Caribbean Geopolitics and Geonarcotics: New Dynamics, Same Old Dilemma

By Griffith, Ivelaw L. | Naval War College Review, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview
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Caribbean Geopolitics and Geonarcotics: New Dynamics, Same Old Dilemma


Griffith, Ivelaw L., Naval War College Review


THERE IS A SMALL BUT GROWING LITERATURE by Caribbean scholars on the actual and potential impact of the end of the Cold War on the Caribbean region. These assessments point to myriad implications, significant both in scope and depth-implications in international politics, political economy, and geopolitics and security, among other things.1 Undoubtedly, post-Cold War developments have precipitated new realities in the Caribbean. Yet these new realities have not displaced the central dilemma of Caribbean countries: valnerability. Stated otherwise, while there are new dynamics in the post-Cold War geopolitical landscape of the Caribbean, there persists the same old dilemma.

A former Caribbean leader, Lloyd Erskine Sandiford of Barbados, captured the essence of this dilemma in a speech to Caribbean leaders shortly after the coup attempt in Trinidad in the summer of 1990: "Our vulnerability is manifold. Physically, we are subject to hurricanes and earthquakes; economically, to market decisions taken elsewhere; socially, to cultural penetration; and [now] politically, to the machinations of terrorists, mercenaries, and criminals."2 There is no consolation in acknowledging that the Caribbean is not singular in regard to vulnerability, that vulnerability is a reality facing small states the world over. Shridat Ramphal, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations and now Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, once made a prescient observation about the vulnerability of small states generally: "Small states by their nature are weak and vulnerable. . . Sometimes it seems as if small states were like small boats pushed out into a turbulent sea, free in one sense to traverse it; but, without oars or provisions, without compass or sails, free also to perish. Or perhaps, to be rescued and taken on board a larger vessel."3

Vulnerability is a multidimensional phenomenon, of course. States are considered vulnerable because of geographic, political, military, and economic factors that compromise their security. One study identifies six factors that can contribute to vulnerability: great-power rivalries, territorial claims, possession of valuable resources, provision of refuge to refugees or freedom fighters, corruption, and suppression of democracy Little more than a decade ago, experts studying the vulnerability issue noted the range of threats to which small states can be vulnerable: threats to territorial security; threats to political security, which can involve a broad range of actions deliberately intended to influence national policy and that in some cases cause a specific change in the threatened state's national policy; and threats to economic security, actions that can undermine a state's economic welfare and interfere in its political process.5 Various countries in the Caribbean have faced all of these threats, and many still do.

This article explores a few of the post-Cold War dynamics that affect the Caribbean. It points to the continuity of the vulnerability dilemma and probes the aggravation of that dilemma by the virtual explosion of drugs in the region. The new dynamics examined pertain mainly to state-centered political, military, and economic initiatives at the regional and international levels-an exception being drug aspects, which arise essentially from actions by nonstate entities. This discussion focuses primarily on the archipelagic Caribbean, although it extends at times to states in the Caribbean Basin.

New Geopolitical Dynamics

The world witnessed dramatic change and turbulence as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, some of it critical to the Caribbean. The collapse of world communism and the concomitant end of the Cold War are at the center of the transformation. The bipolar character of global military-political power has been replaced by a reemerged multipolar system. Not only is there evidence of multipolarity, but some scholars point to the development ofa multidimensional basis of global power.

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