Caribbean has to find new ways of projecting limited power The View from Europe
By David Jessop, Executive Director of the Caribbean Council for Europe.
Stabroek News
October 19, 2003

Related Links: Articles on Caribbean
Letters Menu Archival Menu

For the nations of the Caribbean the Cold War was a period of unusual certainty. The region had gone to independence. The titanic struggle underway between the West and the East had led North America and Western Europe to offer inducements to ensure political support. The Soviet Union sought to do the same. Philosophies collided, heightening awareness and making real the importance of sovereignty and non-alignment.

The result was that the Caribbean was treated with respect and many of the problems associated with smallness and vulnerability were recognised. The region was offered preferential trade arrangements and aid programmes. It was actively encouraged to supply rather than compete. So much so, that for long periods during the Cold War, the relationship with Europe and North America was characterised by a high degree of stability even when there was disagreement. All of this has gone. Marginalised by geo-politics, the Caribbean now finds disinterest in Europe and North America. It struggles to attract attention. Respect for its independence of thought and action is limited and it is being told to diversify and compete with the same super powers that previously provided support.

Today the region’s relationship with many of the world’s most powerful nations is subject to uncertainty and a growing sense of mistrust. Strikingly, in recent months some senior Caribbean figures have begun to use in public language that refers to the relationship with these nations as being ‘coercive’ or ‘bullying’.

Worse, globalisation is posing practical economic challenges that threaten to divide the Caribbean on the grounds of national self-interest. The regional integration movement has come a long way but is still incomplete. Just as Caricom struggles to deliver the final steps essential to give the region the critical mass required to face the prospect of global competition, aspects of the shared economic vision seems to be faltering. The Caribbean is now engaged in a war every bit as real in its own way as that fought in South East Asia. Trade wars may be bloodless and conducted in smart locations but failure will be just as devastating in its effect as defeat in any military conflict.

Traditionally solutions to trade policy challenges have been seen in the context of political ideology, foreign policy and technical negotiation. These remain relevant but in today’s environment they are not enough. If the Caribbean is to win it needs to find new ways of projecting its limited power. Although the military aspects of war have no relevance to the Caribbean there are important tactical lessons that arise out of the conduct of most conflicts.

Small countries can defeat immensely more powerful adversaries if they develop an approach that brings a wide range of assets into play. By establishing at an international and domestic level moral parity or superiority over those against whom the war is being waged, the value of parallel actions can be enhanced dramatically. Practically this means that the region should consider carefully its assets and how best to deploy them. It does not have to play the game. Ministers and trade negotiators sitting in meetings are the end of the trade negotiating process.

The region needs to analyse where strategic alliances might be made and how such relationships can be used politically in trade negotiations. Some steps down this road have been taken with Brazil and China. More can be done on an holistic basis to identify where interests coincide. In a European context which nation has yet studied or developed a strategy to engage Poland the next big player in Europe? Which nation is prepared to manipulate the British political system to the region’s advantage? Potentially there are also a wide range of non-governmental third parties able to facilitate understanding.

Much has been said about the need to mobilise the Diaspora, but where are the plans and resource to use this potent but latent force to project the Caribbean into the domestic environment of those with whom the region is negotiating? What US and EU producer groups long ago recognised in Washington and Brussels is that little will be achieved unless day-in day-out at all levels they, their governments and diplomats share intelligence, find the pressure points and mobilise in support of their national interests.

The Caribbean has a second army in its midst that can be encouraged to provide support. Most visitors to the Caribbean have a happy and enjoyable experience and return in subsequent years. Some of the world’s elite and celebrities holiday or own homes in the region. Is it going too far to suggest that in a gentle and sophisticated way that industries or governments should not hand visitors a small leaflet thanking them for visiting and asking for their help to alert their own governments to the challenges the region faces if it is not treated fairly. Even if only a small number of visitors can be recruited, communicated with regularly and mobilised, negotiators will be able to speak from a position of greater strength.

There are many other options. Walk into almost any Church in Europe and you will see documentation and links to some of the smallest poorest settlements in the world. Is the region actively seeking to twin cities, institutions, churches, schools and sports clubs in ways that can enhance its message? Caribbean political parties and trade unions have strong fraternal ties to counterparts in Europe and North America but many of these links now lack substance. Are Caribbean political parties and Trades Unions doing enough to engage their counterparts in achieving political support?

At a national level some nations such as Jamaica have begun to consider these issues as have some industries. What seems to be lacking is any regional vehicle to conceptualise, co-ordinate or deliver such activity. If the Caribbean is to succeed its future must become a domestic political issue in the US and Europe. (Back to top)

David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at