Nauru: The World’s Smallest Republic

In this series of articles Ian Carse looks at small independent nations and if there are any lessons to be learned from their journeys to self government for Scotland.

View opinionBy Ian Carse

As a result of the alarming worldwide spread of Covid19 around the Globe you could say that we are living through one of the most unprecedented times in world history when international cooperation has seldom been so important. You could of course say that world wars, other epidemics, global warming etc were/are every bit as serious and I wouldn’t argue against that. 

However, I find it hard to think of a time when pretty well every country in the world was affected by something that has prompted such international concern in every country and concerted global action to find a solution, in this case a vaccine, using the expertise and resources around the globe in roughly the same time frame.

We, of course, would have been better served if poor leaders such as Johnson, Trump, Bolsonaro and others were competent. Others may even add, with some justification, female, as many of the ladies who are leading countries around the globe are receiving very positive praise for their efforts and initiatives during this crisis, and they are demonstrating clear leadership as we battle to find a solution for everyone. 

Thankfully, my family and I live in a country with a high standard of living and an efficient health service. However, I do from time to time think “for how much longer?”

Being a committed supporter of Yes however, my thoughts also turned to small countries that have the same size, or smaller, populations than Scotland and I wondered how they are coping in this pandemic?


flag of NauruSo I started to look at the smallest independent country in the UN, Nauru, and I am pleased to say that, as of 25 July 2020, Nauru along with 9 other Oceania sovereign states have yet to report a case. Long may that continue!

For your information the other nine Oceania States are Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Marshall IslandsFederated State of MicronesiaPalua, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. All of whom are members of the United Nations and all of them are smaller than Scotland.     

People know the UN is the world’s largest intergovernmental organisation. On 15/7/2020 the number of countries included as full United Nations members is recorded as 193 sovereign states

Each UN member state has equal representation in the organization. Nauru being the smallest, with a recorded population in 2019 of 10,670 people (roughly 0.2% of Scotland’s population). 

So I started to think – How can it be that Scotland is considered to be too small to be an independent country when Nauru is considered viable?

Nauru satellite image

Image credit : U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program.

Measuring just eight square miles, Nauru is larger than just two other countries: the Vatican City and Monaco. There really isn’t much room in Nauru, it has no protected areas, no World Heritage Sites, no rivers, and just 30km of roads

It is 52 years since Nauru gained independence yet here we are still waiting for our independence to be agreed and the SNP was formed as long ago as 7 April 1934.

Not that I am blaming the SNP, the Greens or indeed the broader Yes movement in Scotland for this lack of progress as all have resolutely led the campaign for Scottish Independence and now the SNP/Green Coalition provide effective government in Holyrood, but I do wonder why other countries have achieved their peaceful transition to independence quicker than Scotland. So I started to ask what did Nauru have, and/or do, which has led them to success while Scotland has been held back? 

It turns out that after World War 2 ended the country Nauru entered into a United Nations Trusteeship and its governance was overseen by the UK, Australia and New Zealand under this United Nations agreement until 1966. Full independence came two years later for Nauru in 1968, and Nauru subsequently became a member of the Pacific Community (SPC) in 1969 and a full Member State of the United Nations on 14 September 1999

Nauru coat of armsFair enough I say, but then I found myself asking what made these countries who were the UN Trusteeship countries, particularly the UK, feel that Nauru had which would necessarily allow it to become a viable independent country? Equally I was wondering what Nauru had that Scotland doesn’t have? Also I asked myself would Scotland be better served under a UN Trusteeship?

However, when looking into it a UN Trusteeship that route isn’t possible because the use of Trusteeships terminated some time ago. Nor is a Trusteeship really desirable for the reasons you will see below.

The answer to my question though has a deep resonance for Scotland. It was natural resources which rich countries wanted to exploit that they would not let go of until their value had been largely exhausted that maintained their interest in the UN Trusteeship.

So now I suggest you Think Oil!!, and in the text below change the word Phosphate for Oil.

Nauru was once the world’s richest country per head of population

So rich were Nauru’s phosphate reserves that for a brief period in the Nineteen Sixties it had the highest per capita GDP in the world

Nauru was once described as a pleasant place

Indeed the first Westerner to visit Nauru was the British whaler John Fearn, who dropped anchor there in 1798. He was clearly impressed, calling it “Pleasant Island”. 

