Caribbean governments are in danger of weakening still further their diplomatic capacity endangering its effectiveness, and imperiling their countries’ maneuverability in a harsh world.
Industrialized nations have several instruments on which to draw in their relations with other countries. Among these are military might, economic clout and diplomatic capacity.
If their security is threatened by other states or non-state actors, such as drug traffickers and terrorists, they are able to deploy their military; on the economic front, they can apply trade sanctions withdraw financial assistance or institute measures to halt cross-border transactions; in diplomacy, they have well-staffed, well trained and well informed foreign ministries and missions abroad who bargain for their interests. When diplomacy fails, big countries have economic clout and military might on which to fall back.
For small states, such as those in the Caribbean, diplomacy is the only instrument they have to advance their cause and defend their interests in the international community.
In this connection, Caribbean governments should place enormous emphasis on making their diplomatic capacity as strong as possible.
But, there is a growing tendency in many countries of the region to focus diplomacy in the Head of Government. Many Heads of government, already bogged down with urgent and pressing domestic problems have assigned the foreign affairs portfolio to themselves. In doing so, they either do not attend crucial meetings that impact their countries, or they attend without the full understanding of complex issues that only exclusive ministerial responsibility backed by expert analysis allows. In each case, their country’s interest is not well served.
Beyond this, even where governments have appointed foreign ministers, foreign ministries are not seen as vital - or even on par - with ministries concerned with domestic issues. Therefore, the financial and other resources that they get in annual budgets are inadequate to the extremely important job they have to do on behalf of their nations.
Worse yet, little attention appears to be paid to where and why overseas missions should be located, and who would be best to man them. In many cases, governments have followed the traditional road establishing missions where they are now least needed and neglecting capitals and international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), where they are most required.
It cannot be in the best interest of any country for its diplomatic missions to be regarded as a pasture to send unwanted nuisances or reward political friends. Diplomacy, as has been pointed out, is a vital tool for small countries and its best brains should be appointed to its service.
There is a most important role for Heads of Government in a nation’s diplomacy. But, it is a role best played after the most careful diplomatic preparation that lays the groundwork for success. Otherwise, what should be the tool that clinches a deal in a blaze of glory will fail like a damp squib. Occasional successful forays by Heads of Government in international and bilateral negotiations should not be mistaken as a prescription for how accomplishment is to be achieved. Often, in these circumstances, the apparent success simply happens to serve the interests of the other government or institution involved.
When the European Union (EU), a grouping of 27 large nations, recently brought their new Constitution into effect, they appointed a Foreign Minister in addition to a President. In effect, what the EU nations did was to strengthen their global diplomatic outreach in trade, economic cooperation and investment. In addition to their own national foreign ministries, they now have the additional services of EU missions around the world, most of which have been beefed-up with additional expert staff.
In this connection, while the recently initialed Economic Union Treaty of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is to be welcomed as the right step forward, it is disappointing that it failed to advance the diplomatic capacity of six small independent states who would most benefit from strengthened and unified diplomacy.
OECS leaders gather to initial Economic Union Treaty
The draft Treaty, which is to be ratified by the parliaments of each country before formal signature and implementation, reads as follows in relation to foreign policy:
“The organisation shall seek to achieve the fullest possible harmonisation of foreign policy among the Member States, to seek to adopt, as far as possible, common positions on international issues, and to establish and maintain, wherever possible, arrangements for joint overseas representation and/or common services”.
Words such as “fullest possible”, “as far as possible” and “wherever possible” are usually inserted in Treaties of this kind where the governments intend to make the least change to the existing situation and where the real intention is to carry on business as usual. The signal that this sends is unfortunate, for the six independent members of the OECS would benefit enormously from a fully joined-up diplomatic service particularly in the present precarious conditions that confront their economies.
They least, of all, can afford layer upon layer of government. Already their tax payers are paying contributions to upkeep both the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Secretariat and the OECS Secretariat. Arguably, they maintain the OECS Secretariat because they believe that participation in it brings them greater strength than they have individually. If that is the case, then surely establishing and strengthening joint diplomatic capacity is not only in their bargaining interest, it would also reduce their individual expenditure on foreign affairs or more effectively focus their spending.
Of course, a major difficulty the OECS faces is their neglect of the requirement of the existing Treaty to harmonize their foreign policies “as far as possible”. Thus, three of the six independent states are members of the Venezuelan-initiated organization, ALBA, and three are not, and three of them have diplomatic relations with China while three maintain formal relations with Taiwan. Only a serious and visionary dialogue, supported by rigorous analysis of their long-term interests, will create a rational policy.
The global political economy is not friendly to small states of even tolerant of them. In a world being remorselessly driven by the interests of the larger and more economically powerful states – in which China and Brazil must now be included with the US, the EU and Japan - Caribbean countries need better and stronger diplomatic capacity to advance their causes and protect their interests.