Letters to the Editor

Lessons in international relations

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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Dear Editor,

It is not unusual for countries to abstain from voting on a matter. In many instances several countries within the United Nations and other international and regional blocs such as the European Union, the Caribbean Community, Organization of American States, among others have refrained from offering their votes.

I, for one, thought the prime minister's explanation for not voting on the Jerusalem matter was very diplomatic and indeed fair.

Jamaica cannot venture into every international conflict, especially where it is not necessary to do so. We have to be strategic and, importantly, we have to choose our battles very carefully.

We are, after all, a small country, and as much as we are politically independent we are not economically independent. I note the prime minister stated that, as a country, the decision to vote or not vote is grounded in principle and has nothing to do with the positions of other countries or the potential or threat of aid withdrawal. While this may be so, we have to concede that Jamaica, in its current economic situation, would be worse off without the aid we currently receive.

While the foregoing represents my opinion based on my own international relations experience, let us consult with some literature. It is to be noted that foreign aid is considered part and parcel of foreign policy, and countries will, whether it is ethical or not, consider which country it gives its aid to based on how that country conducts itself when there is an international dispute or disagreement. Carol Lancaster, in Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics, notes that there are four main reasons for countries contributing foreign aid — diplomatic, developmental, for humanitarian relief, commercial. Meanwhile Charles Kegley Jr and Eugene R Wittkopf say that giving aid and lending money are ways in which countries have sought to influence other nations.

Dudley and Mont Marquette point out that donors have motives. Among them is the expectation that recipient nations will express gratitude in the form of support for donors' interests, perhaps in the sphere of international politics.

One of the things that we must understand is that international relations is a complex and complicated zone. Each player on the international scene is looking out for their own survival; therefore, navigating this field effectively and ensuring continued survival is critical.

A key premise of international relations is cooperation. One of the main ways in which countries cooperate is by voting together on issues that might affect negatively each of or even a single one of them. However, a country would not be wise to vote on a matter that does not directly affect it, or vote on a matter that it would be to its detriment to vote on.

Jamaica chose to abstain in this instance, and I am breathing a sigh of relief because any vote by Jamaica would have had far-reaching implications. I submit also that the prime minister's explanation as to why is also quite acceptable.

Shalom Grey


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