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Original Article

Small states and international politics: Climate

change, the Maldives and Tuvalu
Kevin Jaschik
nuances public affairs, Neue Grnstrae 17/18, Berlin 10179, Germany.
E-mail: kevin.jaschik@gmx.net
Abstract This article examines whether small states against all (Realist) odds can
have inuence on the international political agenda. A theoretical framework is developed
grounded in agenda-setting theory and the literature on strategic framing, foreign policy
analysis and advocacy networks, resulting in a process-oriented, constructivist approach
to international agenda setting. This is used to address three propositions: rstly, small
states do have inuence on the international agenda; secondly, they generate this inu-
ence through strategic framing, and last, they enhance their inuence through alliances
and advocacy networks. The theoretical framework is applied using two case studies: the
small island states of the Maldives and Tuvalu in their ght against climate change.
International Politics (2014) 51, 272293. doi:10.1057/ip.2014.5
Keywords: small states; strategic framing; agenda-setting; Maldives; Tuvalu; climate
In 2002, one of the smallest countries on earth dared to challenge the worlds most
powerful one: the tiny, low-lying Pacic island nation of Tuvalu facing the
potential threat of disappearance due to climate change and rising sea levels
proclaimed to sue the United States before the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
for being the main contributor to global warming and for not ratifying the
Kyoto Protocol, which intends to reduce industrialized countries greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions. Apart from the legal intentions, the main reason for this
announcement (which was eventually not put into practice) was to draw attention to
the tremendous threat that Tuvalu and other small island developing states (SIDS)
are facing in times of climate change and, in doing so, push the topic higher on the
global agenda.
2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1384-5748 International Politics Vol. 51, 2, 272293
This incident raises various questions: How do apparently powerless countries
make use of the international arena to inuence the international political agenda? Do
their efforts yield results? If so, why?
These questions are particularly relevant in a world of large and small, strong and
weak nation-states, where Realism as the traditional theory of International Relations
(still) has many supporters. They are also important because occurrences of global
scope, for example concerning international security, the world economy or the
environment, do have an impact on small states and their peoples, who, taken together,
account for a considerable part of the world population. Having inuence on the
international agenda could be seen as a step towards more global democracy, a world
where also minority actors have a say. This article wants to answer the above questions
by examining the case of vulnerable SIDS threatened by the impacts of climate change.
It is an example of several extremes: Firstly, the possible ramications some SIDS
are facing physical disappearance from earth through inundation, or, at an earlier
stage already, a state of inhabitability are unprecedented in the history of nation-
states and basically of mankind. The only analogy that comes to mind is that of
mythical Atlantis. Secondly, the countries most in danger are those least responsible
for the problem, as their own GHG emissions are negligible on a global scale. The
main culprits in the global north face, albeit potentially severe, nonetheless much less
dramatic consequences. It is therefore an extreme example of negative externalities.
Thirdly, the discrepancy between the states in question (the victims and the causers)
could not be bigger: On the one side some of the worlds smallest countries, both
in terms of population and territory, such as Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the
Maldives; on the other side the largest and most powerful ones, particularly the United
States, the European Union and its member states and, increasingly, also large
developing countries such as China states that determine the fate of the world to
a large extent. Lastly, as the industrialized world generates energy, produces goods,
and moves from A to B largely by means of climate-affecting fossil fuels, the topic of
climate change goes to the core of what we conventionally understand by developed
human life. Changing this behavioral pattern requires a true paradigm shift.
This combination of extremes turns the chosen example into a least-likely case:
It is rather unlikely that under these conditions SIDS can be successful in position-
ing the topic of climate change and the existential threat they deal with very high up
on the international political agenda. Showing that they do have a certain inuence,
however, would seriously undermine the Realist notion of hard power as the only
determinant of global inuence.
Literature Review
Research on small (island) states initially looked into security and economic issues
(Keohane, 1969; Katzenstein, 1985; Sutton and Payne, 1993) and had a particular
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focus on development opportunities and threats (Lockhart et al (eds.), 1993;
Briguglio, 1995; more recent: Douglas (ed.), 2006). As awareness of global
warming grew, scholars started analyzing the social and environmental conse-
quences for vulnerable SIDS (Lewis, 1990; Pernetta, 1992; more recent: Barnett
and Campbell, 2010). Others pointed to possible international law implications
should rising sea levels render low-lying island states uninhabitable (Menefee,
1991; Gillespie, 2003; Hestetune, 2010). According to Barnett and Adger (2003),
who emphasized the possible sovereignty loss of atoll nations, the process within
the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
should result in new, norms-based international agenda-setting and decision-making
Literature on small states in combination with international agenda setting,
however, is scarce. When four SIDS joined the UN in 1999/2000, raising their
number to 34, Grant (2000) assumed that this group of states would gain larger
impact on the international agenda. Ashe et al (1999) and Betzold (2010) analyzed
the inuence of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) within the UNFCCC.
They concluded that SIDS were able to punch beyond their weight, hence
supporting Habeebs (1988) and Zartman and Rubins (2000) positive views of the
chances of less powerful states in asymmetrical negotiations. Closest to the study in
hand with regard to the research idea (at an early stage of the UNFCCC process
though), Shibuya (1996) described how Vanuatu tried to inuence the agenda
concerning global warming.