The island is ringed by coral reef, which prevents it from having a port but at one time in the not so distant past it made a good place for diving and snorkeling.

Chinese labourers in the phosphate mine, Nauru

Chinese labourers in the phosphate mine, Nauru, 1908

Alas, those phosphate reserves have now been largely exhausted and recently the GDP of Nauru has been recorded as $102m (£72m). Not that the indigenous people are to blame for this fall in their country’s fortunes. However, I was interested to note that Scotland’s GDP was recorded in 2017 as approximately £156.03 billion, which is approximately $200 billion.

In addition the impact of phosphate mining has wiped out much of the marine life leaving Nauru with a very limited way of earning an income in today’s world. 

However, Nauru could, with the right support, play its part in rebuilding our world and informing/assisting in the debate over climate change, and repairing the damage to the environment which we must avoid for the future of the planet through what it has experienced as a country. Also, because it is an independent country and a member of the United Nations, Nauru is therefore, a country with potential influence.

I started out thinking how can Nauru be considered a viable independent country when Scotland cannot be considered as a similarly viable entity.

Now I am left thinking that becoming an independent nation and a member of the UN possibly has more to do with the fact that once the country that rules you decides you have no economic benefit left in their eyes then you can have your independence, but not before then.

We have the resources, the infrastructure, a sound legal system and a raft of other key attributes to build a modern and influential independent country that the UN Member States would admire and include.

However, there could be yet still one potential obstacle to independence. Even if we assume that we have achieved a majority Yes vote in a legitimate Referendum there is still potentially one more major stumbling block to progress.

The UN states that “..the admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”.

“A recommendation for admission from the Security Council requires affirmative votes from at least nine of the council’s fifteen members, with none of the five permanent members using their veto power. The Security Council’s recommendation must then be approved in the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority vote.”

Can you spot the potential stumbling block? You’ve got it! The UK is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council and as a result has the power of veto. 

I am sure many people would all say “surely London Government would not use their veto if the majority of the Scottish voting public had voted Yes in a referendum?”

However, ask yourself, how often have we experienced London government doing things to our disadvantage? Brexit is just one example and that is why some people would now say that running a Referendum without agreeing a Section 30 Order runs the risk of any UK government using its UN veto as described above. 

Meantime, I am now of a mind that what we need to do is learn the lessons from Nauru and work with Nauru and other small nations across the globe to be able to join them in the community of worldwide nations who are trying to build a better future for everyone while protecting our planet and its inhabitants, regardless if species, from those who put expediency, profit, exploitation and power before society, humanity, cooperation for the common good with kindness and fairness towards all being our mantra.


As a footnote the final question that I am left with though is “Once the Oil has largely run out and London Government sees no financial benefit to having Scotland what will we be left with to build a new nation? 

You know the answer. There is more to Scotland than just oil and we deserve the chance to play our part in world affairs rather than being held back and undervalued by Westminster!

This film is from 2017 and features an item about the Nauru detention centre which is now closed.

To find out more about Nauru’s detention centre: Nauru Regional Processing Centre

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3 replies »

  1. Not quite sure where you are going with this article. ‘Viable’ may not be the correct word for Nauru. If a large percentage of employment and local economy depends on running a detention centre for another nation, other words than viable come to mind. Nauru probably was in fact viable when the indigenous population was not suffering from (external) exploitation of their resources and when they lived their traditional culture without interference from others.Certainly, at the time, they did not have an obesity problem resulting from ‘western’ nutrition.
    Where does Scotland come into the comparison? Scotland might be viable, however its resources may not be fully managed by Scotland, the chaotic mix of reserved and devolved affairs doesn’t make it any easier. Whether it was the oil or now it will be renewables etc. (to reach the UK’s overall climate targets) and some polluting industries (spaceports) conveniently outsourced to sparsely populated areas with the usual excuse of job generation… Scotland’s usefulness for the UK might be the reason why giving it up there would be quite some reluctance.
    And at the moment? Whilst I am also a supporter of independence (for a variety of reasons), well aware that this would also come at a price and not solve problems instantly or for good, I have also noticed with sadness that the current crisis reflected a financial dependency… could Scotland alone have poured all the money (furlough scheme etc.) in? Not from the position Scotland was in right before the pandemic started. To build the base for an independent Scotland now from a through the pandemic weakened position, will be quite hard and require some effort. It would be doable though… and perhaps it should be done now before the next pandemic arrives… and it will, let’s just hope, we can deal with this one and get a breather before the next one comes.

