1st Edition

Small Countries, Big Diplomacy Laos in the UN, ASEAN and MRC

    154 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    154 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book shows how small countries use "big" diplomacy to advance national interests and global agendas – from issues of peace and security (the South China Sea and nuclearization in Korea) and human rights (decolonization) to development (landlocked and least developed countries) and environment (hydropower development). Using the case of Laos, it explores how a small landlocked developing state maneuvered among the big players and championed causes of international concern at three of the world’s important global institutions – the United Nations (UN), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

    Recounting the geographical and historical origins behind Laos’ diplomacy, this book traces the journey of the country, surrounded by its five larger neighbors China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, and influenced by superpower rivalries, from the Cold War to the post-Cold War eras. The book is written from an integrated perspective of a French-educated Lao diplomat with over 40 years of experience in various senior roles in the Lao government, leading major groups and committees at the UN and ASEAN; and the theoretical knowledge and experience of an American-trained Lao political scientist and international civil servant who has worked for the Lao government and the international secretariats of the UN and MRC. These different perspectives bridge not only the theory-practice divide but also the government insider-outsider schism.

    The book concludes with "seven rules for small state diplomacy" that should prove useful for diplomats, statespersons, policymakers and international civil servants alike. It will also be of interest to scholars and experts in the fields of international relations and foreign policies of Laos, the Mekong and Asia in general.

    Introduction: do small states matter in global institutions?

    1. The origins of Laos’ brand of diplomacy: geographical, historical and ideational

    2. Navigating the Cold War

    3. Shaping global issues and policies at the United Nations

    4. Embracing and leading ASEAN

    5. Leveraging the Mekong River Commission to advance national and international agendas

    6. Conclusion: seven rules for small state diplomacy


    Alounkeo Kittikhoun served as Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the UN for the Lao Government. Educated in Laos and France’s Université Panthéon Sorbonne, he officially led multilateral and bilateral negotiations in the UN and ASEAN for many years, and participated in international meetings and conferences in over 50 countries.

    Anoulak Kittikhoun is the Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer of the Mekong River Commission, and has worked for the Lao Government, the UN Secretariat Headquarters, and taught at Brooklyn College of New York. Educated in Laos, the Australian National University and the City University of New York, he is co-editor of River Basin Organizations in Water Diplomacy, has written a number of peer-reviewed articles, and has spoken at international conferences, missions and expert group meetings in over 30 countries.

    "It is widely recognised that the best diplomats are reasonable and humane sceptics and that the main formative influence in diplomatic theory is common sense. But how does this old wisdom apply to small states of today and what should the representatives of small states do to be good diplomats? This book provides the key answers tested in practice. Both Alounkeo (father) and Anoulak (son) Kittikhoun are respected and experienced practitioners of diplomacy. Their book offers invaluable advice based on real experience that will serve well diplomats of small states in all parts of the world." 

    Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia and former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs


    "In international politics and global institutions, small states are at the mercy of ruthless big powers, influence-peddling institutions, greedy multinationals and resourceful actors of all kinds. This I have experienced professionally as the first Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations mandated to advocate for the most vulnerable countries of the world, often "voiceless countries," to get a just and better deal from the unwilling world community. In that role, I have perceived how skillful, pragmatic and determined diplomats of these small countries can make a difference in advancing the best interest of their peoples. Ambassador Alounkeo Kittikhoun is an outstanding representative of such high calibre. The Kittikhouns – father and son duo – have brilliantly articulated in their book some practical and workable, yet profoundly meaningful principles and rules for small states diplomacy in a globalised and interconnected world that allow these countries not only to survive but to thrive. This book has filled in the existing void of a much-needed empowering tool for the small states as they navigate an unjust and unequal international system. It deserves broad-ranging readership as well as regular application of its contents in real life situations."

    Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former United Nations High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States, former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, and former Senior Special Adviser to the President of the UN General Assembly


    "Alounkeo Kittikhoun was one of the most respected and trusted UN Ambassadors among the UN community. This book reminds us of the importance of appointing a talented person at a vital position in order not only to pursue a country’s own diplomatic goals, but also to contribute to international cooperation."

    Kitaoka Shinichi, President, Japan International Cooperation Agency


    "This rare and valuable book puts Laos on the mental mapping of world affairs, too often thought to be one of big country preferences. Readers can learn to appreciate how strenuous an effort it has been for a small and land-locked country to have established a footprint in sustainable development goals championed by the United Nations, particularly that in the Mekong River system. Most highly recommended."

    ZhaDaojiong, Professor, Peking University, China


    "This is an inspirational insider view of two generations of Laotian diplomat/practitioners and their efforts to help maneuver their small landlocked country through the shoals of regional powers and global institutions, all while balancing the views of the East with the West, development with conservation, and a rich and storied past with a promising future. We’re fortunate to have both the breadth and depth of the experience of these two scholars as they so eloquently and personally answer the seemingly insurmountable question: How do small countries conduct big diplomacy? The answers they come to, laid out clearly in their concluding chapter, are nuanced, insightful, and practical (and in contrast with much that has been written on the topic by theoreticians and outsiders). While nominally a story about Laos, the lessons learned about how to affirm one’s destiny even when surrounded by power are universal."

    Aaron T. Wolf, Professor, Oregon State University, United States


    "Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, a citizen of Laos, has for almost a decade played a leading role in building cooperation among the six ‘riparian’ nations through with which the Mekong River flows. He left his position in the United Nations in New York to return home to join the MRC as coordinator for the ‘Basin Development Plan’, at a time when the MRC senior management team (under an international CEO) mostly comprised contract expatriate staff funded by bilateral development agencies. This has changed, with Dr. Kittikhoun playing a leading role, within and beyond the Basin, in advocating Mekong riparian cooperation and development. This book captures this wonderful story with a refreshing perspective that brings back the development consensus of the past in order to chart new days for the mighty Mekong."

    David Grey, Oxford University, United Kingdom and former Senior Water Advisor, World Bank


    "Expertly, and perceptively, analyzes how Laos has successfully punched well above its weight in championing causes of international concern at a number of the world’s pre-eminent global institutions. An added bonus is the well-balanced perspective of Anoulak Kittikhoun, who is from Laos but is very much an internationalist leading the water diplomatic efforts in the Mekong for many years. A genuine must read for diplomats, academics, international policy makers, and anyone with an interest in international relations, diplomacy, the Mekong and Asia generally."

    Richard Kyle Paisley, Director of Global Transboundary International Waters Governance Initiative, University of British Columbia, Canada