The Limits of Caribbean Diplomacy

 Under fire in Parliament from the Opposition, the Trinidad Minister of External Affairs was at pains to point out that “the Government had to take several things into consideration as the crisis had far-reaching effects.”

Some of the “things” suggested were problems of Caribbean unity, political co-operation and integration, and the relationship with the Associated States.

What the Minister was, in effect, stating, was that foreign policy, and consequently diplomacy, was not made in a vacuum. In effect, the diplomacy of any country is limited by a number of factors. These factors constitute the elements of national power. These elements are geography, natural resources (food and raw materials), industrial capacity, military preparedness, technology, leadership, population, national character, national morale, and the quality of diplomacy[4]. So inter-related are these elements that we could probably place them under the headings of economic, military, political and psychological. There is no need to try to exhaust the various elements of the list to come up with the political strength of the Caribbean States. Caribbean economists have done so much good work on the area that we know that the countries are developing or underdeveloped (both pseudonyms for poor); they have no technology, industrial capacity or military might to speak of, when compared with powerful nations. In addition, their population is small. From this information we can immediately place the Caribbean States in the appropriate slot in the traditional ranking of powers; great, medium or middle-size and small. Now that we have reached the age of mini-states, probably an additional ranking will be added to “come after small”.

The Caribbean States are small, poor States whose leaders are trying to improve the lot of their people.

Economic policies, domestic and international, that would assist in this aspiration must be pursued by the States. The joining of larger regional markets may be a necessity. Therefore when the Minister of External Affairs of Trinidad/Tobago spoke about Caribbean unity he meant political unity among the members of Carifta, the immediate regional trade organisation. Carifta, just one year old, must be nurtured gently and should not be buffeted by political problems. Thus, when the Caribbean States were making their decision to assist Britain in its nefarious task, they should have considered what world opinion might have been on British action, and what precisely they were going to do if the reaction was negative. History is now with us. The Caribbean States spoke with forked tongues and appeared silly in the eyes of the world. But appearing silly is not an irreversible set back for neophyte states in international politics. Mature states, too, make errors. But even more important is what could have been jeopardised. Economic integration, which had taken so much time, energy and political will, could have been thrown away through inadequate diplomatic preparation. No amount of speculation could be helpful in ascertaining the length of time to lay such political groundwork again.

Again, economic considerations loomed large in the thinking of the States in the decision to support the invasion – for this is what even those who professed otherwise did. Britain is decolonizing as fast as she can. She may be even willing to allow the independent Caribbean States to take over Anguilla. The stumbling block is money. Unless assured of adequate funds to develop and run the day-to-day administration of Anguilla, the Caribbean State will always lapse into the legalism that Anguilla is Britain’s responsibility. Therefore, Caribbean diplomacy cannot and should not allow Britain to cut Anguilla loose with a view to coming under the wings of the Commonwealth states without adequate financial arrangements.

The limits of Caribbean diplomacy can be easily seen with regard to the military aspect of national power. Had the Caribbean Governments the military might to bring Anguilla back under St. Kitts’ domination. there would have been no necessity to involve Britain. In fact, all Britain had to do if the Caribbean States had invaded Anguilla, was to look the other way. What I have already asserted on the absence of morality of small states vis-a-vis smaller states would hold here.

The Federation of the West Indies died in 1962 but its ghost yet reaches out to haunt West Indian politicians.

The word ‘Federation’ is anathema to many West Indian leaders. Many wish it could be blotted out completely from Caribbean political history. Let it be said here and now that it is impossible to erase the memory of the Federation any more than it is possible to omit that slavery existed in the West Indies. Just as slavery has become an indelible fact of West Indian political culture, so too has the demise of the West Indian Federation.

In the discipline of political science political culture is said to consist of the system of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols, and values which define the situation in which political action takes place … A political culture is the product of both the collective history of a political system and the life histories of the individuals who currently make up rite system. [5]

Each political entity has its own political culture which sets it apart from other political systems. This, in part, serves to explain why people’s expectations about the realities of politics do differ, from nation to nation, as to what values are to be shared in public life. No one can deny that politics in Ethiopia, England, and Japan is not the same Cultural attitudes, political institutions and socio-economic characteristics have all served to make the style, tone and content of the politics of the above mentioned nations unique. The attitudes, institutions, and characteristics mentioned above are steeped in history. It is in the same fashion that the Caribbean has its own political culture. Slavery, detribalization, indenture, the plantation system, British colonial tutelage, colonial political institutions, the bureaucratic aloofness, adopted from the British and the socialisation of the Caribbean elite are components of Caribbean political culture. Dr. Eric Williams has written of the biting jealousy of the Trinidadian. I will not be surprised if closer investigation revealed it to be a Caribbean trait. This list is by no means exhaustive. The Federation that died in 1962 must be added to this list. Not only because it was the culmination of other federal movements that had come to nought, but because it failed at such a decisive juncture in Caribbean history. This federal failure set adrift separate political entities, thus postponing indefinitely or for all time, any genuine attempt at political federation. West Indian politicians still react even if subconsciously – to the demise of what may have been the final federal attempt. Carifta, which makes practical economics, is in part a psychological outgrowth of the defunct federation It suggests the need of the Caribbean entities to get together – even if at some form lower than the political level.

What, however, does the demise of the Federation have to do with Caribbean diplomacy? The demise of the federal attempt confirmed the intent of Caribbean leaders to remain reyezuelos in their tiny kingdoms. Hence the concerted effort to prop-up the authority of a fellow reyezuelo in St Kitts. Their action in the Anguilla debacle can be also interpreted as an attempt to destroy any secessionist movement in the Commonwealth Caribbean, since other Caribbean territories do have mini-micro tares that form part of their polities.

In sum, Caribbean diplomacy in Anguilla was dictated by several factors – economic, military. political, historical, and psychological.