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Change and conflict in the Foreign Policy Process

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by Maxwell Haywood 17.OCT.08

Recently, the foreign policy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has attracted much attention at home, in the Caribbean, and in other parts of the world. The nature of the changing foreign policy is perhaps the most important element that is stimulating this attention.{{more}} Increasingly, more voices in SVG are adding their views to the debate on the nature of the nation’s foreign policy. The challenge for the government is to decide the best way to constructively and productively engage these rising voices. The “Whole people” deserve a place at the foreign policy decision-making table in a meaningful way.

The country’s foreign policy at present is quite distinguishable from what existed when it gained its independence. Many changes have transpired over the past 29 years throughout the world. This has made it easier for SVG’s foreign policy to shift away from countries with which it traditionally had diplomatic relations. Before, a high degree of timidity characterized the nation’s relations with countries outside North America and Europe, and countries that were attempting to build societies based on socialist principles. Today, SVG, like many other former colonized countries, has extended hands of friendship to countries, regardless of geographic location or political ideology.

Change is evidently the order of the day.

For instance, member states of CARICOM have close and working relations with Cuba and Venezuela – countries that place high emphasis on socialist principles. In the case of SVG, the government has developed a dynamic foreign policy with these countries and others – moving away from the timid approach toward such countries.

Another distinguishing and changing feature of this foreign policy is the establishment of formal links with African countries. This is unprecedented. More space has been cleared for developing these relations with the African continent. Recent initiatives in this regard have led SVG toward Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, Libya, and Senegal. This is one area of the country’s changing foreign policy that deserves democratic or popular participation.

More recently, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iran, a country in the Middle East, has caused much debate in SVG, and according to reports, prompted the United States to raise its disagreements about this policy with the Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

As more change occurs, the country’s foreign policy has become a battlefield for political conflict between the two main political forces, the ULP and the NDP. They have wasted no time in sharing their views about SVG’s relations with the outside world.

The ULP-led Government has embarked on foreign policy that it says is “grounded in high principle, tempered by pragmatic self-interest in the context of our nation’s actual condition, the regionalist bonds, the totality of its geo-political circumstances, and the unfolding framework of modern globalization….utilized its instruments of sovereignty and independence to come to terms more capably with its external environment within the interests of our people’s humanization.”

Similarly, the NDP, which governed over the foreign policy of SVG for 17 years, is never silent on matters of foreign policy. It never fails to remind us of its foreign policy achievements and outlook. This is what it has to say: “The NDP strengthened relations with traditional allies and established ties with regional, hemispheric and other members of the international community in pursuance of shared developmental goals, and based on principles of mutual respect and non-interference in domestic and political affairs. Without cynicism, we are ever mindful of the adage that ‘countries have no permanent friends…. Only permanent interests,’ and that ‘all politics is local’.”

Based on recent events, clearly these political forces do not agree on how the foreign policy should be conducted. The NDP is concerned about what the US and the rest of the international community will say and do in their reaction to SVG’s foreign policy toward especially Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. It was very critical of the Vision Now eye programme with Cuba, and it is uneasy with that country’s assistance to the construction of the international airport at Argyle. Generally, the NDP finds fault with assistance offered by Cuba to SVG.

Furthermore, the NDP has gone on record opposing PetroCaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America) related to Venezuela. In addition, the NDP was not in favor of Chavez’s visit in February 2007, even if that visit was marked by benefits for SVG in the form of fuel storage tanks at Lowmans Bay worth about US$17 million, the LPG Filling Station project at Campden Park worth about US$2 million, and other benefits. The visit was actually boycotted by the NDP.

Even though Iran has diplomatic relations with over 150 countries, including several CARICOM member states, the NDP is concerned that SVG’s relations with Iran will harm its standing in the international community.

The NDP is quick to point out that it is not against some level of foreign relations with these countries. In a public meeting at NDP Headquarters in April 2007, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, said: “We have to look at the impact of all those policies. We cannot afford to have our tourism adversely affected in this way. We do not have to be so strident with our relationships.”

It is clear that the nation’s foreign policy direction is changing and the two political parties have articulated divergent positions. What is less clear is the involvement of the “Whole people” in the development of these policies. In this regard, I am calling for meaningful national consultation and participation in the foreign policy process. This approach will better safeguard our national security and development efforts.