Does the Caribbean need a fresh ap­proach to its di­plo­macy?

Stabroek News Sunday - - NEWS -

For some years now, sev­eral smaller Caribbean gov­ern­ments have been in­ter­ested in in­creas­ing the num­ber of shared em­bassies over­seas in which one Am­bas­sador rep­re­sents sev­eral na­tions. The idea prin­ci­pally arises out of a de­sire to make cost sav­ings when it comes to es­tab­lish­ing a pres­ence in sec­ond tier na­tions which for po­lit­i­cal or eco­nomic rea­sons a group of na­tions want rep­re­sen­ta­tion in.

For ex­am­ple, OECS Heads of Gov­ern­ment re­cently agreed to es­tab­lish a joint em­bassy in Mo­rocco and to re­open their joint diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Ot­tawa; al­beit with no ex­pla­na­tion or de­tail on how ei­ther em­bassy might op­er­ate or be fi­nanced.

De­spite this, for most Caribbean gov­ern­ments, the idea of joint rep­re­sen­ta­tion re­mains dif­fi­cult to jus­tify. This is largely be­cause of their in­abil­ity to agree on mul­ti­ple for­eign pol­icy is­sues, in­clud­ing re­la­tions with China or back­ing for Venezuela. Min­is­ters and diplo­mats also ar­gue that in the ab­sence of any Caribbean po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic union, even the small­est na­tions con­tinue to need to make their own case bi­lat­er­ally, vote in­de­pen­dently, and be able to ad­dress sep­a­rately their own Di­as­pora.

This sug­gests that for the fore­see­able fu­ture Caribbean states, in­clud­ing the over­seas ter­ri­to­ries, are likely to con­tinue to have their own in­de­pen­dent voice in ma­jor cap­i­tals based on the un­der­ly­ing be­lief that only they can de­fend and pro­mote their sovereignty, na­tional pres­tige, and iden­tity.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, the is­sue of joint rep­re­sen­ta­tion may be hid­ing more per­ti­nent ques­tions about the na­ture of the An­glo­phone Caribbean’s over­seas rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and whether fi­nan­cial con­cerns about rep­re­sen­ta­tion ought to be driv­ing think­ing about how small states lever­age their in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ests.

Most CARI­COM for­eign min­istries are con­ser­va­tive, deeply con­cerned about the rules of di­plo­macy, and pro­to­col rid­den, with staff some­times op­er­at­ing un­der con­straints lit­tle mod­i­fied from colo­nial times.

For the most part, Caribbean for­eign min­istries have not ex­plored how many of the most pow­er­ful na­tions they need to in­flu­ence have de­vel­oped a multi-faceted ap­proach to di­plo­macy, or how some smaller states have been able to push the diplo­matic bound­aries and find al­ter­na­tive ways to ex­er­cise po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic pres­sure.

This and other fac­tors have made most CARI­COM gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy and diplo­matic re­sponses re­ac­tive. It has also re­sulted in fail­ures to an­tic­i­pate what is com­ing over the hori­zon and a di­min­ish­ing un­der­stand­ing of who the not al­ways ob­vi­ous in­flu­encers and high achiev­ers are, who are able to change minds po­lit­i­cally or ad­min­is­tra­tively be­fore de­ci­sions are made.

As new global po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cen­tres of grav­ity emerge, there is a case to be made for Caribbean gov­ern­ments to re­view in­di­vid­u­ally how they in­tend in fu­ture to de­ploy their lim­ited re­sources in de­fence of their na­tional in­ter­ests, and what might be done to create mul­ti­ple new en­try points to max­imise their in­flu­ence.

Much that is hap­pen­ing in the world to­day is driven by per­cep­tion and pub­lic opin­ion.

This re­quires gov­ern­ments and for­eign min­istries to think dif­fer­ently and recog­nise the ways in­flu­ence and opin­ion are now formed in North Amer­ica and Eu­rope, and to a lesser ex­tent China.

