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Say there's a small country of strategic importance, for example it has some resource that great powers need, or it controls strategic position so great powers do not want them to improve their relationships with a rival great power.

If their government is doing something that causes outrage at home, such as grossly violating human rights and that causes outrage at the great power countries. While on the other hand great powers are limited on what they could do due to strategic reasons.

How could the great powers punish the small country for its misbehavior?

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you include your research into that matter to avoid redundancy? No need to tell you what you already know. It might also help understanding the direction you are aiming at $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 18 '18 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ You should be more specific with what the strategic considerations are, or in what ways the great powers are limited in their actions. As it stands, the only real answer is "it depends." $\endgroup$ – Gene May 18 '18 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ One thing to consider: if someone has something of strategic importance to you, "punish" is a poor choice of words, because you will punish yourself by necessity. When exploring questions like this, I find it most effective to step beyond the word "punish" and try to figure out what you really want. We don't punish thieves with jailtime because we like punishing them. We punish them because we want people to stop thieving, and these sorts of actions appear to have a tendency to decrease thievery. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 18 '18 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Pepe. Please note that we strongly encourage users to wait 24 hours before accepting an answer. We have users around the world. Accepting early may discourage others from posting a potentially better answer. Especially when you've accepted an answer within 30 minutes of asking the question. Also, don't forget to upvote answers you find helpful. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 18 '18 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Vote up requires 15 rep, so is not available to completely new users. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 18 '18 at 20:31
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  • Stop selling arms, or delay specific deliveries. Not a sanction in the usual sense, and it doesn't have to be made public.
  • Or make a very public snub (humiliating them), like recalling the ambassador, without changes to the security cooperation.
  • Build a coalition with other great powers and enact significant sanctions.
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    $\begingroup$ What's to stop Qatar from then cozying up to China instead, or Russia? $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 18 '18 at 18:37
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Great powers are less limited than you think

Consider the actions of Russia. They have

  • annexed a part of a sovereign nation (friendly with EU).
  • poisoned a former agent on foreign territory.

And they are actively using information warfare to confuse people abroad and at home, to create conspiracy theories, and to influence (perhaps decisively) elections.

Based on these real-world examples, a great power could:

  • use information warfare to turn the other countries against each other, or to create chaos and internal conflicts within the country. (See for example the relationship between Russian-language and Eesti-language people in Estonia.)
  • incite a rebellion or uprising.
  • assassinate a key figure (consider USA and Osama bin Laden) and maybe claim they did not do it.
  • sponsor local terrorists and send unaffiliated soldiers in and claim you are doing nothing. The power could, for example, shoot down a non-affiliated passenger aeroplane, maybe even one with inconvenient targets inside if they want to be particularly nasty.
  • create arbitrary trade restrictions on flimsy grounds (such as Russia's trade restrictions on milk products coming from Finland) and increase the price of key exports (such as oil) or demand all debts be paid immediately before further trade happens.
  • delegitimize elections by pumping in corrupt money, by hacking the software (if electric software is used), or by creating chaos and disruptions at election sites. Creating the suspicion of hacked election would be enough to cause significant doubt and uncertainty, and presumably anger among the losers. Capitalize on this with hired online trolls.
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