March 7, 2021

David Jessop: Moment for careful reflection

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By David Jessop From Trinidad Express

The coming year is likely to be among the most strategically challenging that Caribbean leaders and senior ministers responsible for more than domestic policy will have faced since independence or the US intervention/invasion of Grenada.

This is because the global order that emerged after II and at the end of the Cold War is about to be upended and consigned to history.

This is not only because of the radically different thinking of the incoming US president and those he is appointing, or the changes in Europe that will follow the UK electorate’s decision to leave the EU, but also for reasons of the political and economic repositioning now taking place globally. These include the internationally assertive and mediatory role that Russia is pursuing, the emergence of China as a global economic and military power to rival the US, its rejection by the new US administration, and likely realignments and confrontations in the Middle East and East Asia.

In this process and its uncertain outcome, there will likely also be a rapid reorientation of thinking about future relations with the Americas by nations from Canada to Japan and Taiwan, as they too seek to rebalance their alliances and influence in the context of wider change.

As history has demonstrated, the nations of the Caribbean and Central America are located at a critical strategic crossroads for every major power, implying that the region is unlikely to escape future tension or taking sides.

This suggests that in the coming months every nation in the Americas will need to reassess how its core concerns at a national and regional level should best be prosecuted as international relationships change.

Finding responses will be far from easy, not least because of the ambiguity of the US president-elect’s seemingly viscerally driven pronouncements, and the absence of any details on how the incoming US administration and the US congress intend reconciling the contradictions.

That said, there is much that can be done to prepare and to achieve a better understanding of the ideas and concerns that will drive events.

A good starting point is a short paper by Dr Evan Ellis, published by the US Strategic Studies Institute where he is a respected Latin American Studies scholar. The paper, “Strategic Insights: Thinking Strategically About Latin America and the Caribbean”, looks at the importance of the Caribbean Basin to the US, raises important questions about the implications of its potential adversaries’ presence in the region, and makes suggestions as to how future US policy might be adapted.

Another approach would be to explore the implications of Donald Trump’s remarks in Mexico City at the end of August after he met with the Mexican president.

Then, Mr Trump appeared to indicate an interest in an economic agenda for the Americas. He said that one of the goals he wished to share would be to “keep manufacturing wealth in our hemisphere”. A third approach would be to consider those who have most influenced the thinking of Russia’s President Putin and the impact this has had on the neo-conservatives and others around Mr Trump who embrace the idea of a grand bargain with Russia on a new global balance, and the creation of spheres of influence.

Other avenues would be to study China’s recent new policy paper on Latin America; the earlier published writings of some of Mr Trump’s appointees, whose views are little changed on issues from climate change, to Cuba, Venezuela and financial regulation; and as bizarre as it may seem, to cautiously consider what is being said by Breitbart News, the online publication previously controlled by Mr Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

More immediately, there are many well informed diplomats in the region able not just to reflect on their own countries’ thinking on some of these issues, but also able in private to interpret the regional implications of the possible actions of others on the basis of realpolitik.

None of this is intended to be pessimistic. Rather it is to express the hope that those in the Caribbean who steer government, are in opposition, in business and academia, will use a little of the normally quiet month of January to try to understand better not only the thinking and motivations of a world in which international relationships may change rapidly, but also to consider how the region might adjust to the new global equation.

—David Jessop is a consultant
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IMAGE: The Caribbean Council David Jessop

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