Little noticed, and in an absence of controversy, Jamaica's national security minister, Peter Bunting, and Canada's national defence minister, Peter MacKay, last week signed a memorandum of understanding to allow the Canadians to use Jamaica as a hub from which they can support military operations elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America.
During his two-day visit to the island, Mr MacKay also formally opened a Canadian-supported Caribbean Military Maritime Training Centre (CMMTC) at Port Royal, operated by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).
These agreements represent a further widening of long-standing security cooperation between the two countries, but which has been quietly expanded and deepened in recent years to, we believe, the benefit of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
Six years ago, for example, Canada facilitated the establishment of the Jamaica Military Aviation School in Kingston, which, as is the intention for the CMMTC, trains not only Jamaican military cadets. It is open to other defence forces in the Caribbean.
The Canadians are also helping in counterterrorism capacity-building in the JDF, including training a counterterrorism operation group, with the strategic goal, eventually, of launching a regional Special Operations Force.
STRATEGY NEEDED FOR COLLECTIVE ACTION
The trajectory of the Jamaica-Canada security cooperation, we feel, is right. However, such bilateral arrangements, though good for individual regional partners, are not sufficient for the potential threats faced by the Caribbean, responses to which are likely to demand collective action.
No one expects Caribbean states to become engaged in conventional wars, at least not between themselves. Nor is there, on the horizon, their occupation by the world's great powers. The region, however, faces a perhaps more insidious security threat, some of which are home-grown.
Two years ago, Jamaica had a taste of the danger when gunmen loyal to Christopher Coke were organised into a militia to fight the security forces, hoping to prevent the arrest and extradition of the drug kingpin. Mexico's drug wars and the instability wrought by narco-traffickers provide another example of the unconventional threat faced by states such as ours that become entangled in the global drug trade.
CARIBBEAN NOT IMMUNE TO TERRORISM
Further, the Caribbean is not immune to other forms of terrorism and could well become proxy victim for our friends and partners, including the United States, Britain and other Western nations, against whom others hold grudges, mostly of dubious merit.
Indeed, there are billions of dollars of US, Canadian and British investment in the Caribbean and millions of their citizens live and/or holiday in the region, where the terrorists may deem them to be soft targets.
While we would expect to get help from our global partners in the face of such crises, domestic forces would have to be the first respondents to the threats, especially with regard to locally inspired problems. However, neither Jamaica nor any partner in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has the resources, in terms of personnel or equipment, to effectively defend themselves.
We know that these matters are on the agenda and that there exist programmes of regional security cooperation. But perhaps it is time for a security protocol, inclusive of a standing-response arrangement, to be enshrined in the CARICOM treaty to better and formally leverage the resources of member states. The Canadians are good partners to help CARICOM advance this. Canada is not perceived to carry the baggage of some of our other friends.
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