An Integrated Approach for International Politics
As literature on international agenda setting in general, and with a focus on small
states in particular, is scarce, for the purpose of this study it is necessary to develop
an integrated theoretical framework for international agenda setting based on agenda-
setting theory as overall framework, lled in with elements from strategic framing,
foreign policy analysis and advocacy networks. The result is a process-oriented,
constructivist approach to international agenda setting, which can be used for
empirical testing. The article thus contributes to theory building and analytic
First, however, it is worth getting a better understanding of what the international
agenda actually is. The main contributors to agenda-setting theory, such as
Kingdon (2003) and Baumgartner and Jones (1993), focus on domestic govern-
mental agendas. Although domestic agenda topics can be relatively clearly spec-
ied and assigned to the national government, there is no world government,
and the decision-making venues in the international sphere are more diverse:
The UN Security Council considers questions of peace and security; the G8/G20
the economy; the UNFCCC climate change, and so on. Sometimes venues are not
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institutionalized at all. This leads some to claim that there is no such thing as
an international agenda (Rothman, 2007). However, one can hardly deny that
issues such as terrorism or the functioning of the nancial markets have been on
the international agenda over the last few years. Even if topics are dispersed
across different venues, there is only one world, one set of states, and (at any given
time) one set of political protagonists who do prioritize topics and take part
in negotiations, thus forming and following an albeit amorphous international
This article mostly follows Kingdons agenda-setting approach, adapting
and enhancing it appropriately. In Kingdons model, the agenda-setting process
can be divided into three streams that oat largely separately from each
other: problem recognition, formation of policy proposals and politics (Kingdon,
2003). Nevertheless, only the coupling of all of them, the compelling linkage
of a problem (to which awareness is usually being raised through indicators,
focusing events or powerful symbols) and a viable policy alternative under
politically favorable conditions, can push a topic up the agenda. The opportunity
for this arises when a policy window opens, either as a problem window, for
example, through a focusing event such as an accident, or as a political window,
for example, through a new administration. Windows of opportunity typically
close quickly, and their exploitation is the responsibility of policy entrepreneurs
Recognizing that an international agenda does exist, its setting can be analyzed
along the same three streams as the domestic process: there are conditions in the
world that can be dened as problems on a global scale (climate change being one
of them); expert communities dedicate their time to developing policy solutions;
and the international political sphere can facilitate or hinder that a topic reaches high
agenda status with different actors having different inuence.
Within these streams, strategic framing is one of the core tools actors can use to
pursue their goals, for example, through the purposeful interpretation of problems
and possible solutions intended to mobilize adherents, to garner bystander support,
and to demobilize antagonists (Snow and Benford, 1988, p. 198). Elements of stra-
tegic framing are the linking of ideologically congruent frames (frame bridging), the
tapping into existing cultural values (frame amplication), the inclusion of issues
that are important to the audience (frame extension) (Benford and Snow, 2000),
the manipulation of reference points (evaluative framing) and emphasizing various
aspects of a frame (sequential framing) (Mintz and Redd, 2003). Core tasks are
diagnostic, prognostic and temporal framing. Diagnostic framing is about the
identication of victims and causality and hence about the (value-based) framing of
something as problematic, which ts with the problem stream of agenda setting.
Prognostic framing involves a proposed solution to the problem and can be linked
to agenda settings policy stream (Benford and Snow, 2000). Rothman (2007)
adds temporal framing as a third aspect, referring to the value of an event in terms
Small states and international politicals
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of time, that is, whether (negative) effects occur now or in the distant future. Frames
that incorporate these aspects are more likely to become dominant. Two further
characteristics are important for their resonance: (1) credibility, referring to questions
such as: How does the framing resonate with empirical evidence? How trustworthy
are the articulators? and (2) salience: How important is the topic for the audience?
How tangible/abstract is it? (Benford and Snow, 2000). Framing is especially
important for small states, since the (constructivist) power of the word is the only
power they have; they are not able to inuence others through harder means such as
economic or even military pressure. Framing therefore has a central role in the three
separate agenda-setting streams and in connecting them when a policy window
opens. In the international arena, the most important entrepreneurs of framing
directly attributable to states are political leaders, diplomats and (conference)
Framing mainly refers to the operational how and who of agenda setting. It is
embedded into a structure that also reveals a broader how and who. As Figure 1
illustrates, small states can try to directly shape the international agenda (as largely
formed by more powerful actors); additionally, several indirect paths are also
available to them: They can approach, or cooperate with, advocacy networks,
the global media and (larger) like-minded states actors that try on their part
(alone or jointly) to shape the agenda either directly or by leveraging the broader
Figure 1: Ways for small states to inuence the international agenda (authors own illustration
rectangles: state actors or their creations; ovals: non-state actors; rhomb: population; full lines: direct
action/inuence of small states; dashed lines: indirect inuence).
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population. The core of advocacy networks form members of the (international) civil
society, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their tactics to pressurize
stronger actors, for example, governments, comprise constructing strategic frames
to produce substantive change. This happens in a timely and dramatic, albeit reliable,
manner, often through simple right/wrong framing or the creation of powerful
symbolic events, carried via the media. When direct lobbying against norm-violating
institutions is ineffective, activists also try to leverage more powerful actors, such as
like-minded states. These stronger partners can then exercise pressure on the target
(boomerang pattern). The tactics of advocacy networks particularly resonate if
a clear causal story points to deliberate, harmful actions of individuals rather than to
structural problems (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). As another path to shape the agenda,
small states can form alliances among each other to jointly lift their international
weight. Especially when such a coalition is based on common interests and values
their (framing) strategies can resemble that of advocacy networks with the
difference that state alliances have direct access to the tables of decision-making
(Larson, 2002; Betzold, 2010).
All these steps of exercising inuence (at which framing along the three agenda-
setting streams plays a key role) are based in human action rather than structure,
hence following the foreign policy analysis approach, which, as an actor-specic
theory, emphasizes the importance of the individual in foreign politics. The approach
suggests that the world is not deterministic, as structural or traditional system-level
explanations sometimes imply. Instead, it is up to human beings to interpret
situations and to make decisions (Hudson, 2005).
