For­ward think­ing re­quired on for­eign pol­icy

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS - David Jes­sop David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil. david.jes­sop@ caribbean-coun­

AFEW days ago, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama gave what in ef­fect was a farewell ad­dress to the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly. It was per­sonal, heart­felt and frank. It spelt out the chal­lenges that lib­eral democ­ra­cies, in­clud­ing those in the Caribbean, will face in the years to come as the stresses caused by glob­al­i­sa­tion and its prog­eny, in­equal­ity and mi­gra­tion give rise to pop­ulism and au­toc­racy.

In mea­sured but di­rect re­marks which may well come to be seen as prophetic, Mr Obama painted a bleak pic­ture de­scrib­ing a para­dox that has come to de­fine the world of the early cen­tury.

“A quar­ter cen­tury af­ter the end of the Cold War, the world is by many mea­sures less vi­o­lent and more pros­per­ous than ever be­fore, and yet our so­ci­eties are filled with un­cer­tainty and un­ease and strife. De­spite enor­mous progress, as peo­ple lose trust in in­sti­tu­tions, gov­ern­ing be­comes more dif­fi­cult, and ten­sions be­tween na­tions be­come more quick to sur­face,” the US pres­i­dent told a packed Gen­eral Assem­bly.

The world, he said, faced a choice.

“We can choose to press for­ward with a bet­ter model of co­op­er­a­tion and in­te­gra­tion, or we can re­treat into a world sharply di­vided, and ul­ti­mately in con­flict, along age-old lines of na­tion and tribe and race and re­li­gion”.

The US pres­i­dent went on to say that a world in which one per cent of hu­man­ity con­trols as much wealth as the other 99 per cent will never be sta­ble. Ex­pec­ta­tions, he said, will rise faster than gov­ern­ments can de­liver, lead­ing to a per­va­sive sense of in­jus­tice, un­der­min­ing peo­ple’s faith in the sys­tem.

Mr Obama said that the so­lu­tion was to de­velop new mod­els for the global mar­ket­place that are in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able, and mod­els of gov­er­nance that are in­clu­sive and ac­count­able to or­di­nary peo­ple.

Ac­cept­ing that all na­tions will not want to adopt US think­ing, he went on to note the grow­ing con­test be­tween au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and lib­er­al­ism. It was pos­si­ble, he said, to adopt a much darker and more cyn­i­cal view of his­tory, mo­ti­vated by greed and power, in­volv­ing cy­cles of con­flict and suf­fer­ing be­fore pe­ri­ods of en­light­en­ment.

The pres­i­dent’s re­marks sounded much like a vale­dic­tory for a world or­der ceas­ing to ex­ist: one in which the post sec­ond world war set­tle­ment and present com­mit­ment to a rule­based sys­tem is be­ing re­placed In this Septem­ber 28, 2015, file photo, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ad­dresses the 70th ses­sion of the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly. In one of his last ma­jor ap­pear­ances on the world stage, Obama will try to de­fine how his lead­er­ship has made the planet safer and more pros­per­ous when he gives his farewell speech to the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly on Septem­ber 20, 2016. by doubt, where unity of in­tent is no longer sus­tain­able, and in which a new and more eq­ui­table world or­der will re­quire cre­at­ing.

It sug­gested that when next Jan­uary Pres­i­dent Obama demits of­fice, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions will con­tinue to de­te­ri­o­rate, ir­re­spec­tive of the win­ner of the US pres­i­den­tial race, and that Rus­sia and China’s less eas­ily chal­lenged sys­tems are likely to be sig­nif­i­cantly more uni­fied in their pur­pose than the US or Europe.

It re­flected a sense in many parts of the world that mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, the rule of law and rules-based sys­tems are frag­ment­ing, and ver­i­fi­able facts and log­i­cal ar­gu­ments are in­creas­ingly giv­ing way to an ap­proach that what ones does or says one day can be de­nied and for­got­ten the next, free from pub­lic ques­tion­ing or con­se­quence.

The change will be par­tic­u­larly stark if Pres­i­dent-Obama’s in­tel­lec­tual and hu­mane ap­proach is re­placed by that of a bom­bas­tic, shal­low and some­times seem­ingly ir­ra­tional Repub­li­can suc­ces­sor, who, judg­ing from re­marks made over the last nine months, is un­likely to bring depth, em­pa­thy and gen­uine hu­man­ity to a trou­bled world, let alone any de­sire to find mul­ti­lat­eral so­lu­tions.


That said, the US pres­i­dent’s re­marks could also be taken as a lament for the end of the unipo­lar world that the US has en­joyed since the end of the Cold War, as recog­ni­tion of the con­tin­u­ing rise of China, and an ac­knowl­edge­ment of Rus­sia’s bel­liger­ent re­turn to the world stage. His views un­doubt­edly rep­re­sent too, a per­sonal recog­ni­tion of the lim­its to US pres­i­den­tial power, the dif­fi­cul­ties of achiev­ing re­sults in­ter­na­tion­ally, and are an im­plicit warn­ing to his suc­ces­sor.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s world view is of course at odds with that of many coun­tries, in­clud­ing some in the Caribbean, which see sig­nif­i­cant con­tra­dic­tions be­tween what has been said and what has been done by suc­ces­sive US ad­min­is­tra­tions.

One only has to read the com­mu­niqué and com­ments com­ing out of the re­cent non-aligned sum­mit on Venezuela’s Isla Mar­garita to see a very dif­fer­ent global view to that of the US Pres­i­dent.

Ir­re­spec­tive, what Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­marks do is raise the gen­eral ques­tion as to which world view the re­gion shares; and as the world frag­ments into new blocs, ask what group­ings or al­liances will in fu­ture of­fer the great­est long-term philo­soph­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal and prac­ti­cal synergies to the re­gion.

This ques­tion is far from aca­demic. In the next two years, the re­gion will have some im­por­tant de­ci­sions to make. These in­clude de­ter­min­ing the fu­ture po­lit­i­cal role that will be re­quired of the African, Caribbean and Pa­cific group of na­tions and the re­gion’s part in it; how much weight rel­a­tively the Caribbean should give to its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Com­mu­nity of Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean States, which the Euro­pean Union 27, China, Canada and oth­ers see as be­ing a more sig­nif­i­cant fu­ture in­ter­locu­tor; whether CARIFORUM has a fu­ture or will be left to wither; and whether ad­di­tional or al­ter­ative re­gional con­fig­u­ra­tions might of­fer in­di­vid­ual na­tions greater eco­nomic util­ity than CARICOM.

If as Pres­i­dent Obama sug­gests, the global con­sen­sus is fading, Caribbean for­eign min­is­ters should be en­cour­ag­ing a de­bate on which re­la­tion­ships of­fer the best fu­ture de­fence of na­tional sovereignty, the great­est long-term ad­van­tage, and how con­se­quently they and the Caribbean more gen­er­ally pri­ori­tise and re­order fu­ture for­eign re­la­tions.


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