EU-Oman: Small and effective

Written by Dr Haroon Sheikh on 29 March 2019 in Opinion

In a time of a changing world order, where smaller countries lack certainty, Oman should be a member of a League of Small Pioneers, argues Dr Haroon Sheikh.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

The global multilateral order is under pressure. Institutions that have been in place since the Second World War to foster cooperation - the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union are being challenged from a number of directions.

Countries such as Russia, Turkey and China are seeking to strengthen their profile on the global stage.

Within the EU, Brexit has changed the balance of power, allowing Germany and France to increase their footprint in the bloc.


Most notably, the country that was the architect of the global multilateral order, the United States, is now seeking to disrupt it.

Such a world of power politics is threatening for those small countries that always found protection in multilateral institutions.

This holds particularly true for small countries with very open economies and societies, as it compounds their fragility.

In response to this changing world order, these smaller, innovative countries should cooperate with each other. They should form something that could be known as “The League of Small Pioneers”.

Such a league could work if all the countries share a similar mindset. That means they should feel small relative to their neighbours, which means they always prefer the neutral non-confrontational approach to international relations.

They should also have innovative economies, progressive societies and/or sustainable policies (again, relative to neighbours) so that they have a stake in openness and trade.

“Oman’s internal politics are moderate. In addition, from an external perspective, it is the region’s most neutral actor”

Such a league would include; in Europe, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and Estonia.

In East Asia, Singapore and South Korea are likely candidates. New Zealand in Oceania. In the Western Hemisphere, we can think of countries such as Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica.

In Africa, it would include Botswana and Mauritius.

In the Middle East, the most likely candidate is Oman. Although there are other small countries in the region, as well as several with more advanced economies, Oman’s internal politics are moderate. In addition, from an external perspective, it is the region’s most neutral actor.

It plays a mediating role between both Iran and the United States and between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The country’s commitment to multilateralism is rooted in its history as a seafaring nation. The Omani sailed from the East African coast and the Pakistani port of Gwadar across the Indian Ocean.

This tradition of trade and cooperation make it a natural adherent to a global multilateral order.

About the author

Dr Haroon Sheikh is senior scientist at the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and teaches philosophy at VU University in Amsterdam

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