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Backing Australia and Finland: The Caribbean at One

Sir Ronald Sanders

Sunday, September 02, 2012    

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THE 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) will be supporting Australia and Finland for two of the 10 non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) when elections are held in the UN General Assembly in New York in October. There is good reason to do so.

As frustrating as the wrangling between its five permanent members may be, the UNSC still has great relevance to small independent Caribbean states, 14 of which are members of Caricom.

Unlike large and powerful countries, Caribbean small states have neither military might nor economic clout. Diplomacy is their most important tool in international affairs. They must use diplomacy to build a network of links to countries with which they share common goals and interests.

In the case of the UNSC, Caribbean small states have to be anxious about the security of their own borders from external threats, but they also have to be concerned with global peace and security. Disruptions in other parts of the world affect Caribbean countries. Examples of such effects are: the 9/11 atrocities in the US that crippled tourism, hurting Caribbean economies; and conflicts in the Middle-East that caused oil prices to soar with harmful consequences for production and the cost of living. Because Caribbean small states are infrequently represented on the UNSC, they have to work to ensure that like-minded countries are elected -- countries whose positions would be broadly reflective of their own, and upon whom they can rely to speak up on issues about which they are troubled.

This is why the elections for 10 non-permanent members of the UNSC for the period 2013-2014 are important to the people of the Caribbean.

Not enough is done to explain the vital link between foreign policy positions and domestic considerations in small states. Yet, the citizens of countries have a right to know and understand why their Governments adopt the foreign policy positions that they do.

It is now fairly well known that Caricom countries have collectively decided to support the candidatures of Australia and Finland for the two seats on the UNSC allocated to what is called the 'Western Europe and Others Group' (WEOG). There is a third candidate — Luxembourg. So, it is a three-cornered fight for election to two seats.

In the case of Australia, Caricom's support derives from two things. First, of the 14-independent member nations of Caricom, 12 of them are also members of the Commonwealth, along with Australia. There are many similarities among them, including language, common law, shared values, a history of co-operation and a passion for the game of cricket. Second, Australia has also been a contributor to the rebuilding of Haiti -- the poorest of the Caricom states. It is a contribution appreciated by all Caricom countries.

Beyond these two important considerations, Australia has always shown concern for the plight of small states in its own area of the world — the Pacific. That concern has extended to the Caribbean where Australia has contributed in practical ways. For example, since 2010, Australia has been spending a four-year allocation of US$63m on projects in the Caribbean, including US$17.4m on climate adaptation — a matter of crucial importance to the region.

Because of the many contacts with Australia at several levels within the Commonwealth — through both the governmental Commonwealth and civil society organisations — Australia has a keen understanding of the outlook and aspirations of the Caribbean and it can be called upon to take account of them in the positions adopted at the UNSC.

With regard to Finland, with which there has not been the sort of traditional links as exist with Australia, there is a kind of "soul-brother" relationship. Finland is a small state in European terms, and, like the Caribbean, it knows the anguish of colonialism and occupation having endured them both from Russia and Sweden.

Conflict resolution is high on Finland's agenda — something welcomed by the Caribbean. And Finland and the small Caricom countries were natural allies in last July's negotiations in New York on an Arms Trade Treaty. While they failed to secure the Treaty, largely because of a last-minute abandonment by the US, together with Canada and Australia they overcame many hurdles to bring the treaty to the cusp of conclusion.

Despite its distance from the region, Finland has diplomatic relations with every Caricom country and it has appointed honorary consuls in all of them. It is also little known that, for over a decade, Finland has quietly been contributing to the region's development, particularly in meteorological services that are important to the area especially to prepare for annual storms.

At the disappointing Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil earlier this year, Finland was also a solid ally of the Caricom states in trying to get action to address the needs of small island developing states in anticipation of the effects of global warming that are expected to worsen in the near future.

It may well be asked whether or not it matters who is elected to the 10-member non-permanent seats of the UNSC since it is the permanent five — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — that hold real power and any one of them can veto actions by the Council that they disapprove.

It is precisely because so much power resides in the hands of the five permanent members that it is important to elect to the 10 non-permanent seat countries that will have the sensitivity and concern to raise their voices as trustees for all the other countries of the word that have no veto, and even no say.

Both Australia and Finland have demonstrated not only a determination to contribute to resolving conflicts in the world, but also a commitment to advancing the interests of small and powerless states. That is why joint support for Australia and Finland by Caricom countries, in a welcome harmonisation of their positions, is good for the Caribbean people and for the wider world community.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Caribbean diplomat

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com

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