Based on this framework, one can formulate propositions about small states in the
agenda-setting process. The main proposition is:
Proposition 1: Small states can and do have inuence on the international agenda.
Furthermore, the following sub-propositions can be drawn:
Proposition 2: Lacking traditional means of power, small states mainly use
strategic framing to generate inuence.
Proposition 3: Small states make use of other actors and institutions, particularly
alliances, advocacy networks and the media, to enhance their
The conrmation of these propositions would strengthen the validity of the model.
The independent variable to test the propositions is the behavior of small states in the
international arena; the dependent variable is their inuence on the agenda, assessed
not necessarily as tangible policy outcomes (which would be one step further than
agenda setting) but mainly as what topics are being discussed and how this happens,
both in the international sphere at large as well as in concrete negotiations (for
example, within the UNFCCC).
Small states and international politicals
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Agenda Setting and Framing: The Examples of the Maldives and
This empirical part of the paper analyzes the agenda-setting and framing strategies of
the Maldives and Tuvalu in the international arena concerning climate change. It uses
the framework developed above as a template to draw conclusions on the initial
propositions. Occasions and forums are speeches before the UN and elsewhere,
UNFCCC conferences, the global media, and so on. The analysis roughly covers the
time from 2000 till mid-2011, with a focus on the last of those years. Following
Kingdons theory, the analysis is split into the problem, policy and political streams.
It should be noted, however, that, while the streams provide a way of systematic
analysis, in practice they often overlap or feature the same actors.
Problem recognition
Being the lowest-lying countries in the world, climate change poses an existential
threat to Tuvalu and the Maldives. Accordingly, their representatives frame the
problem similarly by dramatically pointing to the consequences of, and responsibility
for, the problem, which ts with Benford and Snows notion of diagnostic framing.
For both countries, climate change is ultimately a matter of life and death
(Nasheed, 2009a; Pita, 2009). By pointing out that it is certain that the climate is
changing and sea levels are rising (Nasheed, 2009b), they want to make clear that
its not an Atlantis myth (Telito, 2006). Maldivian ex-president Nasheed frequently
emphasized that the science is clear, you cannot negotiate with the laws of physics,
you cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature (for example, Nasheed, 2009c). This is an
example of frame bridging: it builds on the credibility of science and its indicators,
with the goal to translate it into the message. In addition, this wording provides
(prophylactic) counter-framing against deniers of global warming. Since focusing
on potential future inundation often obscures the view on more pressing problems,
SIDS applying temporal framing to increase salience stress that climate change
can already be felt on a daily basis (Khaleel, 2008): The winds are stronger than it
used to be; the rains fall at the wrong time; the dry season is drier than before, so that
climatic aberration is more acute than sea level rise (Nasheed, 2009d). Aiming for
diagnostic framing, the main cause identied for climate change is that we are living
in a manner that the planet cannot sustain (Nasheed, 2009e). As own emissions of
SIDS are insignicant, however, there is an inverse relationship between responsi-
bility and vulnerability (Khaleel, 2008). Higher-than-normal GHG levels in the
atmosphere are a legacy of development in industrialized countries. It is Tuvalu and
others having nothing to do with the causes who are now forced to pay (Sopoaga,
2001). Although not responsible, SIDS are the frontline states in this battle, as the
world has moved from the Cold War to a Warming War (Pita, 2007). If it was
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important for Western countries to defend Poland in the 1930s, it is important
to defend the Maldives now (Nasheed, 2009f). This moral, sometimes war-like,
language adds to the dramatic effect and can be seen as an attempt of frame
amplication: particularly historic analogies tap into existing cultural values and
experiences. The image of being at the front is mostly coupled with an extension
of the frame to enhance its salience. By stressing that climate change will ultimately
have a catastrophic effect on all countries, not only the most vulnerable (Pita, 2010)
the problem becomes more tangible for developed countries the audience of
the message. As Nasheed put it, if you cannot defend the Maldives today, you
cannot defend yourselves tomorrow; we cannot save London, we cannot save
Manhattan. So we are all Maldivians (Nasheed, 2010a). Furthermore, drawing on
various problem aspects (sequential framing), both countries emphasize that climate
change is not only an environmental, but also a political, legal, health and human
rights issue, as well as a grave security issue (Khaleel, 2008). Threatening to erode
decades of hard-won success (Waheed, 2010), it is thus one of the greatest
challenges to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (Pita, 2010). Climate
change being the singular most important security issue arising internationally
(Nasheed, 2009d), the unprecedented threat to our nationhood would be an
infringement on our fundamental rights (Pita, 2007). This amplication of the
frame, resting on cultural values such as human rights, is also reected in a shift
from a purely climate issue to an equity, security, and prosperity issue in the
negotiation dynamics since Kyoto.
The Maldives and Tuvalu thus use several strategic framing types to address
the problem and to bring the issue closer to the target groups. Ex-president Nasheed,
the rst democratic leader of the Maldives, was particularly vocal and enjoyed
high credibility internationally. Speeches of politicians and diplomats, however,
might not be sufcient to make the problem tangible. Focusing events and symbols
can generate higher salience. Although potential focusing events exist, for example,
the ooding of the Tuvaluan capital Funafuti in 2002, there is a gap between
the macro-analysis (the attribution of harmful incidents to global warming in
general) and the micro-analysis: there are always other possible explanations in the
individual case.
Other international topics, for example, terrorism, have the
advantage of clear focusing events emotionally close to the framing targets, so
that political consequences can be directly drawn. Therefore, as a substitute, the
Maldives and Tuvalu attempt to create powerful symbols, for which cooperation
with NGOs/advocacy networks and the media can be particularly helpful.
