The Caribbean as a ‘zone of peace’
Forty years ago at about 13:23 hours on a sunny Wednesday 6th October 1976, eleven Guyanese were among the 73 passengers who were blasted out of the sky off the west coast of Barbados. The small states of the Caribbean became the theatre for the deadliest terrorist attack in the Western hemisphere up to that time.
The Cubana de Aviación flight CU 455 in which they were travelling had originated in Guyana. It went to Trinidad and then to Barbados with the intention of heading to Jamaica before terminating in Cuba.
It was no coincidence that the Prime Ministers of the same four Anglophone Caribbean states – Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – had made the courageous, and at that time outrageous, decision to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 1972. Their diplomatic démarche might not have been unrelated to their being selected as targets for a terrorist attack.
What is the Caribbean?
The Caribbean islands were the first European acquisitions in this hemisphere. At the time of the Spanish irruption they were already inhabited by indigenous peoples. The Dutch, English and French started to penetrate the area in the early years of the 17th century. Danish and Swedish settlers followed.
The Caribbean, at its simplest, is the sub-region of a chain of islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. That sea is approximately 2,640,000 km² in extent and contains over 7,000 cays, islands, islets and reefs.
The word ‘Caribbean’ conjures diverse meanings. A common definition of the Caribbean, if it is to be widely accepted and understood must include a range of relevant factors – cultural, economic, geographical, historical, political, social and strategic background:
Within a century of the Spanish conquest, the clash of warlike Western European powers, particularly the Dutch, English and French, transformed the Caribbean into the ‘cockpit of Europe.’ Interstate conflicts in Europe frequently triggered inter-colonial ‘cockfights.’ These led, inevitably, to the seizure, surrender or swapping of territories which had strategic value mainly because of their perceived economic value.
The rise of the United States as the leading hemispheric power in the late 19th century changed the Region’s geopolitical landscape. The American-Spanish war, the acquisition of naval bases, the purchase of the Virgin Islands and the penetration of US capital exemplified the era of the USA’s hegemony which revived the area’s strategic importance throughout the 20th century.
The Antilles, “…located at the approaches to the heart of the western hemisphere, command the sea routes and Cuba is less than 100 miles from Florida.” The Panama Canal, in the earlier part of the last century, added to the importance of this region. The USA, in recent memory, still found it necessary to invade the Dominican Republic (1965); Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989). It also intervened militarily in Nicaragua in the 1980s in pursuit of its strategic objectives.
The concept of a Caribbean Basin’ was employed within the context of the Cold War. The United States’ responses to the Cuban revolution, the decolonisation of the Anglophone territories and the Central American crises gave rise to the formulation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
This definition, like the initiative itself, emphasised the military-strategic perception of the Caribbean as a potential arena of conflict. At the Western and Eastern extremities of the Caribbean are located two of the most strategically important aerospace centres on earth – the United States centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida and the European space centre at Kourou in La Guyane.
The North Atlantic allies – France, The Netherlands, the UK and the USA – continued to maintain possessions in the area which is regarded as the Alliance’s vulnerable southern flank, despite the end of the Cold War.
Caribbean Security Concerns
The Caribbean is a complex region. Set astride major sea lanes of commerce and communication between North and South America, it is one of the most Balkanised regions on earth.
The Caribbean comprises today a variety of distinct jurisdictions with asymmetrical relationships among the ‘big’ powers — France, the Netherlands, UK and USA – which still hold territorial possessions; the Circum-Caribbean ‘middle’ powers – Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela – which have the ability to influence regional relations moderately and, at the next level, the ‘small’ states which exert little or no influence on international affairs.
The security concerns of the big powers and the fact that some seem to behave as though the sovereignty of the small states is only “conditional”, raises questions about the Caribbean Community’s capacity to preserve peace even among its member states.
The small states of the Anglophone Caribbean are not only vulnerable to threats to their security but are also incapable of responding to them decisively on their own. Collective action is a necessity, given the scarcity of the human, financial and technical resources required to address the multiplicity of security issues.
‘Old’ threats including invasion, insurrection, intervention, international and domestic terrorism, mutiny, maritime disputes, secession, territorial claims and coups d’état are still remembered.
‘New’ threats have emerged in the forms of transnational crimes: narcotics-trafficking, gun-running, money-laundering and illegal migration. These threats have been aggravated by other social aspects of crime such as the deportation from metropolitan countries of criminals. The region has also witnessed the emergence of organised crime and violent ‘posses’ and gangs.
The variety of threats faced by the countries of the Caribbean is best illustrated by the security incidents, which occurred in small states over the past fifty years:
The Mission des Nations Unies pour le Stabilisation en Haiti – better known by its acronym, MINUSTAH – mandated by the UN Security Council, is still there. The fact is that thousands of foreign soldiers from an amazing array of mainly non-Caribbean states assembled to conduct a major military operation in a CARICOM state. No Caribbean Community state stepped forward.
