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Caricom foreign policy coordination — Idealism vs Realism

BY ELIZABETH MORGAN

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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Recently , there has been much concern that the member states of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) are unable to achieve cohesion in foreign policy positions.

In Article 6 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, on foreign policy, it states that one of the objectives of the community is “enhanced co-ordination of member states' foreign and [foreign] economic policies”.

Further, Article 16.3 states that the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) is required to “establish measures to co-ordinate the foreign policies of member states… and seek to ensure, as far as practicable, the adoption of community positions on major hemispheric and international issues”. COFCOR is also required to coordinate the positions of member states in inter-governmental organisations. I would think that the phrase “as far as practicable” should be added here as well. So, it was recognised from the outset that coordinating foreign policy would be a challenge as these are sovereign states and, as small developing states, economic considerations would be dominant in determining national interests.

Note that, on trade policy, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, in Article 80, states: “Member states shall coordinate their trade policies with third states or groups of third states.” Prior to this, Article 15, states that the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) with COFCOR shall promote and develop coordinated policies for the enhancement of the community's external economic and trade relations. It appears that the drafters felt that coordinating regional trade and economic policy positions would be less challenging than more political foreign policy positions.

In the Cold War era, Caricom countries, indeed, had challenges coordinating foreign policy positions. On some issues countries tended to veer off in directions influenced by ideology and economic gains. There were particular weak spots in the regional alliance as quite often economic incentives offered to some could not be resisted. So, while promoting subjects more in the realm of idealism, such as regionalism, multilateralism, non-alignment, non-intervention, solidarity, right to self-determination, and other principles and ideals espoused by developing countries in the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Caricom countries, when deemed necessary, would move in the direction as dictated by their political, economic and developmental aspirations.

In practical terms, realism often outweighed idealism, but the two could coexist in the Cold War's largely bipolar landscape. In the early days too, there were institutional difficulties in coordinating regional positions when decisions were required at short notice. In this case, it might have been opportunism which guided foreign policy decisions.

To their credit, in this period, Caricom member states were still able to achieve unified positions on matters such as apartheid in South Africa, calls to end the US trade and economic embargo against Cuba, the question of Palestine, and decolonisation.

Today, in the post-Cold War age and in the more multi-polar world of the 21st century, many Caricom member states are having to determine whether realism in diplomacy for economic advancement supersedes idealism. They are grappling with the question of how to balance both on the high wire of international relations. As never before, Caribbean foreign policy is being played out in the glare of the media and public opinion. Governments are aware that the public expects foreign policy to contribute to raising their standard of living.

In their effort to coordinate foreign policy, Caricom member states continue to confront the national interest dilemma and the power dynamics which determine whether they can have agreed positions on difficult issues and be bold enough to act on them in unison in the international arena.

On a positive note, Caricom member states, in the various regional organs, are frequently able to coordinate positions on social, economic, environmental, and humanitarian issues. The 14 members are able to act and speak with one voice in various global intergovernmental organisations and in encounters with third states. Caricom diplomatic representatives also cooperate and coordinate activities in the various capitals to which they are assigned, such as Washington, DC; London; Ottawa; and Geneva. Enhancing regional foreign policy coordination continues to be a work in progress and foreign policy formulation should benefit from greater transparency and wider discussions within the member states.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade and politics. Send comments to the Observer or elizabethmorganstliz@gmail.com.


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