A microstate or ministate is a sovereign state having a very small population or very small land area, and usually both. As the meaning of neither "state" nor "very small" is clear, the recent attempts to define microstates focus on identifying political entities with unique qualitative features linked to their geographic or demographic limitations. According to a qualitative definition, microstates are: "modern protected states, i.e. sovereign states that have been able to unilaterally depute certain attributes of sovereignty to larger powers in exchange for benign protection of their political and economic viability against their geographic or demographic constraints." In line with this and most other definitions the examples of microstates include: Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Niue, Andorra and the Federated States of Micronesia.
The smallest political unit recognized as a sovereign state is Vatican City, with 842 citizens as of July 2013 and an area of only 0.44 km². However, some scholars dispute qualifying Vatican as a state arguing that it does not meet the "traditional criteria of statehood" and that the "special status of the Vatican City is probably best regarded as a means of ensuring that the Pope can freely exercise his spiritual functions, and in this respect is loosely analogous to that of the headquarters of international organisations."
Microstates are distinct from micronations, which are not recognized as sovereign states. Special territories without full sovereignty, such as the British Crown Dependencies, the Chinese Special Administrative Regions and overseas territories of Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, are also not considered microstates.
Quantitative definitions of microstates and their limitations
Most scholars identify microstates by using a quantitative threshold and applying it to either one variable (such as territory or population size) or a composite of different variables. While it is agreed that microstates are the smallest of all states, there is no consensus on what variable (or variables) or what cut-off point should be used to determine which political units should be labelled as "microstates" (as opposed to small states or "normal" states).
|Rank||Country / Territory||Area (km²/sqmi)||Region|
|1||Vatican City||0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi)||Europe|
|2||Monaco||2.02 km2 (0.78 sq mi)||Europe|
|3||Nauru||21 km2 (8 sq mi)||Oceania|
|4||Tuvalu||26 km2 (10 sq mi)||Oceania|
|5||San Marino||61 km2 (24 sq mi)||Europe|
|6||Liechtenstein||160 km2 (62 sq mi)||Europe|
|7||Marshall Islands||181 km2 (70 sq mi)||Oceania|
|8||Saint Kitts and Nevis||261 km2 (101 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|9||Maldives||298 km2 (115 sq mi)||Asia – Indian Ocean|
|10||Malta||316 km2 (122 sq mi)||Europe – Mediterranean Sea|
|11||Grenada||344 km2 (133 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|12||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||389 km2 (150 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|13||Barbados||430 km2 (166 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|14||Antigua and Barbuda||443 km2 (171 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|15||Seychelles||455 km2 (176 sq mi)||Africa – Indian Ocean|
|16||Palau||459 km2 (177 sq mi)||Oceania|
|17||Andorra||468 km2 (181 sq mi)||Europe|
|18||Saint Lucia||616 km2 (238 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|19||Federated States of Micronesia||702 km2 (271 sq mi)||Oceania|
|20||Singapore||714 km2 (276 sq mi)||Asia|
|21||Tonga||747 km2 (288 sq mi)||Oceania|
|22||Dominica||751 km2 (290 sq mi)||Caribbean|
|23||Bahrain||765 km2 (295 sq mi)||Asia – Persian Gulf|
|24||Kiribati||811 km2 (313 sq mi)||Oceania|
|25||São Tomé and Príncipe||964 km2 (372 sq mi)||Africa – Atlantic Ocean|
- With the exceptions of Singapore and Bahrain, all the above have fewer than 500,000 people.
|8||Saint Kitts and Nevis||51,538||197.5||Caribbean|
|12||Antigua and Barbuda||91,295||206.1||Caribbean|
|13||Seychelles||91,650||201.4||Africa - Indian Ocean|
|14||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||102,918||264.6||Caribbean|
|16||Federated States of Micronesia||105,681||150.5||Oceania|
|20||São Tomé and Príncipe||190,428||197.5||Africa - Atlantic Ocean|
|27||Maldives||393,595||1320.8||Asia - Indian Ocean|
|28||Malta||412,655||1305.9||Europe - Mediterranean Sea|
- With the exceptions of Samoa, Vanuatu, Iceland, Bahamas, Belize, and Brunei, all the above have a non-sea area less than 1,000 km2 (386 sq mi).
While employing simple quantitative criteria may seem straightforward, it can also be perceived as potentially problematic. According to some scholars the quantitative approach to defining microstates suffers from such problems as "inconsistency, arbitrariness, vagueness and inability to meaningfully isolate qualitatively distinct political units"
In response to the problems associated with the quantitative definitions of microstates, some academics have suggested finding states with unique features linked to their geographic or demographic smallness. Newer approaches have proposed looking at the behaviour or capacity to operate in the international arena in order to determine which states should deserve the microstate label. Yet, it has been argued that such approaches could lead to either confusing microstates with weak states (or failed states) or relying too much on subjective perceptions.
Microstates as modern protected states
In order to address both the problems with quantitative approaches and with definitions based on qualitative features, it has been argued that a useful and meaningful way to isolate microstates from other types of states, would be to see them as "modern protected states". According to the definition proposed by Dumienski (2014): "microstates are modern protected states, i.e. sovereign states that have been able to unilaterally depute certain attributes of sovereignty to larger powers in exchange for benign protection of their political and economic viability against their geographic or demographic constraints." Adopting this approach permits limiting the number of microstates and separating them from both small states and autonomies or dependencies. Examples of microstates understood as modern protected states include such states as: Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Niue, Andorra, the Cook Islands or Palau.
Historical anomalies and aspirant states
A small number of tiny sovereign political units are founded on historical anomalies or eccentric interpretations of law. These types of states, often labelled as "microstates," are usually located on small (usually disputed) territorial enclaves, generate limited economic activity founded on tourism and philatelic and numismatic sales, and are tolerated or ignored by the nations from which they claim to have seceded.
One example is the Republic of Indian Stream, now the town of Pittsburg, New Hampshire—a geographic anomaly left unresolved by the Treaty of Paris that ended the U.S. Revolutionary War, and claimed by both the U.S. and Canada. Between 1832 and 1835, the area's residents refused to acknowledge either claimant.
Another example is the Cospaia Republic, which became independent through a treaty error and survived from 1440 to 1826. Its independence made it important in the introduction of tobacco cultivation to Italy.
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