Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Editorial | Russia’s war games relevant to Jamaica

Published:Thursday | September 13, 2018 | 12:10 AM

This week's big war games by Russia are unlikely to have escaped the attention of analysts in the regional divisions of Jamaica's foreign ministry, especially those whose job it is to pay attention to developments in Moscow and Beijing.

The exercises, which run until September 17, called Vostok 2018, or East 2018, are taking place in Russia's eastern military district. They are the largest by Russia in the post-Cold War period, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, involving more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 vehicles, more than 1,000 aircraft and 80 ships, from two fleets.

Those statistics would be, of themselves, impressive, underlining a resurgent and increasingly confident Russia as well as Vladimir Putin's willingness to put his country's military might on display. But equally as important as these statistics is the involvement of China and, to a lesser extent, Mongolia, in the manoeuvres. Xi Jinping has sent 3,500 People's Liberation Army soldiers, as well as hardware, to the exercises.

Further, President Xi participated in this year's annual Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok, where he declared the deepening Sino-Russian partnership, which, he said, was aimed at promoting "the political resolution of hotspot issues" while upholding the "UN charter and principles and standing firm against unilateralism and protectionism". That, obviously, was a coded rebuke of the United States.

There are those who will be minded to dismiss this muscle-flexing tango between two of the world's military (Russia) and economic (China) powers as a matter of little concern for a small, middle-income developing country like Jamaica. This newspaper begs to differ. It's further reason, we believe, beyond those we have previously espoused, for a fundamental review of Jamaica's foreign policy to bring order, definition and principle to an increasingly inchoate and transactional approach to international relations.

Conducting international relations on a stage of peripeteia being wrought by Donald Trump isn't easy. Not only has Mr Trump upended global norms, his personalisation of foreign policy has rendered America's opaque and uncertain. He conspires, for example, to be friends with Mr Putin while his foreign policy establishment pursues sanctions against Russia for its perceived misbehaviours. Bypassing the World Trade Organization, which is the arbiter of such matters, Mr Trump imposed tariffs on imports from China as well as those from other countries - including America's partners - because the US runs trade deficits with them.

 

Sino-Russia alliance

 

Therein is a sketch of the backdrop to the growing Sino-Russia alliance, aimed, in part, at undermining Western isolation of Russia blunting America's ability to act with impunity in the post-Soviet period, when it was unassailably the world's lone superpower. This is significant to Jamaica.

There are the island's long-standing economic and other relationships with the United States, whose value, in the age of Donald Trump, is presumed to be severely discounted. At the same time, Russia and China are members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), with which Jamaica and its Caribbean Community partners have recently been attempting to strengthen relations. Further, China is the biggest lender to Jamaica for infrastructure projects and, on the current trajectory, will soon overtake the US as the largest overall investor in the island.

In the face of these and other emerging circumstances, the country needs a foreign policy that, with principle, balances these relationships as well as articulates a clear framework within which it engages other countries. Among the matters that need explanation and clarity are our recent undeclared cosying-up to Israel and the seeming flexibility with which the administration approaches long-standing global commitments, backed by United Nations resolutions, to the Palestinians. That explanation should include the logic of allowing the lapse, if not outright abrogation, of eavesdropping protocols with the United States, Canada and Britain and the apparent creation of a new, secret regime with Israel.