increase their military power, as this can improve their negotiating position and balance similarly powerful opponents. In addition, they can inflict crucial blows on a stronger state, which will be suffered in a conflict with an equal opponent. Smaller states can also strengthen their military capabilities to withstand a conflict until allied aid arrives. In this context, they also benefit from the new technologies of precision weapon systems which act as power multipliers.

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As offensive realism theorist John Mearsheimer observes in his book Tragedy of Great Power Politics, the balance of power does not guarantee military victory as material power increases the chances of success but unpredictable material factors affect the outcome of the conflict. 

In all, the current Turkish policy of revision as well as the transitional phase of the international system create a window of opportunity for a state like Cyprus to develop new possibilities at the regional level. The Republic of Cyprus must strengthen its means and pursue strategic goals that will lead to the crowning of the state interest, which is national survival and security. A prerequisite for success is the strategy of the Republic of Cyprus to be part of a broader defined national policy of Hellenism. 

To conclude, the imbalance of power does not render military aid meaningless. On the contrary, it is at this point that it acquires enormous importance as in cases such as Cyprus the quality of power depends not on expansion and prosperity, but on safety and survival. Otherwise, the Turkish expansion will not even need the help of military means to be achieved. 

As the professor of international relations Panagiotis Hephaestus characteristically states in his book The War and Its Causes: “Conflicting interests concerning state integrity are related to the very existence of a nation-state entity, which leaves no room for compromises, unless one state decides to abolish itself or cede sovereignty to another state.”

* Political Scientist

** The views and / or comments expressed in the articles belong to each author and may not constitute an opinion and / or position and / or be adopted as is by the company and / or the site administrators. More in the terms of use of the website.

Also read: Konstantinos Grivas | New military technologies suit the needs of Greece and Cyprus



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