The absence of CARICOM troops is explained by the Heads of Governments’ principled response to the unprincipled removal of the elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. The Caribbean Community suspended Haiti’s membership and called for a UN investigation into the United States-backed regime change.
What are small states?
The world and the hemisphere are well aware of the vulnerability of small states, especially of the Caribbean. The special characteristics of the security threats they face have long been recognised by the international community. The United Nations General Assembly approved a Resolution in 1994 which, inter alia, emphasised:
The General Assembly of the Organisation of American States, in Resolution 1567 of 2nd June 1998, noted:
That the small island states have concluded that their security is multidimensional in scope and application and encompasses, inter alia, the military-political aspects traditionally associated with the security of states; the protection and preservation of the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; freedom from external military attack and coercion; freedom from external interference by states or by non-state agents in its internal political affairs; protection from environmental conditions and ecological disasters which could imperil its viability; the link between trade, economic development and security; and the ability to maintain and protect democratic institutions which ensure domestic tranquillity…
The OAS General Assembly, again, in a Resolution adopted at the fourth plenary session held on 4th June 2002, observed:
What is a zone of peace?
The expression – ‘zone of peace’ – is a post-Westphalian concept which gained greater prominence as a principle of international relations after the deadly, devastating and destructive world wars of the first half of the 20th century. It has now become a key concept in the political lexicon of regional institutions committed to peace among and between states.
‘Zone of peace’, in its minimalist formulation, is a state-centric principle in international relations. It refers simply to ‘negative peace’ or the absence of armed conflict between states.
The principle has also been applied in international relations practice to dissuade intervention and interference by major powers into discrete geographical regions of the world. A broader application of the principle would include the absence of major inter-state and intra-state conflicts.
The Community of Latin and Caribbean States (CELAC), in its Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace of 2014, described peace as a “ supreme asset and a legitimate aspiration of all peoples” and a substantial element of integration. The CELAC ‘Proclamation’ declared:
Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace based on respect for the principles and rules of International Law, including the international instruments to which Member States are a party to, the Principles and Purposes of the United Nations Charter;…
The principle of ‘zone of peace’, also, has been used to illustrate the dangers of a threat to a country’s territorial integrity. The Council of Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) of the Caribbean Community in 2015, in supporting respect for Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, called for the Caribbean to be maintained as a ‘zone of peace.’
The emergence of transnational threats compounded the security dilemma of small states, particularly the small-island states of the Caribbean. The attenuation of transnational threats requires regional and international responses. The persistence of threats to the state´s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including through the arbitrary and capricious alterations of marine boundaries by more powerful states, endangers the peace and security of the Caribbean.
It is not sufficient, therefore, to wish for the Caribbean to become a ‘zone of peace’. The task of ensuring that the Caribbean becomes a ‘zone of peace’ requires more than simply good intentions. It requires consistent action to create a ‘peace architecture.’ The construction of a regional architecture for peace in the Caribbean requires regional mechanisms for:
The Caribbean Community could not respond realistically to a serious security threat to a member state when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1529, authorising the immediate deployment of a Multinational Interim Force to Haiti.
The actions by the big powers raise questions about small states’ capacity to preserve peace or restore stability among its members. In future, perhaps, heed would be paid to the advice of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan: “You can do a lot with diplomacy but, of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by firmness and force”.
Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace
The Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) gathered at the Second Summit in Havana, Cuba on 28th -29th January, 2014 at the Second Summit, declared, inter alia:
The most ambitious and significant recent project undertaken by South America’s armed forces has been the creation of Conselho Sul-Americano de Defesa (South American Defense Council – CSD), an agency of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
CSD’s success is yet to be measured. UNASUR and CSD’s future will be determined by their ability to become effective catalysts for regional security integration.
The Caribbean has a Regional Security System (RSS) which is tasked with promoting cooperation in the areas of interdiction of drug trafficking, national emergencies, search and rescue, immigration control, fisheries protection, customs and excise control, maritime policing duties, natural and other disasters, pollution control, combating threats to national security, the prevention of smuggling, and in the protection of off-shore installations and exclusive economic zones.
Can CARICOM and UNASUR combine their organizational strengths to build the institutional framework needed to create a ‘zone of peace’ in their respective regions?
CARICOM and UNASUR might be able to promote integration through economic and political means, while the CSD and the RSS would be aimed primarily at promoting security and confidence measures. Together they can both provide the vehicles to establish a zone of peace which spans the Caribbean and South America.
I am proposing, here, that the South American Defence Council and the Regional Security System be designated as the vehicles towards ensuring a zone of peace in the Region.
In the words of Frederick the Great of Pruss1a: “Diplomacy without arms is like an orchestra without music.”
The states of the Caribbean and Latin Ame5rica need to forge the instruments to establish a ‘zone of peace´.
I thank you.
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