What does ”small” mean in the vast theoretical framework of international relations (IR)? IR theory clearly advocates in favor of comparing state actors to classify their power relative to one another. Each state’s power capacity can only truly be assessed through comparison. For example, while it is a theoretical fallacy to argue that the U.S. is a strong state, it is correct to say that the U.S. is stronger than all other states in the international arena.

Comparison is a useful tool that enables us to comprehend the qualitative rather than the quantitative characteristics of each and every state. This is important because quality, unlike quantity, never gives a false indication of either power or weakness.

The same applies to the word ”small.” If the word is used to refer to a state’s size, then it does not adequately support IR theory, as the size of a state does not always determine its relative might in the international arena.

There are several cases in which size clearly did not correlate with might. Great Britain was never a physical giant, but it nevertheless managed to establish a global empire on which “the sun never set” through effective diplomacy, efficient private economic institutions (e.g., the East-India Company) and a fearsome navy.