Which country has the most ambassadors?
Where are the fewest embassies?
Diplomacy as we know it today emerged over the past two centuries: States - or institutions like the EU - appoint people to represent their interests. In the 19th century, the principle was that no country would send a higher-ranking representative - there have only been representatives since the 20th century - to a state other than the one represented in that state. A kind of barter: both states agreed on how important their relationship was to them. The ambassador stood above the ambassador and the latter above the so-called charge d’affaires. In addition, monarchies did not send ambassadors to republics out of class, which only changed through the eventful history of France in the 19th century, but also through the rise of the USA to a regional power. Today all states can send ambassadors to other nations. But which states send the fewest diplomats and have the fewest embassies?
It makes sense to look primarily at the small states. These usually cannot afford a large external office apparatus. That is why the governments of these countries decide where they want to be diplomatically represented. There is no consensus as to when a state is considered small. The World Bank and the Commonwealth define small states as nations with fewer than 1.5 million people. If you apply this brand, then almost 40 countries fall into this category. The informal UN alliance “Forum of Small States” draws the line at ten million people who live in one country. According to this definition, the small states made up more than half of all UN members. Last but not least, there are the so-called micro-states. According to the scientific consensus, these are nations with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants. That would be almost 20 generally recognized states. Definitions vary, but most of the countries considered below fall into the smallest of these categories.
More messages, more prestige
Small states often get involved in forums with many partners, as otherwise they would be unilaterally dependent on larger states. In some cases, however, their dependency is a reality and they cannot freely decide on all aspects of foreign and security policy. In some cases this stems from the colonial past, such as Bhutan and the Marshall Islands. Elsewhere, such conditions only emerged in the past few decades, such as in the case of Abkhazia. The international commitment independent of the superordinate patronage state then mostly serves to strengthen one's own independence.
The Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis are a small state with few embassies. This country has seven embassies, and only in Belgium, Great Britain, Jamaica, Canada, Cuba, the USA and Taiwan. There is also a consulate general in the United Arab Emirates. The special thing about St. Kitts and Nevis is that it is one of 15 countries that only has diplomatic relations with Taiwan (officially the Republic of China), but not with the People's Republic of China. As an industrialized state, Taiwan acts as a donor of development aid for this selected group of states. In Basseterre, the capital, there are again three embassies: a Cuban, a Taiwanese and a Venezuelan. Taiwan sets up embassies in all countries with which it has diplomatic relations - regardless of the size of the country. In addition to the economic advantages, there is also a gain in prestige for the small states.
Small countries with many agencies
Some of its history can be read from the embassies in the country - such as Eswatini's. Former Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa. When it gained independence from Great Britain in 1968, it was located between the apartheid state of South Africa and the then Portuguese colony of Mozambique. In Eswatini's capital, Mbabane, there are seven embassies today, including those of the neighboring countries, the former colonial power Great Britain, the great powers India and the USA, but also those of Qatar and Taiwan. Like St. Kitts and Nevis, the country has diplomatic relations with Taiwan - the only one in Africa. Eswatini has its own embassies, eleven in all, in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. There are also missions to the African and European Union and the UN. Even this relatively small country in Africa sends a relatively large number of ambassadors.
The Comoros are even smaller than Eswatini. The archipelago - located between Madagascar and East Africa - is the southernmost country of the Arab League. The state, which is also a member of the African Union, had repeatedly struggled with separatist movements over the past decades and was therefore the focus of international attention. Despite its small size and poverty, the republic has 13 embassies in Africa, Asia and Europe. There are also representations at the Arab League and the United Nations. In the capital Moroni there are again eight embassies - three of them from Arab states.
Mini-states: no place for embassies
Abkhazia is in a different situation than the Comoros, as it is a so-called de facto regime. This is a state that is not generally recognized and therefore cannot become a member of many international organizations, for example. The best-known examples of this category are Kosovo, Northern Cyprus and Transnistria, which lies within the Republic of Moldova. Caucasian Abkhazia is one of them. The small Black Sea republic split from Georgia during the collapse of the Soviet Union. A number of states have recognized independence since 2008. In the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi there are embassies from Russia and South Ossetia, another de facto state. Abkhazia itself has diplomatic missions in Venezuela, Russia, South Ossetia and Syria. Even as a non-UN member, Abkhazia has a number of messages.
