The foreign policy of any nation is critical to its growth. For small states, it is even more important because it carries heavy and tangible risks in terms of security and trade.
Foreign policy is the difference between us having Cuban doctors and nurses to fill the vacuum left by our migrating medics, and our health system going into total freefall. Foreign policy is the difference between our produce having the little protection in Europe it maintains and it having to compete along the lines of ‘free trade’, just to name a few examples.
With the importance of foreign policy in mind, especially for a nation as small as Jamaica, and in the region which we find ourselves, we must ask What is the foreign policy agenda of the current Administration? Where does this Government, which is in the process of seeking an extended mandate, stand on immediate and long-term issues which affect us both directly and indirectly?
We will analyse three, each of them reflecting an area which will affect us in the short and long term, whether directly or indirectly., These are CARICOM, China and the broader region.
What is the Government’s policy on CARICOM? Are they, and by proxy the nation, warm to the idea of regional integration and harmonisation of policies (including foreign policy)? Do they think that regional integration, especially in the Caribbean basin, is the best way to ensure our individual and collective security as well as ensuring that we as a region get the best possible deal when on the broader international scene? Do they take the view that the interference in governance of a state, especially a regional state, by a foreign power is bad? Do they believe that intimidating political parties is acceptable? Do they believe that military coups are actions which the region swore that we would never countenance again?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then we must then ask why the visits with representatives of the Trump Administration without following protocol laid out by CARICOM? Why are we staying silent as the US slowly militarises the region again as it did in the 70s to late 80s? Why do we make vague statements towards regional governments duly elected seemingly favouring a brigand and would-be dictator? Why have we said nothing of the coup in Bolivia and the intimidation of MAS supporters?
What is the Government’s position on China? Do we view China as not just a trade partner of today but also a large part of a region which will, in the next decade, become of even greater importance to us in Jamaica? Does the Government believe that while good relations with the Americans is important for many reasons, China and the Asia Pacific region represent the future of trade and we should be focusing more on that and not lighting matches on those bridges?
If they are of that view, why is it that the Government allows an ambassador to not only bad mouth China but to also openly state that doing business with them leaves us open to a ‘democratic deficit’ and would result in reduced interactions — and possible retaliation — by the ambassador’s home country? If the answer is yes, why is it that the Government allows the ambassador to stoke up unfounded fears about a nation which we view as vitally important?
This Administration, and the party which forms it, needs to come out and advise the public as to where we stand on these issues and not simply because they are ‘niche issues’ or issues which keep academics up at night. If we burn all our bridges with CARICOM, as we are in the process of doing, destroying any chance of the region maintaining a semblance of independence, who is to stop America or even China from coming in and destroying the region through race to the bottom bids?
After we destroy regional unity by supporting coup plotters, who will defend us if and when the people who orchestrated these actions really train their sights upon us? Viewed from that angle alone we see how foreign policy becomes critical and why we need to have an urgent discussion, especially during this election year, about what our foreign policy is and if it is indeed tailored for Jamaica’s long-term best interests.
The region is entering a politically charged time, akin to the cold war, this time without the battle of ideology. Instead it revolves around trade, and in this vein we must be wary of an America which seeks to maintain its dominance through not only trade but also bullying, and that like the previous cold war the US feels this is a zero-sum game. We see this in its actions, both regionally and further afield, as it forces even its closest allies to side with Washington under the threat of sanction.
This is no time to hide what our foreign policy is, instead the Government must come out and give a clear statement on where we stand, even if it is a resurrection of the old Bustamante line ‘We Are With The West’. We have seen what happens to nations which try to cosy up to nations which aren’t the US and we have seen what has happened to nations which try to play it straight down the middle.
The former have had successful coups and blockades while the latter have been hit with sanctions and threats of sanctions.
A muddy and indistinct foreign policy is not just harmful or puzzling to the average person in the street, it invariably has negative effects on the financial/manufacturing industry as they now are (or will be) unsure if the Chinese and Latin American markets are still open (note that left-leaning parties are once again on the rise in Latin America.
Coming out with a clear plan will, in the end, piss off people who align to either camp, but that is the job which this Government fought for in 2016. As we move into another election, a new decade and a new world order, this Government, and the Opposition, need to come out and tell us where we stand and how we will act on the international stage. Clarity on that front, deciding if we are to cut all ties and be a satrap of a dying power or strengthen our regional bodies so we can swim together in the choppy international waters, would go a long way towards cementing the prosperous future which I am told we all want and are working towards. Let’s have it out then.