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The Foreign Relations of T&T- A Critique
Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

The book, recently launched at UWI, on 6 December last, entitled, The Foreign Relations of T&T (FRTT) published by Lexicon was authored jointly by former NAR External Affairs Minister and UWI historian, Dr Sahadeo Basdeo and Canadian historian, Dr Graeme Mount.

While ostensibly purporting to be an analysis of"Ö the nature and dynamics of foreign policy making in T&TÖ" the publication in fact, constitutes nothing more than a monotonous, episodic chronological diplomatic history of disconnected events culled from the evolutionary processes of the conduct of our foreign relations between 1962 and 2000.

To compound matters further the authors did not even attempt obliquely to clarify and document how the small island developing status (SIDS) of T&T, squatting on the continental shelf off-shore Venezuela, and over- dependent for its economic survival on marine sources of hydrocarbons and living resources, influenced and determined the dynamics of our foreign policy positions and objectives.

Accordingly the geographic sub-title, The Case of a Small State in the Global Arena" appears to be a meaningless, in vogue, attention-catching appendage to the title. In short the book is elementary and ineffectively repetitive in its structure and far too simplistic in its orientation having regard to the sophistication of the subject.

T&T exercises sovereignty over 2,000 square miles of land space. When it declared itself in 1980 as an archipelagic state of 23 islands in conformity with the relevant criteria established in the Law of the Sea Convention it assumed varying degrees of economic jurisdiction and control over an additional 40,000 square miles of potentially prolific marine hydrocarbon producing and fishing provinces.

Can T&T be accurately regarded as a small State strictu sensu?

Nevertheless, systemic constraints imposed by the bipolar power politics of the Cold War of the 60ís and 70ís impelled TT since its independence in 1962 to adopt a normative strategy in its international relations like other newly independent Non-Aligned developing states to insulate itself from the dangers and negative fall out of conventional super - power politics. Hence its initial foreign policy emphases on functionalism promoted through membership of the Non-aligned Movement and of several regional and UN Organisations and Agencies.

To claim to embark upon a serious seminal analysis of the FRTT without focussing on the role, function, structure and human endowment of the designated foreign policy implementing Ministry (the vectors), of which one of the authors was a Minister from 1988 to 1991 is to leave a huge gap in the analysis. Considerations of size, resources, economics, trade, ethnicity and history impacted on the global configuration of our Overseas Representation. Dr. Williams used the Foreign Service as a receptacle to jettison and neutralize potential political adversaries such as Patrick Solomon, Donald Granado, Andrew Rose and Learie Constantine. To him the Foreign Service was a necessary evil and he conducted precious little interface with our Ambassadors/High Commissioners producing negative demonstration effects locally. To the late first PM the only expertise which our diplomats possessed was the ability to hold a cocktail glass in their hands.

In my view the analysis of very significant and pivotal events of a foreign policy nature in the evolutionary process of the foreign relations of T&T are missing from the equation and discussions. For example the proposed Unitary Statehood with Grenada (Williams era) received en passant reference and the Manning Initiative involving proposed sub-regional economic and political integration among T&T, Barbados and Guyana did not merit importance.

The authors failed to exercise their discriminating judgment and to separate the grain from the chaff in order to accord priority to the fundamentals while ignoring historical imponderables. Their concerns were with volume rather than value, with episodes rather than analytics, with the trees while ignoring the forests.

The discussion of TTís critically important foreign relations conducted with Venezuela is woefully inadequate. Two of the most important and outstanding foreign policy issues in these relations involve Williams 1973 Speech entitled,"Threat to the Caribbean Community" and the 1991 TT/Venezuela Delimitation Treaty.

The former represented the contingency response of Dr. Williams for preserving the integrity of CARICOM in the face of Carlos Andres Perezís Venezuelan Caribbean Basin Concept as well as its claim to 1/5 of the Caribbean Sea resulting from its 200- mile Economic Zone claim which would deprive countries of the OECS of large tracts of their traditional off-shore fishing grounds.

Secondly, former UWI historian Basdeo turned foreign policy analyst, himself presided, as the responsible Minister, actively over the conclusion/ratification of the TT/Venezuela Delimitation Treaty in October 1991 and which was carried live on TTT.

This bilateral matter constituted T&Tís single most important foreign policy issue if measured by the level of unprecedented widespread popular participation. Government and Opposition, the population at large, the University, the mass media, publicists and the 1991 General election hustings accorded to this controversial issue, in-exhaustive and intensive scrutiny during the last two months of the Robinson NAR Administration.

While the authors refer to T&Tís non-involvement in the US-led invasion of Grenada they failed to assess the impact of domestic interest groups, that is to say, how the large local contingent of Grenadian residents influenced T&Tís foreign policy position.

As a small island developing state, T&T from 1967 to 1997 within a 30-year period which transcended five separate Administrations played a high profile international role disproportionate to its size in the negotiation of the 1982 Montego Bay Law of the Sea Convention. The package of foreign policy negotiating positions adopted by the delegations reflected the imperatives of its geography, location and size. Accordingly its policies towards the definition of islands and criteria for maritime delimitation etc were directly determined by TTís proximity to Venezuela and Grenada as well its small size. Such far-reaching and critical foreign policy considerations have been completely ignored in the study.

The authors had an obligation to analyse the role of Parliament in foreign policy formulation and determination. They omitted any references, inter alia, to the lengthy Senate Debate on the first Foreign Policy Motion introduced in Parliament by Senator Kusha Harracksingh. They also failed to explain how the Westminster Constitution facilitated Cabinetís tyranny in supplanting the role of Parliament by allowing Cabinet the competence to accede to international Conventions as well as to undertake most foreign policy initiatives.

How can a study claiming to address our foreign relations fail to consider even en passant T&Tís major foreign policy pronouncements issued in annual addresses to the General Assemblies of the UN by the respective Ministers of Foreign Affairs?

Accordingly while the book represents a worthwhile, self-confessed pioneering effort aimed at documenting the growth and progressive development of our foreign relations albeit in historical perspective the claims of the authors do not match with its contents and they are guilty of leaving huge voids in the analysis. Being professional historians, the authors allowed their penchant for the use of historical chronology to impede and override their obligation for achieving scholarly analysis and evaluation in this specialised field of international relations. The chief structural defect of the study is that it adopted a chronological in preference to the more appropriate conceptual approach. They identified T&Tís foreign policy responses without establishing the links and the underpinnings.

I believe the authors may have unwittingly committed an act of injustice by failing to adequately document aspects of the patriotic and missionary zeal displayed by the early cadre of our foreign policy practitioners such as Ambassadors, Naimool, Seignoret, O"Neil-Lewis, Dumas, Lutchman, McIntyre et al. These soldiers were in the front lines and prosecuted our foreign relations from the 60ís through the 90ís with distinction and to whom the national community is indebted. They should have received honourable mention. In fact no study conducted of the FRTT can ever lay claim to be historically authoritative without providing posterity with an appreciation of the unique contribution made by the acknowledged doyen and father of our Foreign Service, former PS Lennox Ballah who was recently elected a member of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea located in Hamburg, Germany.

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