How the Competing Security Needs of Caribbean Community Members have Crystallized Through Multilateralism and Consensual Decision-Making

Serena Joseph-Harris | Exclusively written for | April 2011

Issues:Competition over resources, Global militarisation, Marginalisation

The global financial economic crisis continues to have significant bearing on small states in the areas of trade, tourism, remittances and aid and is compounding many of the challenges already confronting these countries, such as deepening unemployment, and budgetary pressures on critical areas of state expenditure. The latter include defense and internal security commitments. Caribbean economies have been particularly hard-hit by the global downturn, being vulnerable to perennial disasters such as hurricanes and particularly prone to shocks in tourist activity and international oil price fluctuations.

In addition to these perils, the region’s political leaders have been racked by the economic and social effects of serious crime and violence associated with the increasingly insidious drugs and arms trade and gang-related violence. In response, some governments have resorted to the adoption of exceptional legal and security measures such as the co-opting of military forces to augment the manoeuvres of civil authorities.

This paper provides an outlook of the imperative of Caribbean Community members to seek out and obtain foreign aid amidst a fiercely competitive global market in which traditional international donors are similarly challenged by their own domestic and strategic priorities. It draws upon a recently inaugurated multi-year program, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) sponsored by the government of the United States to illustrate how the deployment of multilateralism and consensual decision-making as tools of statecraft have crystallized a reserve of otherwise competing and differential interests.


The Caribbean Sea is one of a limited number of internationally dispersed sub-regions which include the South China Sea, the Horn of Africa, the Somalia Coast and the Gulf of Aden where extremely high levels of shipping activity is matched by correspondingly low levels of maritime policing. The region holds key routes and approaches to the continental US from the Atlantic Ocean – the Windward Passage and the Panama Canal. It is a reputed locale for hundreds of ports, marinas and harbors and facilitates the shipping of manufactured goods as well as petroleum, natural gas, ammonia and other primary products, such as copper out of South America. Many of these items are considered “high premium cargo” by global standards, throwing into focus the significance of locale and commercial linkages.

The Panama Canal is a key choke point for international trade flows and has attained near maximum capacity. Major expansion work on the canal is scheduled for completion in 2012. Once this occurs some of the already existing tensions in the US logistics systems will be alleviated with the redirection of substantial volumes of the maritime trans Pacific route containership services between the US west coast ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Seattle/Tacoma, to the east coast. Significantly, Petro-China’s acquisition in 2010 of Aramco based in St. Eustacius, one of the largest oil storage and shipping corporations in the Caribbean, with an 11.3 million barrel capacity, has made lawful commerce the more prodigious for the region.

The immediate challenge confronting Caribbean governments is securing territorial waters and airspace from the insidious passage of drugs and firearms and other illegal cargo. According to the United Nations 2010 Annual Drug Report, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia have endured as the world’s primary sources of cocaine while 36% of the world’s cocaine user population resides in North America.  Moreover, trafficking flows have continued to be dominated by market forces.

The Maritime Analysis Operations Centre (MAOC-N) has reported that the most common source of drug seizures has occurred in sailing vessels traveling between the Caribbean and Europe followed by freight and other motorized vessels. Further, approximately 51% of intercepted shipments in the Atlantic begin their journey out of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has deemed drugs “ the highest value illicit commodity “ currently being trafficked internationally,  and representing the most dangerous flow of profits that feeds into the long-term income sources of organized crime.

Two tiers of countermeasures have been spelled out by the UN to successfully tackle the problem. The first is the building of national and international capacity to track and respond to the pandemic. This is a long-term and collaborative venture in respect of which the region’s political leaders have registered their commitment. The other is the requirement for “special intervention” in particularly distressed parts of the world. Given the immediate imperative to suppress illicit traffic flows in the Caribbean Basin, this region undisputedly qualifies for the second category of intervention. Such a mandate inevitably exacts prohibitive demands on domestic treasuries due to the reserve of assets and trained manpower that would need to be harnessed.