Perhaps the most prominent symbolic event happened in October 2009: the
Maldivian government held an underwater meeting in scuba gear with the intention
of impress[ing] upon the world that there is a serious issue over here (Nasheed,
2009g). As two interviewees stated, from a PR point of view the underwater
cabinet was really well covered, it was on the front page of every newspaper
The event was embedded into the Global Day of Action, organized
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by climate change NGO 350.org, with which the Maldives frequently cooperates.
In Nasheeds view, three-ve-oh is the most important number in the world; it
refers to 350 parts per million (ppm) CO
in the atmosphere, a concentration not to
be exceeded to avoid severe environmental ramications.
Another symbol of the Warming War especially its David versus Goliath
character was the attempt of Tuvalu to sue the United States (and Australia) before
the ICJ for their responsibility for climate change and for not having ratied Kyoto,
as mentioned at the beginning of the article. Although the claims legal chances were
always slim and it has never been realized, the menace alone created considerable
media resonance. It also prompted lawyers to consider the conditions under which
such a case could possibly be successful and hence to reect on the rather vague
international law (Jacobs, 2005).
Furthermore, Tuvalu itself has become a symbol of the ght against climate
change. Owing to its conditions consisting of tiny islands in the middle of the
Pacic and being virtually the smallest country on earth and partly also due to
the often uncompromising attitude of their UNFCCC chief delegate, Australian
native Ian Fry, they draw a lot of attention. This was particularly true during the
15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-15, Copenhagen 2009), where
Fry temporarily brought the negotiations to a halt by intransigently demanding
a comprehensive, legally binding agreement. Environmental activists joined this
determination (Greenpeace, 2009) and, according to Fry, the strong voice of civil
society supportive of our concerns was very helpful (Worldwatch Institute, 2010).
As put in USA Today, underlining the symbolic role of Tuvalu, nobody's a bigger
celebrity than the delegation from tiny Tuvalu. [It] is often held up by the UN and
others as a pre-eminent example of a country at risk from global warming (Winter,
In summary, through a combination of strategic framing and the use of strong
symbols often carried via advocacy networks and the media the Maldives and
Tuvalu increase the resonance to their problem, targeting actors within the policy
process as well as the larger population. Following one interviewee who regularly
takes part in UNFCCC negotiations, the problem framing of AOSIS generally is
very comprehensible and credible; overall everyone agrees with their claims.
Another interviewee asserts, they have done really good things making people
conscious that their existence is at stake.
However, for a prominent position on
the international agenda, convincing problem recognition has to be coupled with
the policy and political streams.
Policy proposals
The policy stream deals with policy alternatives developed in the background, for
example, by legal or technical experts. However, in the international arena, policy
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entrepreneurs are typically government members or diplomats who advocate possible
solutions. As the promotion of proposals takes place in the political realm and can
directly lead into a negotiation process, for example, at the UNFCCC, policy and
political streams often overlap.
Apart from framing their problem similarly, as shown in the previous chapter, the
Maldives and Tuvalu (and AOSIS states in general) also agree on the overall goal:
the world has to sharply reduce GHG emissions to mitigate the effects of climate
change. Temperatures should not increase by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial
levels (Ielemia, 2009) and carbon pollution in the atmosphere must return to 350
(Nasheed, 2009h). A second focus is on adaptation, so-called climate-
proong, as they have to prepare their islands for a tougher future. They use similar
temporal framing by stressing that, if we fail to act now, the climate crisis will
become a catastrophe (ibid.) and will be felt everywhere (Toafa, 2004). However,
the paths to achieving these goals and the way to frame possible solutions, that is,
Tuvalus and the Maldives prognostic framing, differ signicantly.
The Maldives stresses the importance of mitigation and adaptation, the responsi-
bility of industrialized countries, and the need for higher funds to ght global warming
(Nasheed, 2009i). However, in a clear and conscious case of evaluative framing, they
try to alter the reference point of climate change by transform[ing] the narrative away
from one of burden sharing and sacrice towards one of opportunity and incentives.
The aim is to increase the salience of the message and to inuence the target as well
as NGOs and the media towards a more positive narrative. As former president
Nasheed continuously pointed out, it is not carbon we want but development. It is not
coal we want but electricity. It is not oil we want but transport (for example, 2010b).
Kyoto, however, is primarily about what countries cannot do, rather than what they
can do. A positive agenda focusing on what we can do provides a better alternative
(Nasheed, 2009j). Consequently although its own emissions are insignicant in
2009 the Maldives announced to become carbon-neutral by 2020. What started off as
a political message quickly turned into a business-oriented narrative.
Leading by
example, the Maldives wants to prove that carbon-neutral development is not just
possible, it is in the economic self-interest (Nasheed, 2010c). This can make a far
bigger impact than blaming others for causing the problem (Nasheed, 2009k).
Bringing the topic closer to the target through frame extension, Nasheed (2009h)
stressed that countries that have the foresight to green their economies today will be
the winners of the 21st century. [They] will free themselves from foreign oil and
capitalize on the green economy of the future. However, while emphasizing the
prot-making opportunities to attract investments from renewable energy companies,
the Maldives also underlines that the transformation cannot be done without nancial
support from rich countries. I say to the industrialized world: you have the nances
and much of the technology. Please help us go green (Nasheed, 2009a).
