Photo: Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) condemning the invasion of Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Source: CARICOM Secretariat.
As CARICOM member states diplomatically contend with the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war, which is an era-inducing catalyst for systemic change, the duality of purpose of their national interests has shone through on the international stage.
All of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) sovereign members formed part of the 143 United Nations (U.N.) member states who, on October 12, voted in favor of a recent U.N. General Assembly (U.N. GA) resolution that: (i) condemns Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of the Ukrainian regions (per its internationally-recognized borders) of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia; and (ii) “calls on all States, the U.N. and international organizations not to recognize any of Russia’s annexation claim and demands the immediate reversal of its annexation declaration.”
In that act, along with the resolution’s other supporters, CARICOM member states sent an unequivocal message (as they have elsewhere): The violation of key principles of the U.N. Charter—respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any State—is patently unacceptable.
The interplay between their vital interests and multilateralism, which is to the small states of CARICOM what power is to international politics, has a lot to do with that diplomatic stance.
CARICOM Member States’ Vital Interests and Multilateralism
Consider that CARICOM member states have an enduring set of foreign policy objectives that, to a large degree, they advance through their respective multilateral diplomatic pursuits. At the core of those objectives are “economic considerations both in relation to the general lack of diplomatic resources and the fact that economic development is the main goal of foreign policy.”
For the Anglophone members of CARICOM, who gained and sought to reinforce independence from the 1960s to the 1980s, an overriding foreign policy concern is their economic qua developmental advancement.
In their emphasis on this dimension of foreign policy, wider security concerns also hold broad applicability. In this regard, CARICOM member states gear their foreign policy thought toward harnessing processes and institutions of multilateralism to amplify those sovereign states’ voices in and to expand their foreign policy outcomes vis-à-vis international politics. They pursue this strategy, because in the international (polarity) context, the (Anglophone) Caribbean comprises “system-ineffectual states.”
Testing Time, Amid Tried-and-tested Foreign Policy Casting
By the same token and insofar as such small states have a major stake in the cornerstone U.N. principles under reference, Russia’s grinding war on Ukraine brings about a major test for them.
In short, the nature of this conflict is bound to make it far harder for CARICOM member states to conduct their international relations. After all, in hierarchy-minded international relations, Russia is one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that has brought the U.N. principles in question off-kilter.
In the Kremlin’s wider strategy of upending the “regional security order in Europe,” Russia is pummeling such principles, which have long been thought of as a security blanket in international politics—not least for small(er) states.
CARICOM member states’ steadfast commitment to multilateralism, which the U.N. Charter upholds, is understood in those terms. One needs to look no further than key tenets of their respective foreign policies, as illustrated in Table 1 (below), to glean this foreign policy approach.
Table 1: Select CARICOM Member States’ Key Foreign Policy Tenets
|Country||Foreign Policy Focus|
|Barbados||It reaffirms Barbados’ commitment to multilateralism as a cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy, leveraging Bridgetown’s traditional and non-traditional partnerships, with a view to making strides in Barbados’ broad-based developmental agenda.|
|Belize||Belize’s foreign policy underscores national sovereignty and territorial integrity, while framing the practice of Belizean diplomacy per basic principles of the U.N. Charter.|
|Guyana||It privileges Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.|
|Jamaica||It espouses a strong commitment to multilateralism, which extends to the principles of the U.N. Charter as “govern[ing] the conduct of [Jamaica’s] international relations and serves as the basis for [Jamaica’s] approach and presence on the international stage.” While the foregoing is an essential part of Jamaica’s foreign policy, relevant epistemic communities also place an emphasis on addressing multi-dimensional national challenges, as well as contributing to national development goals.|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Sovereignty, augmented by a stated commitment to international law and the principles of the U.N. Charter, is a central component in Trinidad and Tobago’s foreign policy.|
As is apparent, a common thread (aspiration) runs through the foregoing foreign policy ideals. One can deduce that the said thread provides a cue to shared, far-sighted small state-themed thinking vis-à-vis a foreign policy-related worldview in/of the CARICOM bloc.
The National Interest in the Scheme of Things
That said, respective member states’ foreign policy orientations are circumscribed by and hinge on the national interest. In the exercise of those interests by taking a public position on an international politics-related matter, they typically prioritize historical and contemporary relations (e.g. ties of an ideological qua identity and/or commercial nature, etc) with and allegiances to third states farther afield.
Their positioning on a U.N. GA vote, which came just weeks following the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine, to suspend Russia from the U.N.’s Geneva-based Human Rights Council put this reality into sharp relief.
The following CARICOM member states voted in favor of the suspension: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia.
The other members, as follows, exercised the abstention option: Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
In the final analysis, all of those states voted on principle in keeping with their respective national interests.
Eight months into Russia’s high-stakes, full-scale invasion of Ukraine, CARICOM member states’ track record of associated U.N.-level diplomatic maneuvering has brought attention to why this geopolitical moment is alarming them. I assess that, as far as the conduct of statecraft is concerned, two core interests drive this concern.
First, such small states have a lot to lose in a post-Cold War age—now nearing its end—with a great-power that, in respect of the liberal international order, is playing fast and loose with a foundational set of U.N. principles. Ultimately, as regards world regions in which they have vested interests, the war in Ukraine elevates insecurity and the specter of hard power-related dust-ups far beyond the latter’s borders. For the CARICOM bloc, having regard to the national interest, this cannot stand. In foreign policy terms, etched as it is on one extreme of the national interest-related spectrum, such a diplomatic posture shores up “multilateralist vectors.”
Second, as the die is being cast on an emergent geopolitical era wherein Ukraine is in the eye of the storm of that transition, the CARICOM bloc is wary of the (unintended) consequences of attendant great-power tussles spurring churned-up global processes. This anticipated outcome has already come to pass, tracking well with the return to prominence of realpolitik at the hands of great powers, which are jostling to get the upper hand in the international order-related endgame of their choosing. (All the while, the Kremlin continues to up the ante in Ukraine.)
Notably, against a backdrop where “small states benefit disproportionately from international cooperation,” the gravity of this unfolding situation is gumming up certain global processes. The global politics involved, which play on its wide-ranging knock-on effects, are also impeding cooperation across the board. What is more, at the risk of downplaying the seriousness of the situation, those power plays’ ripple effects are seemingly all-consuming. For the CARICOM bloc—seen from the opposite end of the national interest-related spectrum (i.e. “foreign policy-based transactionalism”)—this war only worsens these extraordinarily challenging times, compounding some of the prevailing hardships that regional states face.
Dr. Nand C. Bardouille is Manager of The Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean in the Institute of International Relations (IIR), The University of the West Indies (The UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago. The author would like to thank Ambassador Riyad Insanally and Ambassador Patrick I. Gomes for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of The UWI.