This week, the leaders of the world — including our prime minister — are gathered at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York for the annual General Assembly.
This exercise is often dismissed as a glorious talk shop with photo opportunities. Indeed, Jamaica's participation has been dismissed locally as a waste of time and resources, because a small country has little or no influence on the United Nations and international affairs.
This impression is wrong because, first, small states need the multilateral forum of the UN to mobilise coalitions to support issues and policies of interest to them, and to protect them from the abuse they can suffer in bilateral relations with larger, more powerful states by resorting to the rule of international law. Second, small states can indeed influence the UN. Proof of this is Jamaica's record of doing so consistently over the years.
Readers old enough will recall that Jamaica, under the leadership of Premier Norman Manley and not yet politically independent, was the first country to place a trade embargo on apartheid South Africa.
With that example it was no wonder that Mr Manley's son, Michael, who became prime minister in 1972, championed the cause of the world's poor in his call for a new international economic order. In addition, he was awarded a gold medal for his tireless, distinguished role in the international diplomatic struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.
Prime Minister Hugh Shearer of the newly independent Jamaica, in his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963, was bold enough to propose that the United Nations devote a year to human rights. Lo and behold, the year 1968 became the International Year of Human Rights, and the committee established to organise the programme of activities for the year was chaired by Jamaica's then permanent representative to the UN, the late Sir Egerton Richardson.
The previous year, the UN General Assembly also accepted Jamaica's proposal for an international conference to review progress in the field of human rights.
Over the years, distinguished Jamaican diplomats have served in very influential positions in the UN. In his time, Ambassador Donald Mills was one of the most highly regarded envoys to the UN, a leading spokesman for the developing countries, and chair of the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Jamaica has had a seat on the Security Council for two terms. In addition, ambassadors Lucille Mair and Patricia Durrant have done much to break the so-called glass ceiling in the UN system.
The tradition lives on, as now comes the announcement by the United Nations that the winning design has been selected for a monument, called the Arc of Return, to be erected in memory of the millions who died during the transatlantic slave trade. The proposal for that memorial was made by Jamaica at the United Nations in 2007.
Other small states have made significant contribution to world affairs, despite the fact that they do not have the economic, population, and military power of large states. They do, however, have brains, initiative and creativity.