The latest issue of The Professional Geographer features a research paper from Dr. Elizabeth Nyman at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette which examines the concept of “island exceptionalism.” Are island states really different from mainland states in their behavior on the international stage? Nyman concludes that, yes, there are very real differences. You will have to have access to Taylor and Francis journals in order to read the full paper at the link, but here is the abstract:
Scholars have argued that due to their special geographical circumstances, island states develop a different relationship with maritime space than their continental counterparts. This is generally attributed both to island residents’ greater access to and benefit from oceanic resources and also to the metaphysical qualities of life that uniquely develop on islands. This article investigates deeper into the phenomenon of geographically determined island exceptionality by considering whether island states and mainland states truly behave differently when it comes to their treatment of and behavior in maritime spaces. Through an analysis of disputed areas in the International Correlates of War maritime data, I consider whether island states are more likely to try and confirm sovereignty over disputed maritime waters than mainland states. My examination of disputed maritime areas in the Western Hemisphere and Europe from 1900 to 2001 shows that indeed island states are both more likely to try and settle a disputed maritime area, whether by force or by negotiated resolution. This finding is then used to raise new questions about the geographic differences that characterize island states in the world political system.
I find this interesting because, in the era of the modern world system, the hegemonic powers have (a) always been maritime powers and have usually been either insular (Great Britain), peninsular (Portugal). The exceptions have been the Dutch and the US, which themselves have unique geographic features which push them to the sea. I am thinking about extending Nyman’s analysis beyond island nations out to any nation on MacKinder’s “outer crescent” which has oceanic frontage. It would not surprise me to see Nyman’s effects enhanced by this data, in which case I might be able to conclude that what is exceptional is heavy participation in maritime disputes (in which case we might be able to consider Portugal and Holland as functionally part of the Outer Crescent).
On another topic – from Nyman’s bio page, I read that she has a forthcoming book on maritime matters in the Arctic, which is another topic explored frequently on this blog. I look forward to reading more of Dr. Nyman’s work.