For Tuvalu, calling on the world collectively is the only way to save us.
particularly emphasize the political and moral responsibility of the industrialized
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world to act. Regarding mitigation, we need serious commitments from key GHG-
producing countries but also key developing countries to dramatically reduce
their emissions (Ielemia, 2009). To achieve this, Tuvalu proposes a global fund
for the development of renewable energy, nanced following the polluter pays
principle, that is, mostly by industrialized countries (Sopoaga, 2006). Tuvalus
main focus, though, lies on adaptation, as demonstrated by the International
Blueprint on Adaptation (UNFCCC, 2007), submitted at COP-13, which took place
in Bali/Indonesia in 2007. Here Tuvalu suggested (a) the creation of a burden-
sharing mechanism, nanced through a levy on international aviation and maritime
transport, since it is seen as clear that nancial resources for adaptation are
completely inadequate, and (b) the establishment of an international climate
insurance pool to support the most vulnerable communities after climate-related
disasters (Teii, 2008). The proposal
particularly its burden-sharing mechanism
made it into the scientic (but barely into the political)
discussion about reorganiz-
ing adaptation funding (Mller, 2008). Shortly after the Maldives, Tuvalu also
announced to become carbon-neutral by 2020 to show that if we can do it, you
industrialized and big developing countries have the nancial might to do it as
However, Tuvaluan representatives, unlike their Maldivian colleagues, keep
this message surprisingly low-key in their communication.
Apart from mitigation and adaptation, relocation is a third, albeit drastic,
possibility to survive climate change. After his election in 2008, President
Nasheed considered looking for dry land in the doomsday scenario, that is, buying
foreign land for his people, nanced through the countrys tourism revenues
(Nasheed, 2009l). Making headlines worldwide, the aim was to bring out the issue
for debate. However, since relocation does not t with the positive narrative
the Maldives is now pursuing, it was not a good road to follow in terms of
and erased from the script. As another interviewee conrmed,
a focus on relocation would be inept; it would be interpreted as a confession of
failure. Therefore, the topic plays no role in the UNFCCC negotiations.
leaders also stress that forcing us to leave cannot be used as a quick-x solution
(Ielemia, 2008), but in the background the country has been working on potential
relocation plans, for example, to New Zealand or Australia. The aim is to nd
a place where they can keep their self-determination and ideally also their status
as sovereign nation. According to one interviewee, relocation is currently not high
on the agenda but you need to have a long-term plan B.
Although Australia
rejected such claims, New Zealand takes 75 Tuvaluans per year (New Zealand
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2009).
In summary, Tuvalu and the Maldives while agreeing on the importance of both
mitigation and adaptation pursue different solutions. Whereas Tuvalu stresses
the [polluters] moral responsibility to the entire globe to act,
the Maldives tells
a more positive narrative about the opportunities of going green. The dissimilarity
might stem from different capacities that the countries dispose of; the (albeit small)
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Maldives can develop a more sophisticated solution than extremely small Tuvalu.
Both framings are credible, though: the Maldivian approach seems to stick better
with other governments, in whose view a more constructive dialogue is useful.
However, sharing the same opponent, Tuvalus more black/white, but indeed
consistent and intuitively understandable approach is able to get resonance particu-
larly from advocacy groups, as already shown in the section on the problem stream.
In the following political stream the framing of problems and solutions has to be
bundled and enriched with political skills to gain agenda inuence.
Within agenda setting, the political stream has a life of its own but is also crucial for
the opening of windows of opportunity, where problems, policies and politics
conjoin. Therefore, policy entrepreneurs try to inuence the factors of this stream,
for example, decision-makers and the public mood, in order to open a window and
push agenda items. A difference has to be drawn between the political level,
where leaders decide on the overall direction, and the working level, where con-
crete measures are being negotiated. The main institutions regarding climate
change are the UNFCCC conferences, but venues such as the (informal) Cartagena
Dialogue also provide space for action.
The Maldives and Tuvalu can act independently to open windows of opportunity
and gain impact on the agenda, but also through alliances, especially AOSIS, and
with the support of advocacy networks. Certain (structural) circumstances, however,
they cannot inuence at all, such as government changes in powerful countries or the
Sino-US interaction.
Tuvalu often plays a controversial role internationally, using clear, moral-based
framing. Following a Tuvaluan diplomat: We take it to the highest political level.
Our position is not something to appease countries like the USA. We take it because
of what we are concerned about, our people. Its not that we are making it up.
Tuvalus main reason for joining the UN in 2000 was to get a voice in the
international arena.
However, they observe with disappointment the absence
of global leadership (Ielemia, 2008), a feeling that became obvious in Copenhagen
2009. Tuvalu was one of the few countries not to sign the (rather vague) Copenhagen
Accord: We had to stop that. We cant sign on to this. What are we going to tell our
people? It would be a sin.
During the COPs, as mentioned previously, Tuvalus
delegate Ian Fry represents their positions intransigently. Western governments
perceive the appearance of Tuvalu often [as] too extreme and not conducive to goal
From an NGO perspective, though (while also doubting Tuvalus
political traction) it is seen as an advantage to have a vocal person like Fry. Other
Pacic nations would like to say similar things but are not able to. Tuvalus
pertinacity, together with the clear position of other AOSIS members, might have had
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indirect agenda impact, since log-rolling by larger states would otherwise have
been even more likely.
According to all interviewees, the Maldives is seen as very salient and credible on
the political level. This was mainly due to the constructive, sometimes also bold,
attitude of former president Nasheed, a policy entrepreneur demonstrating moral and
political leadership.
Nasheed cooperated with everyone who favors a low-carbon
future, aiming at bonding with like-minded states and opening windows of
opportunity for his ideas. He applied different strategies to frame his countrys
problems and policies, as described above, and did not always stick to traditional
diplomatic conventions: He made clear he is prepared to take big risk with
Maldives international relations,
for example, when being very critical about the
position of the G77,
particularly telling China that they are not only a developing
country but also a main emitter.
However, Nasheed also tried to win over larger
countries by saying that there is no limit to American ingenuity in inventing green
technologies, or if China shows leadership, others will follow (Nasheed, 2009a).
It can be regarded as a success of AOSIS states and the Maldives in particular
that the G77, especially China and India, have become more constructive since
even if possibly only for tactical reasons, as they did not want to
be regarded as the block anymore. To achieve this it was important to have a voice
inside the G77.