Pos­i­tive out­comes are no longer al­ways cre­ated in tra­di­tional ways. For ex­am­ple, de­spite years of po­lite ex­changes, it was a sin­gle diplo­mat with good tim­ing act­ing through the me­dia who cat­a­pulted the ap­palling treat­ment of some in the Win­drush gen­er­a­tion into the na­tional psy­che of the Bri­tish peo­ple.

This is not to de­cry tra­di­tional di­plo­macy but to sug­gest that the An­glo­phone part of the re­gion might con­sider ex­plor­ing sev­eral po­ten­tially po­tent tools that it has its dis­posal in Eu­rope and North Amer­ica.

Firstly, there is the Di­as­pora. Noth­ing en­gages com­mu­ni­ties, host gov­ern­ments, politi­cians and the me­dia more than when di­as­pora vot­ers pur­sue coun­try spe­cific is­sues in a co­or­di­nated man­ner with their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, or through the me­dia and by other means. De­spite this, gov­ern­ments, for­eign min­istries and em­bassies have yet to de­velop a so­phis­ti­cated ap­proach as to how the voice of the re­gion’s now so­cially di­verse Di­as­pora might be con­sis­tently brought to bear in the best in­ter­ests of in­di­vid­ual na­tions.

ISe­condly, most Caribbean na­tions have par­lia­men­tary sup­port groups within leg­is­la­tures in North Amer­ica and Eu­rope. De­spite this and un­like the groups that are re­lated to Is­rael, Tai­wan or Turkey, they are not sup­ported by funded sec­re­tar­iats able to pro­duce reg­u­lar or on-re­quest brief­ing pa­pers. Nor are such groups used in any sus­tained man­ner to raise and pro­mote is­sues and ques­tions gen­er­ated from cap­i­tals.

Thirdly, there is the role of so­cial me­dia. One only has to look at the use made of Twit­ter, Face­book and other so­cial me­dia by most gov­ern­ments to see the sig­nif­i­cance of de­vel­op­ing sup­port­ive con­tent and an in­te­grated and sys­tem­atic ap­proach to mes­sag­ing.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, there are newer ways emerg­ing that gov­ern­ments will in fu­ture be able to utilise, should they wish, to find and ad­dress di­rectly com­mu­ni­ties of sup­port in key na­tions. The rapid growth of big data and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence now makes pos­si­ble the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of those in the Di­as­pora or among visi­tors or busi­ness peo­ple who are likely to be ac­tive friends of a coun­try or the re­gion and who can ju­di­ciously be mes­saged for sup­port

There are also more stan­dard ap­proaches. The Scan­di­na­vians have rov­ing Am­bas­sadors who up to twice a year visit the re­gion for quite long pe­ri­ods with a well-pre­pared agenda of is­sues that are fol­lowed up in cap­i­tals where they and the re­gion have sub­stan­tial em­bassies. There are also a range of in­sti­tu­tions, such as NGOs that some Caribbean diplo­mats have been re­luc­tant to en­gage proac­tively out of fear that they may prove hos­tile. This is de­spite the of­ten-sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of in­flu­ence they have with the de­vel­op­ment agen­cies with which the re­gion works.

Much more could be writ­ten on each of these sub­jects, but put sim­ply there are a grow­ing range of tools if well-co­or­di­nated and run by ded­i­cated of­fi­cers in For­eign Min­istries with small lev­els of fund­ing which could dra­mat­i­cally en­hance CARI­COM’s na­tion’s clout on is­sues that mat­ter at ei­ther a na­tional or re­gional level t is not clear whether any for­eign min­istry or Caribbean aca­demic is yet look­ing at how na­tions in the re­gion might more ef­fec­tively mo­bilise their case in­ter­na­tion­ally or at the dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­flu­ence that new ap­proaches al­lied with more tra­di­tional diplo­matic in­ter­ven­tions might bring. There is a case to be made for a rad­i­cal look at how the re­gion might bet­ter ex­er­cise greater lever­age on those pol­icy is­sues on which it re­quires pos­i­tive out­comes.

David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil and can be con­tacted at david.jes­sop@caribbean-coun­cil.org

Pre­vi­ous columns can be found at https://www.caribbean­coun­cil.org/re­search-anal­y­sis/

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