The Centre for Small State Studies was established in 2001 and is run under the auspices of the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Iceland. The main goal of the Centre is to promote research and education on small states and to promote the progress of small state studies in Iceland and in international co-operation. The Centre‘s focus is on small state research in a broad sense. Small state studies are a growing discipline that in recent years have been gaining a broader inter-disciplinary focus, and the Centre for Small State Studies has been a leading institute in this development
The Centre for Small State Studies has received numerous foreign research grants and recognitions over the years, which have enabled the Centre to build a large network of partners around the world that work with the Centre on small state research and on developing teaching material. Since 2003, the CSSS has run an annual summer school in small state studies at the University of Iceland, where a diverse group of students from European universities has learned about the opportunities and challenges of small states in the international system. In 2013 the CSSS was awarded a prestigious Centre of Excellence grant from the EU and has since then operated as a Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence, the first of its kind in Iceland. The Centre for Small State Studies works closely with the Centre for Arctic Studies and Höfði Reykjavik Peace Center, both of which are part of the Institute of International Affairs, applying an interdisciplinary approach in its research with an emphasis on research and knowledge transformation.
What is Iceland's position in the international system today and what are the country's biggest challenges when looking ahead? There has been a great change in the international system in recent years, that has affected all countries – Iceland included. Since the end of the Cold War and the withdrawal of the US army, Iceland has had to look for new allies. In trade and economic affairs, Iceland's relations have increasingly shifted towards Europe, and in security and defense matters, Nordic co-operation has become increasingly prominent. Relations with Asian countries have also increased significantly. The international system is constantly evolving and the small state of Iceland needs to respond to the new challenges that follow.
This calls for new and continuous research on Iceland and its position in the international system - a small country that is on the periphery of European integration. The largest and most comprehensive international agreement to which Iceland is a party is the EEA Agreement. The Agreement is constantly evolving and it is therefore necessary to maintain frequent research related to it. Nordic co-operation has also increased and moved into new areas in recent years, such as security and defense. This increased co-operation calls for new research on Iceland's position in this new Nordic environment and an analysis on what the countries benefit from this co-operation.
Most small states in Europe have chosen to join the European Union or participate in European integration in some way in order to meet the systemic challenges they face, which can be traced to the small size of the countries. Small states generally consider themselves to be better positioned and more likely to have influence by working within the established legal framework of European integration, rather than outside it, where size and strength are unbridled in international relations.
Since its establishment, the Centre for Small State Studies has been working on projects that focus on this field of research. Through its collaboration with a number of European universities and academics, the Centre has built an extensive network in this field, focusing on questions such as: What are small states and how can we define them? How do the characteristics of small states appear in their work within the EU and what methods can they use to have influence within its institutions? Can small states use these characteristics to their advantage in relations with other states? What is the role of individuals and leaders within small states and how does it differ from the role of the same parties in larger states?
Over the years, the CSSS has developed and created teaching material in this field that is accessible to everyone on the Centres website. The Centre has furthermore published a number of academic articles related to this topic that is also available on the website.
In recent years, interest in small state studies has increased significantly. The Centre for Small State Studies has worked with scholars around the world on projects related to the position of small states in the international system. This increased interest in small state studies calls for new projects and new comparative research on the position of small states between different parts of the world.
In a historical context, small states have often sought shelter by aligning themselves with their larger neighbours in order to compensate for their weaknesses, such as small domestic markets, limited political power and fewer opportunities for social and cultural interaction. Since the end of World War II, most small states participate in regional and international organizations as well as form alliances with larger neighbouring states. However, little research has been done on the behaviour of small states in this regard and to what extent they seek political, economic and social shelter in these relations. In the coming years, the Centre for Small State Studies will strengthen its research in this field and place special emphasis on comparative research between small countries in different parts of the world, thus expanding the institute's research areas and increase understanding on the behaviour of small states in the international system.
The media plays an important role in democracies. They disseminate information to the public and are often referred to as the “fourth power”, as they often monitor the work of those in power in society. With the advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, the media environment has changed dramatically. People are now increasingly accessing information directly through these media, and politicians and other authorities often use social media to convey messages to the public, without the involvement of traditional media sources.
The position of small states in this new media environment needs further examination. The Centre for Small State Studies works on research in this important field in collaboration with domestic and foreign scholars. This research focuses for example on how the arrival of social media has weakened the revenue base of traditional media and how their position is even weaker in smaller countries than in the larger ones due to smaller populations and consequently smaller advertising markets.
In small states, the lines of communication between the authorities and the public are shorter than in larger states. What effect does this have on the functioning of democracy in small states? It can be argued that there is a difference in the nature of the role of the media in countries where distances are shorter and it is easier to talk directly to people, whether in person or through social media. Is the position of social media even stronger in small countries than in larger ones? And if so, what effect does it have on the dissemination of information to the public?
What will the jobs of the future look like? How will the economy develop? What effect will the fourth industrial revolution have? Foreign and domestic scholars associated with the Centre for Small State Studies are currently studying the economies of small states. Research focuses, among other things, on the economic flexibility of small states and if they can be considered to be better equipped to cope with the changes of the future than larger societies.
The economies of small countries are often homogeneous and, due to their small size, they are often very vulnerable when rapid changes take place in the larger economies of the world. An important factor in strengthening the sustainability of small states is to increase their resilience and make them less dependent on external economic factors, so that they become less vulnerable to future shocks.
There is now a global trend towards greater sustainability, and governments and communities are increasingly emphasizing a variety of measures to assess wellbeing. The wellbeing economy is often talked about in this context. The CSSS is a member of a large research network that examines sustainability in island communities and aims to expand its research in this area to better map the potential and pitfalls for Iceland and other small countries in a changing world when it comes to wellbeing.
Crises have in a way become an endemic epidemic in modern society. Not only are they increasing in number, but they are becoming more and more complex in nature, e.g. due to long-term developments in globalization, increased information sharing and social unrest. The crises of the first two decades of the 21st century, such as the economic collapse of 2008 and COVID-19 in 2020, are examples of shocks that have posed enormous challenges for governments. The CSSS’s research in this area will focus on the impact of countries' size on their responses to crises and their overall ability to respond to them. Are small states' responses different from those of larger states?
In recent years, research in crisis management has grown enormously, with the emphasis primarily on the larger states. However, it has been pointed out that the characteristics of small states affect their ability to prepare for and respond to shocks. Characteristics, such as small administrations, lack of expertise and dependence on international co-operation and international markets, are often referred to in order to explain how small states respond to shocks and how crisis management takes place within them. In small states, human resources are limited and thus a smaller pool of experts and expertise to rely upon when responding. As a result, small-state crisis management is often characterized by a lack of professionalism (layman characteristics), as well as being more reactive rather than proactive in analysis and work on risk reduction measures and responses to shocks.
The Centre for Small State Studies has in recent years participated in international research projects related to crisis management in small states in collaboration with domestic and foreign experts. In the coming months, the Centre will strengthen its research in this area, as there is a clear need for more research to be carried out in this field.