Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Editorial | Hurricanes, planes and regional security

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica, according to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, was ready and willing to dispatch up to 120 soldiers to Dominica in the immediate aftermath of this week's deadly hurricane to help with the country's rehabilitation.

But there was a problem - and not only the fact that communication with Dominica was nearly impossible and its air and seaports closed. Jamaica had no airlift of its own to transport the soldiers to the eastern Caribbean.

So, Mr Holness told the Jamaican Parliament his Government was likely to rely on assistance from a developed country partner, perhaps the United States or Britain. Another possibility, which the prime minister didn't specifically mention, was for Trinidad and Tobago to make available a jet from the state-owned Caribbean Airlines Limited. It was against this backdrop that the prime minister raised the prospect of Jamaica acquiring its own aircraft, which we suppose would be an asset of the air wing of the Jamaica Defence Force, to be used in myriad circumstances.

With Opposition member of parliament Ronald Thwaites suggesting that Jamaica also acquire a large ocean-going vessel for similar purposes, Mr Holness revealed that he and his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Keith Rowley, had had discussions along the same lines. There were, however, no details on discussions between Kingston and Port of Spain.

First, this newspaper endorses Jamaica's readiness to help in a disaster faced by a Caribbean partner. It is part of the essence of the regional integration project, which Mr Holness, in defiance of the historic aloofness of the party he leads, has discovered and demonstrated a willingness to embrace. Indeed, the demand for such mutual assistance is likely to grow as Caribbean states confront increased numbers of extreme weather events associated with global warming.

The problem, however, will not be only for this region. Other parts of the world, too, are being affected by the same phenomena, including countries whose leaders reject the idea that rising temperatures are being caused by the actions of mankind. These countries' assets, such as aircraft and ships, may not, in the future, be readily available to help out when this region is hit by disasters.

 

ACQUIRING OUR OWN EQUIPMENT

 

It is in that context that we are sympathetic to Mr Holness' idea that Jamaica acquire equipment of its own. Affordability, though, is an issue, which is why we like the partnership model which the prime minister suggested is being explored with Trinidad and Tobago for the acquisition of a ship, presuming the intent is not to create a commercial enterprise. If that is the idea, it would be best left to the private sector.

Global warming and climate change pose an existential threat to the small island developing and coastal states of the Caribbean, which brings with it potential for social and political instability and threats to national security. The Caribbean has to devise new and creative responses to the emerging paradigm. Among these, we believe, must be greater coordination between the region's civil defence and security mechanisms. A framework for this is already partly in place.

Barbados and the member countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, for instance, have the Regional Security System (RSS), a treaty that allows the partners to call on the group for security assistance. The RSS, as a body with a standing secretariat, controls limited hard assets. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also has a Treaty on Security Assistance with an ad hoc mechanism for its engagement.

We have in the past proposed that Jamaica join the RSS and that it is expanded to include CARICOM members in the northern Caribbean. Jamaica would be the hub for RSS's northern quadrant. This arrangement would provide a more appropriate and affordable regional cost-sharing framework for the acquisition of the kinds of equipment suggested by Prime Minister Holness.