Tillerson-Jamaica meeting could test foreign policy strengths

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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It's not something that the Government of Jamaica will readily admit; being caught completely by surprise when the United States Government informed it that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will touchdown in Jamaica for a one-hour meeting, en route from stops in Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia.

The impending visit to the island led to the eruption of a vigorous online debate among Jamaicans, most of whom have serious concerns about what the US wants from Jamaica, especially given their view that the Jamaican Government is unwilling to resist any demand from the US.

This lack of confidence emerged after Jamaica abstained in the recent vote on Jerusalem in the General Assembly of the United Nations, after the US announced it would be moving its embassy to Israel's disputed holy city.

Apart from the usual suspects who see no evil, hear no evil, or speak no evil of the Government, the Andrew Holness Administration has taken flak for not following the well-known Jamaican path of voting its conviction, even in the most difficult of times.

Note that former Prime Minister Bruce Golding wondered loudly in his article in the Jamaica Observer last week whether the decision was lacking in courage. Last week also, another former prime minister, Mr P J Patterson, suggested in a speech:

“We (Jamaica) have never reaped any substantial or lasting benefits from grovelling or genuflection. We have won when Jamaica has united to pursue a common cause by providing leadership at the political, diplomatic and technical levels of the Caribbean Community, the Organization of American States, the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Commonwealth.

“This is no time to abdicate leadership or change course. So when Jamaica abstains on a resolution to which four permanent members of the Security Council and a total of 129 nations subscribe, the non-aligned world will question whether we have lost our sense of international morality.”

On the other hand, pragmatists have warned that a small country like Jamaica has no alternative but to comply with whatever the US demands because it is the superpower which most impacts our economic survival.

While US financial aid is small and likely to be further reduced by the current Administration, the Jamaican economy still depends on tourists and remittances from the US. Plus the US provides help on national security, transnational crime and narcotics trafficking — important, given our runaway murder rate.

Furthermore, Jamaica might not have the stomach to handle potential punitive measures if it says 'no' to the current US Administration. The truth is that the US-Jamaica relationship is a well-established partnership in which there must be give and take.

Perhaps Dr Richard Bernal, the former Jamaican ambassador to the US, is right in his recently published book The Influence of Small States on Superpowers: Jamaica and US Foreign Policy, in which he argues that it is possible for Jamaica to influence US foreign policy.

The test will be whether in the upcoming Tillerson meeting Jamaica can sit down as a negotiating partner or as a supplicant, worse mendicant.




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