Generally recognized internationally and in the middle of Europe lies Liechtenstein. The small principality did not join the United Nations until 1990. Liechtenstein is one of two UN member states on whose territory there is no embassy from another country - the other is the Vatican, which is not possible due to lack of space. The country conducts its diplomatic relations almost exclusively through embassies in Bern. Liechtenstein maintains its own diplomatic missions in the capitals of both neighboring countries (Bern and Vienna), in Berlin and Brussels, and in Washington. There are also representations at international organizations in Geneva, Strasbourg and New York. These also have the rank of embassies, which means that Liechtenstein currently has an ambassador in Bern and an ambassador in Geneva. In all other countries, Switzerland represents the small neighboring country at ambassador level. A broad network of honorary consuls is also active for Liechtenstein. In Europe, the state with the fewest embassies is on its own territory - none at all.
The Bhutan sandwich
When looking for countries with few embassies, however, you will not find what you are looking for in Asia. Even in the Maldives - the most populous country on the continent - there are nine embassies and the country itself has 14 embassies in other countries. Another example of a small state in Asia is the Kingdom of Bhutan. After its independence in 1947, India took over the duties of the former British colonial rulers towards Bhutan. In a 1949 treaty, the South Asian Kingdom accepted the "leadership" of New Delhi on international issues. However, the Sino-Indian War in 1962 caused great discomfort in Bhutan, which is sandwiched between the two countries. That is why the country joined the United Nations in 1971, founded a foreign ministry for the first time and upgraded the representation in New Delhi to an embassy. The increased international engagement should reduce the dependence on India and thus help not to be drawn into the Sino-Indian conflict.
To this day, the Bhutanese government does not maintain diplomatic relations with China - a peculiarity in such a situation of a small state between two great powers. The small kingdom currently has four embassies in Asia (Bangladesh, India, Kuwait and Thailand) and one in Europe (Belgium). There are also representations at UN organizations and the European Union. In addition, there are no diplomatic missions. The international diplomatic corps in the capital Thimphu consists of the ambassadors of Bangladesh, India and Kuwait. This makes Bhutan one of the states with the fewest embassies in the country. But there are states with even less.
The search for the states with the fewest embassies ultimately leads to Oceania. That's where the Marshall Islands are. After the islands were first Spanish, then German and finally Japanese colony, the USA took them over after the Second World War. The United States then received a mandate from the UN to administer the islands. After a referendum, the Marshall Islands gained independence in 1986 and joined the United States in a "pact of free association". These continue to determine the defense policy of the island republic and also guarantee most aid payments. The second most come from Taiwan, which has been diplomatically recognized by the Marshall Islands since 1999.
There are only three embassies in the capital Majuro: one from Japan, one from the USA and one from Taiwan. Marshallese embassies are in Fiji, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States. The government maintains relations with all other Pacific states through the embassy in the Fijian capital. There is also a permanent representation at the United Nations in New York. In total, there are three embassies on the Marshall Islands, and the country itself has five of its own around the world - a number that cannot be beaten!
Exchange recognition for development aid
Further east is the country with the fewest embassies at all. Kiribati is the poorest of all island states in the Pacific. Only around 110,000 people live on the 33 atolls and coral islands. The Republic of Kiribati did not open its first embassy - in Fiji - until 2002, 23 years after independence from Great Britain. There is another mission at the United Nations, of which the republic only became a member in 1999. As with the Marshall Islands, Fiji, seat of the Pacific Islands Forum, Kiribati serves as a platform for relations with other Pacific states - and the UN mission in New York for those with the rest of the world. Kiribati is thus the state with the fewest embassies in other countries. In turn, the two regional powers Australia and New Zealand as well as China each maintain an embassy in the country.
The search for the states with the fewest embassies ultimately led to Kiribati and Liechtenstein. The former only has one embassy in another country and the Alpine state does not host a single embassy in another country - and not because of a lack of space. The search for clues throws a spotlight on the so-called small states. The field of foreign policy in these countries has so far been relatively poorly researched. It is noticeable that states with a controversial status such as Abkhazia and Taiwan set up embassies in almost all states with which they have diplomatic relations. This is why some small countries in the Caribbean, Africa and Oceania host Taiwanese embassies. There are representations of Abkhazia in Venezuela and Syria. Diplomacy serves as proof of one's own independence. The overview of the networks also shows that diplomacy can also be a business: the establishment of a state embassy in Taipei usually means development aid from Taiwan. For small countries, other nations usually serve as platforms for international relations. Many of the Pacific Republics, for example, have embassies in the Fiji Islands and use them to maintain relationships with states outside their own region. The largest and most important platform is and will remain the UN. All generally recognized states have representatives there.
This text appeared in the 19th edition of KATAPULT. Support our work and subscribe to the printed magazine for only 19.90 euros a year.
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