Despite the Maldives strength on the political level, though, there
is a gap in terms of what we do constructively within the negotiation process
because we dont have really good negotiators.
For true agenda inuence, you have to be good in politics as well as in
negotiations on working level.
The Maldives, Tuvalu and other SIDS have severe
capacity problems particularly regarding the latter. Following one interviewee,
you need people who got training in international law and who sit in meetings
and understand every single detail.
This is crucial when a window of opportunity
opens for example, through political action so that fast, knowledgeable reaction
is required. Consequently, SIDS formed AOSIS to collectively gain representation
at the UNFCCC. The fact that AOSIS exists is the only way these states have a real
voice because none of them individually could pursue these things. AOSIS has just
the capacity to follow basically every line of the discussion.
Another interviewee
states that despite limited capacity, AOSIS is very visible and professional and is
taken seriously. By focusing on a few topics, they follow a clear agenda, such as
the claim for ambitious mitigation targets especially limiting global warming
to 1.5C and the recognition of the importance of adaptation and related funding.
In both areas AOSIS can record some success, since the Copenhagen Accord
(UNFCCC, 2009) and the Cancn Agreements (UNFCCC, 2010) emphasize
stronger adaptation measures and announce, albeit vaguely, to consider the 1.5C
goal in 2015. As one interviewee stresses: The opinions of frontline states such
as Tuvalu and the Maldives enjoy high respect within AOSIS, so AOSIS overall
goals match those of Tuvalu and the Maldives.
In the discussion about a Kyoto
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succession protocol AOSIS is also recognized as an important player of high
Furthermore, having a louder voice together, island states can claim
some success in the political sphere, for example, the UN General Assemblys
adoption of the resolution on Climate change and its possible security implications
(UN, 2009), introduced by the Pacic SIDS within AOSIS.
Another relevant forum is the so-called Cartagena Dialogue, which grew out of
disappointment with Copenhagen. It is an informal process, bringing together around
30 like-minded countries from all continents dedicated to low-carbon policies.
is the rst forum for industrialized and developing countries in the area of climate
change that crosses traditional negotiating groups. Linking actors with similar ideas,
it is characterized by cooperation and progressive discussions. Participants feed into
the UNFCCC process but also reect on broader topics, for example, the future of
the UN climate system in general. Owing to its goal to become carbon-neutral, the
Maldives which can claim some credit for co-founding the process plays an
important role in the group.
Advocacy networks and NGOs support SIDS by providing legal and technical
expertise and through campaigns (for example, during COPs) and events (for
example, 350.orgs yearly Global Day of Action the planets most widespread
day of political action (CNN, 2009)). They focus especially on mitigation and
worry that polluting countries, instead of implementing serious mitigation measures,
distract SIDS with the promise of adaptation funding.
Owing to its conditions,
climate change is a tricky eld for advocacy networks. They can apply some tactics
such as information and symbolic politics; however, it is difcult to leverage like-
minded states for pressuring norm-violators, as the culprits are the most powerful
actors themselves. In addition, climate change is a structural problem rather than one
that can be tied to deliberate, harmful actions of individuals. This distinguishes it, for
example, from human rights, where often smaller states (and concrete individuals
in there) are the violators that can be pressured materially or morally by powerful
actors. The boomerang pattern is therefore less effective in the eld of global
warming. Hence, networks mainly focus on capacity and network building of the
island communities themselves, for example, through workshops for youths,
and on
indirectly targeting (western) governments by inuencing the public mood, for
example, through symbolic events. As seen in the problem stream, this ts with the
efforts of SIDS to raise the issues salience and can lead to mutually benecial
relationships, such as the one between the Maldives and 350.org. President Nasheed
regularly took part in discussions about the NGOs strategy and campaigns. Acting
as a so-called messenger of the organization, he also prominently participated in their
Global Days of Action, creating symbols such as the underwater cabinet.
does not have the capacity for permanent cooperation with NGOs and approaches
them informally on an ad hoc basis, for example, the WWF, the Global Forest
Coalition, or scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research.
theless, as mentioned before, Tuvalu gets strong support from activists particularly
Small states and international politicals
285 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1384-5748 International Politics Vol. 51, 2, 272293
during COPs. Furthermore, legal experts from the Foundation for International
Environmental Law and Development assist both AOSIS and single member states
(Betzold, 2010). Activities of states and NGOs are often transported via the media
to the broader public, as seen in the problem stream. This is crucial to raise the issues
resonance and to bring it closer to the targets in the industrialized countries. While
the Maldives follows a media strategy managed by an International Press Secretary,
including regular op-eds and press releases to push key themes,
Tuvalu again due
to capacity reasons lacks a strategy and works with the media on an ad hoc basis.
In summary, the Maldives, particularly its ex-president, is/was seen as a credible
and constructive actor in the political arena, aiming at creating (and using) windows
of opportunity. Tuvalus role is more controversial. AOSIS provides SIDS with
a stronger voice internationally and with capacity on the working level to seriously
take part in negotiations, which otherwise they could hardly do. Furthermore,
advocacy networks and the media support them, especially in inuencing the public
mood. The following section summarizes the impact of Tuvalu and the Maldives in
the agenda-setting process, relating it to the initial propositions.
Agenda-setting inuence and assessment of initial propositions
As shown throughout the paper and stated by all interviewees, the Maldives and
Tuvalu do have (direct and indirect) inuence on the climate change negotiations and
on the broader international agenda. The expectation is not that these small states can,
against all structural odds, single-handedly push through an effective agreement to
stop global warming. Their inuence can be seen rather in how the problem is
discussed and what solutions are considered.
