Forward thinking required on foreign policy
A few days ago the US President, Barack Obama, gave what ineffect was a farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly. It waspersonal, heartfelt, and frank. It spelt out the challenges that liberaldemocracies, including those in the Caribbean, will face in the years to comeas the stresses caused by globalisation and its progeny, inequality andmigration, give rise to populism and autocracy.
In measured but direct remarks which may well come to beseen as prophetic, Mr Obama painted a bleak picture, describing a paradox thathas come to define the world of the early twenty first century.
“A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the worldis by many measures less violent and more prosperous than ever before, and yetour societies are filled with uncertainty, and unease, and strife. Despiteenormous progress, as people lose trust in institutions, governing becomes moredifficult and tensions between nations become more quick to surface”, the USPresident told a packed General Assembly.
The world, he said, faced a choice. “We can choose to pressforward with a better model of cooperation and integration. Or we can retreatinto a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old linesof nation and tribe and race and religion”.
The US President went on to say that a world in which onepercent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will neverbe stable. Expectations, he said, will rise faster than governments candeliver, leading to a pervasive sense of injustice, undermining people’s faithin the system.
Mr Obama said that the solution was to develop new modelsfor the global marketplace that are inclusive and sustainable, and models ofgovernance that are inclusive and accountable to ordinary people.
Accepting that all nations will not want to adopt USthinking, he went on to note the growing contest between authoritarianism andliberalism. It was possible, he said, to adopt a much darker and more cynicalview of history, motivated by greed and power, involving cycles of conflict andsuffering before periods of enlightenment.
The President’s remarks sounded much like a valedictory fora world order ceasing to exist: one in which the post second world warsettlement and present commitment to a rules based system is being replaced bydoubt, where unity of intent is no longer sustainable, and in which a new andmore equitable world order will require creating.
It suggested that when next January President Obama demitsoffice, international relations will continue to deteriorate, irrespective ofthe winner of the US presidential race, and that Russia and China’s less easilychallenged systems are likely to be significantly more unified in their purposethan the US or Europe.
It reflected a sense in many parts of the world thatmultilateralism, the rule of law and rules based systems are fragmenting, andverifiable facts and logical arguments are increasingly giving way to anapproach that what ones does or says one day can be denied and forgotten thenext, free from public questioning or consequence.
The change will be particularly stark if President Obama’sintellectual and humane approach is replaced by that of a bombastic, shallowand sometimes seemingly irrational Republican successor who, judging fromremarks made over the last nine months, is unlikely to bring depth, empathy andgenuine humanity to a troubled world; let alone any desire to find multilateralsolutions.
That said, the US President’s remarks could also be takenas a lament for the end of the unipolar world that the US has enjoyed since theend of the cold war, as recognition of the continuing rise of China, and anacknowledgement of Russia’s belligerent return to the world stage. His viewsundoubtedly represent too, a personal recognition of the limits to USPresidential power, the difficulties of achieving results internationally, andas an implicit warning to his successor.
President Obama’s world view is of course at odds with thatof many countries, including some in the Caribbean which see significantcontradictions between what has been said and what has been done by successiveUS administrations.
One only has to read the communique and comments coming outof the recent non-aligned summit on Venezuela’s Isla Margarita to see a verydifferent global view to that of the US President.
Irrespective, what President Obama’s remarks do is to raisethe general question as to which world view the region shares and as the worldfragments into new blocs, ask what groupings or alliances will in future offerthe greatest long-term philosophical, political and practical synergies to theregion.
This question is far from academic. In the next two yearsthe region will have some important decisions to make. These includedetermining the future political role that will be required of the AfricanCaribbean and Pacific group of nations (the ACP) and the region’s part in it;how much weight relatively the Caribbean should give to its participation inthe Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which the EU 27,China, Canada and others see as being a more significant future interlocutor;whether Cariforum has a future or will be left to wither; and whetheradditional or alterative regional configurations might offer individual nationsgreater economic utility than CARICOM.
If as President Obama suggests, the global consensus isfading, Caribbean Foreign Ministers should be encouraging a debate on whichrelationships offer the best future defence of national sovereignty, thegreatest long-term advantage, and how consequently they and the Caribbean moregenerally prioritise and reorder future foreign relations.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council andcan be contacted at [email protected]
Previous columns be found at www.caribbean-council.org