Georgina Chami, Jerome Teelucksingh and Marlon Anatol (Eds). Managing New Security Threats in the Caribbean. Palgrave Macmillan, 2022.
Price USD $ 149.99 | 295 pages
One of the more difficult international relations concepts to define is “security.” In the older Westphalian sense, it is implied the idea of the nation-state defending its borders from invaders. Over the past decade, however, security as an international relations term has radically shifted—casting its definitional net over not only traditional nation-state concerns, but also climate change, energy, migration, health, terrorism, drug trafficking, and cyberwarfare. These changes and the sliding definition scale are reshaping the security conversation. A strong effort in this direction is made by a new book edited by Georgina Chami, Jerome Teelucksingh, and Marlon Anatol. In Managing New Security Threats in the Caribbean, they seek and succeed in addressing some of the gaps in these newer security themes as they relate to the Caribbean.
The book’s guiding narrative is captured by Chami, Teelucksingh, and Anatol, who note that “The future of all island societies is threatened by the present mode of economic organization and the ensuing degradation of their natural environment. This has contributed to a large extent to the insecurities faced by many small states.” However, as the authors note, Caribbean history has made the region unique—a geopolitical crossroads, where most economies are dependent on tourism, and particularly vulnerable to climate change and energy price volatility. These points are emphasized in Ivelaw Griffith’s discussion of the contemporary security landscape which provides a useful methodological approach to security. Griffith notes that security “has never really been merely protection to military threats,” but rather “…the preservation of a people’s freedom from external military attack and coercion, from internal subversion, and from the erosion of cherished political, economic and social values.” He further highlights this point with his discussion on drugs, crime challenges, and terrorism.
Ambassador Phillips-Spencer’s essay provides a noteworthy addition to the literature on Caribbean international relations. It breaks new ground in providing an insightful view of the recalibration of U.S. foreign policy and how this impacts the Caribbean. He notes that U.S. foreign policy remains focused on Asia, Europe, and the Middle East—often through the lens of great-power competition with China and Russia. This exclusion leads to Phillips-Spencer to ask two key questions: how significant is the Western Hemisphere in the U.S. decision-making process when Washington considers its global role? And how do small developing countries in the Caribbean interpret and respond geopolitically to the preceding question? Phillips-Spencer posits that U.S. policy is in flux, seeking to find a new equilibrium as the country transitions from being a global hegemonic mediator to a more selective and strategic approach. Therefore, Caribbean countries need to be more proactive and strategic in the pursuit of their own collective and individual geopolitical interests rather than “reactive followers of extra-regional powers and their allies.”
Nalanda Roy places the Caribbean within the great power competition of the 21st century—exploring China’s growing role in the Caribbean. She notes that China is driven by a combination of factors, including its attraction to the Caribbean’s natural resources and markets, its growing geopolitical influence, efforts to reduce Taiwan’s diplomatic standing, and boosting its own material prosperity (defined by the China Dream). She concludes, “…the question remains of whether the Caribbean Community will soon turn out to be China’s backyard and resemble the South China Sea. Anti-American sentiments are growing and are an indication that China’s diplomatic forays in the Caribbean in the light of the Belt and Road Initiative are successful.”
While Roy focuses on more traditional great power politics, the next two chapters examine very different types of security concerns. The first, by Raghunath Mahabir, reflects on the mix of migration, violent extremism, and gang violence stemming from Trinidad and Tobago’s experience with the influx of Venezuelan refugees. This is followed by Marlon Anatol, Sacha Joseph-Mathews, and Amanda Anatol’s discussion about human trafficking in the CARICOM region (with a focus on Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname). Both are robust studies of the complex, multidimensional issue of transnational crime that many Caribbean countries face.
Brian Cockburn and Georgina Chami take yet another approach to security threats in the Caribbean—discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education (mainly at Trinidad and Tobago’s University of the West Indies). Critically, the authors highlight the need for higher education institutions to reposition themselves to adequately prepare workforces to respond to future disasters of a similar scale.
Relatedly, Vijay Kumar Chattu, Leonard Peruski, and W. Andy Knight’s chapter focuses on health diplomacy in the CARICOM region. It is a welcome addition as it reflects the changing perception of security. Indeed, globalization has made disease a greater risk. Travel has become easier for larger numbers of people, many of whom flock to one of the world’s major tourist attractions: the Caribbean. This creates particular risks for the region and CARICOM countries must strengthen partnerships to tackle these threats.
Anthony Bryan discusses energy security, which is undergoing a seismic shift. Most Caribbean countries remain dependent on oil as their main source of energy, but the need to transit to renewables is underway despite underfunding and delays. He notes that the transition process will not be smooth and highlights the need “…for a broader, widely encompassing holistic approach to energy security; one that brings together actions taken at the technical, economic and political levels, to maximize the degree of short- and long-term security in a context that simultaneously comprises energy transitions, cyber threats and climate impacts.” He also notes that the southern Caribbean oil and natural gas producers can play a crucial role in the transition. Further complicating traditional definitions of international security, Christopher Brown discusses the pressing need for good governance, public service reform, and democratic legitimacy. Anthony Gonzales’ analysis of the implementation deficit in CARICOM and its disappointing progress on regional integration further emphasize the importance of these issues to the security debate.
Chami, Teelucksingh, and Anatol have produced a timely and thought-provoking book that has taken a step forward in pulling together broad strands of international developments that are redefining the international security landscape and the Caribbean’s place in these shifts. This book is strongly recommended for university audiences, policymakers, security analysts, and other interested parties.
Scott B. MacDonald is Chief Economist at Smith’s Research & Gradings, Research Fellow at Global Americans, and Founding Member of the Caribbean Policy Consortium. His latest book, The New Cold War, China and the Caribbean, was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan.
 The editors work out of Trinidad and Tobago’s University of the West Indies, St. Augustine and the Cipriani School of Labour and Cooperative Studies, St. Joseph.