Unpacking the dynamics of weak states’ agency

Yong Soo Eun, Amitav Acharya, Chanintira na Thalang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This introductory article provides rationales and contextual background for the special issue which examines how weak states in Asia actualise and exercise their agency in the twenty-first century regional or global environments. The article opens with a consideration of why attention is drawn to the agency of the weak. Weak states are often treated as ‘objects’ of international politics rather than ‘subjects’, and their foreign policy actions are commonly taken to be ‘reflexive’ of external constraints, such as fluctuations in the balance of power in the international system. We disagree with this view. We argue that weak actors can demonstrate varieties of agency regardless of their position in the international system in terms of material capabilities. To clarify this point, the article reflects on the changed and changing global and regional environments and order. Rather than seeing them through the lens of great power politics and its signature concept of ‘polarity’, the article offers an alternative notion, namely a ‘multiplex’ world, and identifies the key nature of order therein: multiplicity and fluidity. Both material and normative power have already and continue to become fragmented, decentralised, and dispersed within and across states. While emphasising that such a multifaceted and fluid world opens up a wide avenue of agency for weak actors, this article also notes that the weak has varieties of agency as potentials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-244
Number of pages16
JournalPacific Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • Weak states
  • international order
  • multiplex
  • varieties of agency


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