Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Editorial | Reshape foreign policy, but not on Faller’s template

Published:Sunday | November 10, 2019 | 12:36 AM
Admiral Craig Faller

Jamaica’s foreign policy is clearly in need of a major overhaul and strategic rethink. But while any such review has to take into account our long-standing relationship with the powerful United States, it can’t be overly shaped by a gratuitous lecture of an American naval officer, or the flittering fantasies of his uninformed commander-in-chief, Donald Trump.

In that regard, the remarks in Kingston last week by the commander of the US Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller, will hopefully cause the Government to take stock of its global priorities, and what, in the circumstances, are in its best interest. This must be on Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ to-do list.

Like Jamaica’s army chief, Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, Admiral Faller sees Venezuela as a major source of potential instability for the Caribbean, but largely framed his concerns in a geopolitical context, where countries such as China, Russia and Cuba are bad actors supporting Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“All the security challenges that the region faces today have been magnified by the crisis in Venezuela,” Admiral Faller told reporters. “… The level of narco-trafficking through Venezuela, and then out in the Caribbean, has doubled in the past year…Venezuela is now a safe haven for terrorists.”

He added: “We see other external actors, other regions of the world that do not share the same values, are operating with Maduro for their own good … Russia is right there contributing disinformation, and China is in there as well, as part of the disinformation campaign.”

We are not clear as to what is the disinformation campaign to which Admiral Faller referred, except, perhaps, he is talking about the ongoing debate in the United States over how Russia allegedly interfered in their presidential election in favour of the current incumbent, Donald Trump. But his conflation of that development with Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis and that, somehow, China’s deepening relationship with Caribbean countries may pose a threat to the democracy in the region, seems, without more, to be, at best, binary, if not crooked, thinking.

China and Jamaica operate different political systems. Jamaica is a vibrant multiparty democracy. China has superimposed its one-party, communist political arrangement of a quasi-market economic system that has yielded great success.

In recent years, China has been the major source of loans and foreign direct investment for Jamaica, having, over the last decade, pumped more than US$2 billion into the island. Indeed, at the time Admiral Faller was speaking in Kingston, Prime Minister Holness was in Beijing attempting to drum up more Chinese investments.

China’s emergence as a major economic rival and challenger to America’s geopolitical hegemon is exemplified, in part, by their current trade war, and the fight for technological supremacy.

MUCH TO WORRY ABOUT

Venezuela, where the Americans have imposed sanctions on the left-wing Maduro government and supports self-declared president, Juan Guaido, is one of the front lines of this contest. China and Russia support President Maduro, thus helping to cushion his government from US pressure.

While Jamaica has largely sided with the United States against Maduro and has been cosying up to the Trump administration, Kingston has much to be worried about from Washington.

Last week, for instance, the Americans formally began the process of pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, aimed at curbing global warming, which poses an existential threat to small island states like Jamaica.

Further, Mr Trump has espoused an ‘America first’, white, ethnocentric view of the world that threatens to dismantle the multilateralist global architecture in which small states like ours are most likely to find protection against powerful players.

There, too, is the matter of trust, or the lack of it, when dealing with the current US administration. The way Mr Trump recently threw the Syrian Kurds, America’s long-standing partners in the fight against ISIS, under the bus in favour of some ill-defined advantage from Turkey and Russia hardly inspires confidence.

Donald Trump will eventually leave the US presidency, but with the dislocation he has wrought, it will be a while before American institutions of politics and government regain their equilibrium.

At the same time, as Emmanuel Macron of France has been telling fellow Europeans, the world and interests are being realigned, including Jamaica’s.

The short-term transactional arrangements employed by the Holness government aren’t, in the long run, sustainable. A fully reshaped foreign policy is necessary, for which, as we have suggested before, the foreign ministry should begin a wide conversation and invite some of its old hands to help.