Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Editorial | Time for foreign policy debate

Published:Monday | March 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM

As is usually the case with the event, the biennial Diplomatic Day passed last month with the Government feting foreign representatives, but little interest from Jamaicans and an even lesser attempt by the administration to tell them why they should care. The Government, though, insists that the pursuit of diplomacy is vital to the country's interests.

What is not clear, however, is precisely what that diplomacy will increasingly look like. For despite Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith's reiteration of the long-standing principles on which Jamaica has historically founded its global relations, we discern the beginnings of a slow and subtle shift in the way Jamaica conducts its international relations. In the process, the embrace of some long-standing partners could become less warm.

It is important, therefore, that the Government move beyond stating generalities about its foreign policy and offer Jamaicans, on whose behalf its acts, specifics about the future.

The principles to which Mrs Johnson Smith alluded include "respect for the rule of law, democracy, sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights, multilateralism, and the peaceful and just settlement of disputes". But she also stressed that a priority of the island's diplomacy was promotion of its external trade and the attraction of investment.

There is nothing new in this. What has not been articulated, however, is how this strategic goal dovetails with recent unusual foreign policy moves by the Holness administration.

For example, there was Jamaica's abstention last December on the UN General Assembly's resolution condemning America's plan to move its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Most of the world supported the resolution, despite a threat from US President Donald Trump of possible economic retaliation against countries that voted in favour of it.

"Jamaica did not need to take a position on another country's position on where they would want to see as a capital in the world," Prime Minister Andrew Holness said last month during a visit to Kingston by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

That, at best, was a weak and inadequate analysis of America's action, especially in the face of long-standing Security Council resolutions declaring the status of Jerusalem was to be settled between Israel and the Palestinians in the context of a two-state solution on the basis of Israel's pre-1967 borders - a position that was historically supported by Jamaica.

Moreover, by this decision, the Americans appeared to have undermined their position as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jamaica's abstention followed its previous ducking of a vote at UNESCO criticising Israeli actions in Jerusalem and a visit to Israel by Prime Minister Holness to promote a deepening of economic relations.




Jamaica's support last year of US-led initiatives at the Organization of American States critical of the Venezuelan government in the face of that country's ongoing political crisis was interpreted in some quarters as a move by Mr Holness to create clear ideological and geopolitical distance between Jamaica and the Maduro government.

Closer to home, the Government is yet to declare its position on the Golding Report's recommendation that Jamaica give the Caribbean Community five years to transition to a genuine single economy, failing which it will pull out of the community's trade and economic arrangements and seek another type of partnership with the group.

These are all important issues, but they are not the only ones with respect to regional and international relations with which Jamaica has to contend and in which the public has a stake. Against this background, and given the conduct of the Holness administration's foreign policy, the Government should urgently publish a foreign affairs Green Paper for debate.