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When could new ‘potent small states’ emerge? A study of the recent metamorphosis of Czech human rights foreign policy

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Abstract

Human rights have featured among the foreign policy priorities of both big and small countries for several decades. Smaller countries, constrained by the lack of political and economic power, sometimes seem to be more effective and achieve more recognition than bigger ones facing intensive clashes between traditional, political and economic interests and value-based requirements. However, not every small state that begins promoting human rights in its foreign policy succeeds. This article summarises key capabilities that have to be proven by small states attempting to create successful human rights foreign policy agendas and qualify as ‘potent small countries’. It addresses the issue both theoretically, with the use of the adapted ‘potent small state’ concept, and empirically in a case study of the recent metamorphosis of Czech human rights foreign policy. It argues that the Czech Republic aspires to ‘potent small-state’ status, though it is prevented from achieving this both because of several instances of incoherence between its human rights foreign policy agenda and its other but related policy stances and to shortfalls in its ability to promote a positive perception of its past accomplishments.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    ‘Smallness’ has been an integral part of the scholarship on states and their capabilities since the 18th century. Nowadays (as indicated above), it is usually identified with limited resources and limited power, which constrain possible foreign policy activities and choices (cf. Neumann and Gstöhl 2006: 4–17). Nevertheless, instead of the relationship between political and economic power on the one hand, and the human rights components of foreign policy on the other, this article deals with the prospects of one of the new small European democracies, the Czech Republic, of becoming a ‘potent small state’. ‘Smallness’ is thus considered as an endogenous category in the following text and, as a consequence, does not need to be further theoretically elaborated, nor empirically tested.

  2. 2.

    The ‘Memorandum Human Rights and Foreign Policy’ of 1979 in the case of the Netherlands or the White Paper No. 93 (1976–1977) on ‘Norway and the Protection of International Human Rights’ from 1977.

  3. 3.

    As the opposite to internationalism, Donnelly (2000) introduces nationalist attitudes, that is, tendencies to subordinate human rights under the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, rejection of criticism and human rights pressures, as well as refusals to accept control of other states and international bodies.

  4. 4.

    Examples of the Czech humanist tradition include Jan Hus, Bohemian King George of Poděbrady, and his proposal for a peaceful coalition of European Christians, and the father of modern education, Jan Ámos Komenský [Comenius], who, in addition to his pedagogical work, also put forward theories on perpetual world peace in his work Via Lucis.

  5. 5.

    The Czech Republic was a member of the Human Rights Commission in 1997–1999 and 2000–2002, and it was also twice elected to the Human Rights Council, for the periods of 2006–2007 and 2011–2014.

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Acknowledgements

I gratefully acknowledge funding by the Czech Science Foundation (Project No. 13-30724S Czech Foreign Policy Activism: Opportunities and Constraints). A very early version of the article was elaborated within the Research Plan of the Faculty of International Relations, UEP (Governance in the Context of the Globalised Economy and Society — MSM6138439909) and presented at the 7th Pan-European International Relations Conference, Stockholm; 9–11 September, 2010. Thanks are also due to three anonymous reviewers and the editors of Journal of International Relations and Development for their valuable comments.

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Zemanová, Š. When could new ‘potent small states’ emerge? A study of the recent metamorphosis of Czech human rights foreign policy. J Int Relat Dev 18, 129–154 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2013.16

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Keywords

  • Czech Republic
  • foreign policy
  • human rights
  • ‘potent small state’
  • public diplomacy
  • small state