Concretely, the Maldives and Tuvalu (and other SIDS) managed to further
highlight the topic of climate change and the threat to their existence on the
public agenda, also by drawing attention from NGOs and the media. Across the
globe, people are aware of their plight. Thus, the UNFCCC conferences shifted
from purely environmental discussions to also including security and prosperity
issues. The Maldives steers the climate narrative towards opportunities rather than
sacrices, which falls on fertile ground, for example, within the Cartagena Dialogue.
Supported by AOSIS, they shifted the G77 out of a hard-line towards a more
constructive position, and achieved the recognition of adaptation as equally
important as mitigation and the mentioning of the 1.5C limit in the ofcial
documents. Furthermore, AOSIS is regarded as a serious partner in discussions
about a Kyoto succession protocol and the future of the UN climate system in
general. The recognition of climate change as a security issue in the UN General
Assembly can also be attributed to AOSIS.
Lastly, potentially inuencing
proceedings by generating a non-result, SIDS steadfast positions within the
UNFCCC might have impeded lukewarm agreements between larger nations.
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These examples conrm the main proposition of this article that small states can and
do have inuence on the international agenda.
Conrming the second proposition, strategic framing turned out to be a crucial tool
for gaining inuence. Through frame amplication, frame extension and temporal
framing, particularly in the problem stream, the Maldives and Tuvalu push the
problem of climate change closer to the targets, thereby increasing the credibility and
salience of their message. This is important in a world where climate change has to
compete with other global topics that often feel closer or more immediate to
(western) decision-makers and societies. The outspokenness of Tuvalu is motivating
to NGOs, and the Maldives attempt to turn the climate change narrative to one
of opportunities also shows the relevance of framing in the policy stream.
A coalition such as AOSIS strengthens small states voice in the political arena: it
makes a difference for other governments and the broader population whether an
issue is raised by a single state or by 40 of them. In this context, it is an advantage of
AOSIS a group of democracies with an intuitively understandable claim that it is
generally seen as friendly. Furthermore, an effective coalition enables small states
to seriously take part in detailed multilateral negotiations, giving them direct access
to the decision-making process, important once a window of opportunity opens.
Alone, they would not have the capacity for this. AOSIS importance can be seen in
the agenda items just mentioned.
Advocacy networks and the media amplify the voice of small states, especially
in framing the problem they are facing. In a constructivist process, by telling
consistent, trustworthy stories and creating powerful symbols and events, networks
can increase the resonance of an issue and hence inuence the broader publics
beliefs. Cooperating with NGOs is a promising way for small states to increase their
radius, as the relationship of the Maldives and 350.org shows. The roles of AOSIS,
advocacy networks and the media conrm the third proposition.
The analysis clearly identied Maldivian ex-president Nasheed as an active and
respected policy entrepreneur. Tuvalus chief climate negotiator Ian Fry plays
a controversial role, but overall Tuvalu although generally very vocal does not
have a gure as outstanding as Nasheed used to be. The importance of individuals
supports the foreign policy analysis approach, despite existing structural limitations.
However, it also shows a certain dependency of small states on very few actors,
a potentially dangerous situation, as the coming years now that Nasheed left ofce
might demonstrate.
The conrmation of all three propositions strengthens the validity of the model
developed at the beginning. With the ndings of the analysis, though, it can be
rened: actors can be attributed more precisely to the different agenda-setting
streams. It turns out that an alliance is particularly important in the political stream,
where it strengthens the voice of small states and provides capacity for detailed
negotiations. Owing to their inuence on the public mood, advocacy networks
and the media are also important in the political stream as well as in the problem
Small states and international politicals
287 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1384-5748 International Politics Vol. 51, 2, 272293
stream, where they play a key role in supporting SIDS in framing the existential
problem they are facing. Framing as a tool is important across the whole process.
Employing the case examples of the Maldives and Tuvalu in their ght against the
impact of climate change, this article showed how small states use the international
arena to gain inuence on the international political agenda and what the results of
these efforts are. Based on a model derived from agenda-setting theory in combina-
tion with strategic framing theory, foreign policy analysis and literature on advocacy
networks, the article analyzed the efforts of the two countries along Kingdons three
agenda-setting streams: problem recognition, policy proposals and politics.
The ndings largely conrm the initial propositions that small states can and do
have inuence on the agenda, especially through framing of problems and policies
and the support of alliances, advocacy networks and the media, so that they can
open, and make use of, windows of opportunity. They also conrm the claim of
Maldivian ex-president Nasheed (2010a) that we can reach above our height and
punch much harder than we can ever imagine. Through a constructivist approach, it
could be shown, therefore, that the Realist notion of hard power as the only
determinant of inuence is not correct. The ndings can also be interpreted as an
indicator of global democracy, as also seemingly powerless actors can have some
say in international affairs.
The analysis revealed many similarities between the Maldives and Tuvalu,
especially regarding problem framing and the overall goal they pursue. It became
clear that both, due to their small size, have capacity limits, which they can partly
overcome through the membership in an alliance. However, there are a number
of differences between them that underline the articles character of also being
a comparative case study. The focus of their suggested policy solutions differs, with
the Maldives telling a positive narrative about the opportunities that arise when
greening the economy and Tuvalu stressing the responsibilities of the industrialized
world to act. The Maldives is generally seen as a constructive participant in the
process and Tuvalu as more controversial. Furthermore, they vary in how intensely
they cooperate with NGOs and the media. These differences can be partly explained
by the attitudes of concretely acting individuals, in line with foreign policy analysis.
However, they also point to the fact that extremely small Tuvalu has even
considerably less capacity to systematically work with climate activists or to
participate in an expedient process such as the Cartagena Dialogue. Therefore,
Tuvalu depends even more on the structures in which it is embedded, such as
AOSIS. Moreover, the extreme vulnerability and smallness of Tuvalu possibly
enables them to speak freely. There are hardly any economic or diplomatic ties they
have to be particularly careful of; there is no reason for overly cautious language.
