By Ian Francis
A few months ago, Caribbean Commonwealth leaders expressed the urgent need for coordination on foreign policy issues within the region. When the urgency was prematurely expressed, I felt they were asking for too much, as there are extreme difficulties for foreign policy coordination in the region. In my humble view, independent nations should never surrender their foreign policy responsibility.
Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at email@example.com
However, after delving further in their usual post powwow escapade, it became very clear that our regional leaders might have been looking for an easy way out to avoid policy criticism on the conduct of France and Britain against the Republic of Libya. Although there are other nations involved, these two nations seem to have assumed a new world policing role in Libya, using various organs of the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
As I write this article, let me make it abundantly clear, I hold no brief for the Republic of Libya or its leader Colonel Khadafy. I am aware of the alleged criticisms that have constantly being leveled against the leaders of this nation for alleged human rights violations. At the same time, I must admit that through my previous position as a former staffer of the Grenada Foreign Ministry, I had the opportunity to have interacted with senior Foreign Service officials from the Republic. This was necessary as the State of Grenada had established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Libya, which remain intact up to the time of writing this article.
Following Grenada’s courageous decision under the Bishop Administration to establish diplomatic relations with Libya, many other Caribbean Commonwealth States followed Grenada’s decision by establishing diplomatic relations with Libya. Following the establishment of diplomatic relation between respective Caribbean nations and Libya, many have signed bilateral agreements and are also in receipt of technical assistance in the form of cash donations for infrastructural projects and payroll advances to meet the growing cost of salaries for both productive and unproductive civil servants.
There is no doubt that the ongoing events in Libya that appeared on the radar screen would have shared much information about the events. Starting with a UN Security Council resolution and deployment of NATO military forces, Libya has been subject to intense military assaults by NATO, with France and Britain taking the lead and calling for the removal of President Khadafy. Recent evidence indicates that Tripoli has been able to contain the intense military bombing. Within the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how the French and British attack helicopters create further military strife in Libya.
With such intense military action against Libya, global media reports have indicated that Tripoli is isolated and is hoping that its many bilateral friends will come forward and ask NATO to cool its action. While some Middle Eastern States have expressed concern about NATO’S action in Libya, it would appear that some Caribbean Commonwealth nations that have established diplomatic relations with Libya have remained extremely silent. This is definitely not the way that Libya’s Caribbean friends should conduct their foreign relations.
I recall when the Libya conflict started, the Commonwealth of Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines made it clear that they had no intention to sever diplomatic relations with Libya. While it is suspected that these three nations might have been approached to take such drastic action, they did not and should be commended for their independent foreign policy position.
On the other hand, some notable Caribbean nations that have entered into bilateral agreements with Tripoli, and privately have expressed concern about NATO’s action, remain mute. However, behind the scenes, they remain very vocal by pressing the CARICOM and OECS to make a joint statement criticizing NATO’s action in Libya. Fortunately, both regional multilateral organizations have resisted the arm twisting, thus showing that there has been no position from the Caribbean States on Libya.
If the above two agencies had acceded to the arm twisting and cowardice demonstrated by our independent nations, such action would have impacted on relations with the European Union. In diplomacy, the purse string means a lot and these two agencies have apparently adopted the “purse string diplomacy”.
In conclusion, there are at least three OECS nations with strong bilateral agreements with Libya. These three nations must show some belly by articulating an independent position on NATO’s action in Libya. They should desist from trying to use CARICOM and the OECS under the disguise of foreign policy coordination.
Grenada’s former Foreign Minister, Peter David, visited Libya last year, during which time a request was made to the Libyan government to write off some long outstanding debts owed and overdue by the government of Grenada. It is my understanding that Grenada’s request was under active consideration prior to the conflict. Since the conflict, Grenada has remained silent but proceeded to establish diplomatic relations with Malta and Morocco. There has been no diplomatic comment from St George’s on the state of relations with the Polisario Front that have fought a long and protracted guerilla war against Morocco. In 1979, the Bishop Administration gave diplomatic recognition to the Polisaro Front.
Comrade’s international airport project in St Vincent and the Grenadines is a beneficiary of Libyan assistance. Shortly after the conflict began, the Georgetown based Charge d’ Affaires of the Libyan Embassy hurriedly travelled to Kingstown and presented Comrade with about $500,000 (US). The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines remains very silent. Given Comrade’s posture in the region, he could have broken the ice.
Antigua and Barbuda’s banking and financial agreement with Libya seems to have gone down the drain. At the onset of the conflict, this nation clearly clamored for a coordinated regional response either through CARICOM or OECS. The request fell on deaf ears.
So, to our Caribbean leaders, in the conduct and management of foreign policy, there are times when it becomes necessary to step up to the plate. My view is that “you guys” are not looking good on Libya. A friend like the Colonel should not be abandoned by his recipients. Venezuela is watching you.