  2. Thought provoking article.
    I note that you’ve pointed out that the nations currently headed by women seem to be doing significantly better against this current pandemic (specifically, and especially, New Zealand) when measured against the rest of the world and against their near neighbours. Scotland too?
    In paragraph 2, you mention “… to find a solution, in this case a vaccine, using …”. A vaccine, clearly, is urgently required. But (and perhaps more importantly), also required, is research, and a solution, into the cause(s) of the current pandemic, to prevent its occurring again (Spanish Flu, MERS, SARS, Ebola, SARS Covid 2, The Next One, etc).

  3. Hi folks

    Thank you for taking the trouble to read my article and comment

    It’s nice when people take the trouble to comment on something you have done/ideas you have put forward etc as it helps to move a conversation on and develop ideas together.

    Please accept my apologies for not posting my reply earlier but I was up against another couple of deadlines which held me back from replying before now.

    I fully support Malcolm’s idea of researching a solution into the causes of any health outbreak or indeed, any other problem that crops up around the globe.

    However, research has to be thorough and unbiased to have credence and that takes time and resources. Somehow I feel we need to speed up the process so that action can be taken quicker and more effectively but that can be a tricky balance to achieve and I personally don’t have any easy answers. I am open to suggestions though because it is a point well made.

    I was also very interested in the comments submitted by S Davidson and I recognise that I may have caused some confusion for some readers. If I have caused confusion please accept my apologies, but I was really referring to the discussions about Scotland getting full independence and not seeking full solutions from our current devolved Parliament.

    My reasons for citing small countries such as Nauru is that over the past 46 years that I have been campaigning for a Yes vote, or just speaking to folk casually about Scotland’s right to become and independent country once more, I regularly come up against people who say that Scotland is too small a country to be independent and run its own affairs.

    Over the years I have cited small successful independent countries who are either the same size as Scotland (Denmark, Norway etc) or smaller than Scotland (Luxembourg, Malta, etc) and invited people to think why we couldn’t be like them and successfully manage our own affairs? Often this has led to lively and interesting debates and often it had quite an effect in getting people to think about Scotland’s position in the World and whether or not the devolution Scotland currently enjoys is enough and how, at times, it is holding our country back from realising a better future.

    Because I didn’t want to limited examples of small independent countries in these conversations to Europe, many years ago I started to look further afield than Europe for examples of how small independent countries were doing and to look for the pros and cons of their situation.

    For me Nauru is an example of a small country being exploited by larger countries and how these larger countries had left Nauru largely destitute before they condescendingly agreed to give Nauru the independence it had every right to expect.

    Nauru’s story also shows how well they could have done if they had been given their independence when they had adequate resources to spend on its people, and make provision for the future. Instead, when they were eventually given their right to independence, they were left with next to no natural resources and they had to resort to less savoury activities in order for the country to make a living.

    Rather than helping the government and citizens of Nauru plan a viable future for their country using the wealth and resources available to them, the three Trustees for Nauru put their own interests first, exploited the natural resources of Nauru for their own ends and left Nauru’s citizens and government with very little to work with when they were eventually granted their independence.

    S Davidson quite rightly points out that “Nauru probably was in fact viable when the indigenous population was not suffering from (external) exploitation of their resources, and when they lived their traditional culture without interference from others” I would only add, and not polluting our planet for future generations to inherit.

    I was shocked that the UK was one of those countries who exploited Nauru when we trade and trumpet on our upright and supposedly fine reputation for fairness around the globe.

    This blatant abuse of Nauru by the UK government highlights for me what we are up against when it comes to securing our own independence for Scotland.

    I was also disappointed that Australia and New Zealand were similarly culprit as these countries had to argue for their right to independence from the British Empire some time ago, and from that experience I would have expected them to have shown more compassion and understanding towards the citizens of Nauru.

    That said I am pleased to see that New Zealand, under the leadership of their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has been making a positive contribution to the fight against the spread of Covid19, and, more generally, she is introducing more progressive politics in her country. I note with concern however, that New Zealand has recently been pushed back into lockdown.

    Finally, for me, what happened to Nauru serves as a warning to the Yes campaign in Scotland as a similar fate could befall our country if we do not remain vigilant.

    Thanks again to both Malcolm and S Davidson for their comments and I wish them, and all readers of The Orkney News, all the best for the future

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