Most Caribbean economies are heavily reliant on their service sectors for generating national revenue.  Furthermore, the global economic downturn of 2008 followed in close succession by the sharp decline of service sectors, particularly tourism, pushed many countries into a sharp and sustained recession. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by service sector recorded in 2008 when the downturn began seeping in was: Antigua and Barbuda – 71%; the Bahamas – 80%; Barbados – 80%; Belize – 68%; Dominica – 63%; Guyana – 48%; Jamaica- 71%; St Kitts and Nevis – 72%; St Lucia – 78%; St Vincent and the Grenadines – 70%; Trinidad and Tobago – 44%. Simultaneously, external debt portfolios were buckling.  Between 2007-2008, Jamaica’s already stood at $10.1 billion; Dominica- $290,000; Guyana -$734 million and St. Vincent and the Grenadines -$253 million.

Amidst the specter of budgetary deficits and International Monetary Fund (IMF) intervention, governments have been overtly canvassing for various forms of aid among intergovernmental bodies of the donor community and long-standing allies.  To this end overtures were made to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada- countries that have historically provided funding and in-kind support to international communities that are committed to fighting drugs and spurring human security and alternative development programs.

 A Caribbean-United States Security Framework was inaugurated in May 2010 around which inter-governmental consultations and dialogue have synthesized into common ground. This Framework comprises:

1) Joint-Caribbean/United States Framework for Security Cooperation Agreement

2) A Caribbean/United States Declaration of Principles; and

3) A Caribbean/United states Program of Action

 Thus far, $45 million has been committed to the Partnership by the US government for the Fiscal Year 2010 with a further $79 million for Fiscal Year 2011.The 2011 Foreign Aid request has allocated no more than $73 million towards military and economic aid.

 The US government has drawn upon an array of sources for funding including the Development Assistance Fund, the Economic Support Fund, the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement and Foreign and Military Accounts. US support also goes toward non-monetary items such as the provision of command and control systems, radios, logistical and maritime support to increase maritime interdiction capability, information sharing and maritime support for the Regional Security System as well as technical assistance aimed at improving financial crime investigations.

The under-listed CARICOM states have already benefited from CBSI endowments:




Antigua and Barbuda

$1.7 million


$1.7 million


$1.7 million


$3 million

St Lucia


St Vincent and the Grenadines

$1.7 million



Trinidad and Tobago



$1.6 million


The CBSI will eventually include a US vessel with an international crew deployed to the region while Caribbean Training Logistical Support Teams will commit themselves to a platform for leading US engagement and support for maritime interdiction. A fillip to this would be the capacity of the support vessel to deliver a mobile professional training program, limited onboard classroom berthing/messing for students, its possession of a centralized supply source for spare parts and a capability to deliver cargo.

 This Program is bolstered by three significant benchmarks

1) Political consensus that heralds a “new era of partnership”

2) A standardized legal regime, in which the internationally accepted vehicle continues to be the United Nations system of drugs and crime conventions; as well as region-specific accords including but not necessarily limited to – the Agreement Concerning Cooperation in Suppressing Illicit Maritime and Air Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in the Caribbean Area 2003; the 1996 Treaty Establishing the Regional Security System to which members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States are signatories and the 1989 Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Mutual Assistance and Cooperation for the Prevention and Repression of Customs Offences in the Caribbean Zone

3) The collective assets of regional security forces, among these US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM); the British Royal Navy; the Regional Security System (RSS); the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and Air Wing and the Venezuelan Escuardia, which when viewed in tandem, constitute a collective force presence.

This is clearly a win-win for the Caribbean. Through consultation and dialogue Caribbean Community members have partnered with the US  and resolving common and competing priorities and concerns amidst the ebb and flow of resources at their disposal.

Image source: [email protected]

Serena Joseph-Harris is a former High Commissioner of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.


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