288 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1384-5748 International Politics Vol. 51, 2, 272293
This is slightly different for the Maldives, a country that is more integrated into the
global economy, one that advanced from the group of LDC, and where climate
change is of high, but not of absolute paramount priority.
The ndings of this study suggest some possibilities for further research: the
importance of, and partly dependency on, very few individuals as policy entrepre-
neurs for small states could deserve closer attention. The Maldives with and without
Nasheed as its president might constitute a case here. The sometimes extreme
conduct of Tuvalu also raises a question: Do microstates act like full-grown states,
sticking to diplomatic conventions, or do they have the courage born from despair
to speak freely, almost like NGOs? Furthermore, as this study aimed at analytic
generalization, the integrated model developed for international agenda setting can
be applied to other cases. A possible example for theory testing could be the world
trade system a system largely tailored to the needs of powerful states. With small
countries having difculties to advocate their preferences (for example, within the
WTO), it shows some similarities with climate change. The results of such a project
could then support, rene or abandon the model developed in this article.
About the Author
Kevin Jaschik works as an advisor at public affairs consultancy nuances public affairs
in Berlin. His area of expertise is within the energy and energy efciency sectors,
supporting the German energy transition (Energiewende). From 2005 until 2009, he
worked for the consultancy rm McKinsey & Company in Amsterdam with a focus
on the transportation sector. Kevin Jaschik holds the title of Diplom-Kaufmann (MBA
equivalent) from the University of Gttingen/Germany (2004) and a Master of
Science in International Public Policy from University College London (2011).
1 The rationale for the choice of the two cases partly followed the logic of replication: both countries are
small, relatively poor, coral atoll nations. Both are democracies (although the circumstances of
the resignation of former Maldivian president Nasheed in 2012 bore some markings of a coup) and
belong to the group of SIDS and AOSIS within the UN. With the highest natural points being only
2 to 4 meters, they are the worlds lowest lying countries and particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
Their conditions and the nature of the problem of climate change make them least-likely cases
for inuencing the global agenda. However, there are also important differences: With only
10 500 inhabitants and a total landmass of 26 km
across nine atolls, Pacic Tuvalu is even
considerably smaller than the Maldives in the Indian Ocean (population: 400 000; territory: 298 km
26 atolls or 1196 islands). Moreover, Tuvalu has the status of a least developed country (LDC),
whereas the Maldives, after a period of steady growth, moved from LDC to middle-income status
in 2010. Tuvalu, therefore, represents an even less likely case, giving the article also the character
of a comparative case study.
Small states and international politicals
289 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1384-5748 International Politics Vol. 51, 2, 272293
2 To gain data about the agenda-setting and framing strategies I conducted semi-structured expert
interviews with representatives from the states concerned as the givers of the message, representatives
from industrialized countries as the receivers, and activists from climate change NGOs as possibly
intervening third parties. The interviews were complemented by content analyses of UN General
Assembly speeches of representatives of the two countries, as well as speeches of former Maldivian
president Nasheed, who used to be very vocal on the topic of climate change. A search of government
and NGO websites complemented the analysis.
3 Interview with an activist in the Pacic region of climate change NGO 350.org, on 27 July 2011.
4 Interview with two representatives of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Ofce (FCO) on 6 July 2011.
5 Interview with a climate change advisor of Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, on 22 June 2011.
6 Interview with two representatives of the FCO on 6 July 2011; similar in the interview with
a representative of the German Federal Ministry of the Environment (BMU) on 12 August 2011.
7 Interview with a representative of the BMU on 12 August 2011.
8 Interview with two representatives of the FCO on 6 July 2011.
9 The current concentration is already at 394 ppm.
10 Interview with a high-ranking diplomat of Tuvalu, on 27 June 2011.
11 The proposal was independently compiled by Ian Fry and UN Ambassador Sopoaga; Email exchange
with a climate change negotiator of Tuvalu, on 15 August 2011.
12 Interview with a climate change advisor of Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, on 22 June 2011; similar
in the interviews with two representatives of the FCO on 6 July 2011, a representative of the BMU
on 12 August 2011and an activist in the Pacic region of climate change NGO 350.org, on 27 July
13 The G77 at the UN is a coalition of 131 developing countries, including China and India (and the
Maldives, but not Tuvalu). It emphasizes industrialized countries responsibilities, requiring all climate
negotiations to remain within the UNFCCC/Kyoto process.
14 Interview with two representatives of the FCO on 6 July 2011; similar in the interview with a climate
change advisor of Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, on 22 June 2011.
15 Interview with a climate change advisor of Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, on 22 June 2011; similar
in the interview with two representatives of the FCO on 6 July 2011.
16 Interview with a climate change advisor of Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, on 22 June 2011;
conrmed in the interview with a representative of the BMU on 12 August 2011.
17 Interview with a representative of the BMU on 12 August 2011; similar in the interview with two
representatives of the FCO on 6 July 2011.
18 In contrast to the Maldives, Tuvalu does not take part, mainly due to lack of capacity.
19 The importance of Cartagena was emphasized in the interviews with a climate change advisor of
Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, with a representative of the BMU and with two representatives of the
20 Interview with a climate change advisor of Maldivian ex-president Nasheed, on 22 June 2011; similar
in the interview with an activist in the Pacic region of climate change NGO 350.org, on 27 July 2011.
21 Email exchange with a climate change negotiator of Tuvalu, on 15 August 2011.
22 In July 2011, the UN Security Council also recognized climate change as a potential security issue;
following the interviewee from the BMU, however, this is more due to efforts of larger states, for
example, the United Kingdom.
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