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Chair: Dr Amanda Chisholm

Speaker: Hilary Briffa

Discussant: Godfrey Baldacchino


COVID-19 - the Great Nonequalizer:

Lessons for small states from Madonna’s bathtub

Sitting in a milky bath filled with roses petals, in March 2020 popstar Madonna called the COVID-19 pandemic the ‘great equalizer’. In reality, the crisis has impacted many countries in starkly contrasting ways. This paper will consider the experiences of small states, whose inherent vulnerabilities are being exacerbated by the pandemic.

In many ways, small states have proven resilient, with centralised governments enabling an agile and rapid response, and recording significant public compliance with preventative measures. Moreover, the accelerated digital transformation presents exciting opportunities for small states to innovate. However, the pandemic also poses an unprecedented challenge.

The crisis has strained limited health infrastructure and disrupted supply chains. With tourism at a standstill, many small states – particularly the Small Island Developing States – face the prospect of an acute economic crisis and unsustainable debt. The international community must assist small states to improve their limited fiscal space in order to more robustly prepare for the reopening of economies and to drive a green recovery.

Despite Madonna’s claims to the contrary, the pandemic has intensified the inequalities among countries. In contrast with the prevailing insular nationalism characterising the global pandemic response, international development cooperation is essential to strengthen resilience and ensure that no small state gets left behind.



Dr Hillary Briffa is a Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London, working primarily with the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom (the Royal College of Defence Studies and the Joint Services Command and Staff College). She is a founding member of the Centre for Grand Strategy at King’s College London, where she read for her Ph.D in War Studies. Previously, she taught at University College London, Birkbeck University of London, and Queen Mary University of London. In 2015 she was appointed an associate fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and in 2016 became a recipient of the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Emerging Young Leaders award. As of August 2020, she is currently one of the inaugural non-resident Hans J. Morgenthau Fellows at The Notre Dame International Security Center, studying grand strategy in its larger conceptual and historical context.  

Professor Godfrey Baldacchino is Professor of Sociology at the University of Malta, President of the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA) and Executive Editor of the Small States & Territories journal.


Hilary Briffa

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Lecturer in National Security Studies

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