Caribbean Diaspora Caribbean Regional - Political/Social/Economic Crime and Security

Security and Good Governance in U.S.–Caribbean Relations

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Written by Amb. Curtis Ward
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Ambassador Curtis A. Ward

Security and Good Governance in U.S.–Caribbean Relations

Almost a year since my participation on a panel in March 2016 to explore “Security and Good Governance in U.S.–Jamaica Relations”, a joint effort organized by the Caribbean Research and Policy Institute (CaPRI) and the U.S. Embassy (Kingston) in the context of “Dialogue between Democracies: The Future of U.S. – Jamaica Bilateral Relations”, I feel compelled to revisit these issues on a much broader scale inclusive of the Caribbean region.

Considering changing geopolitical realities in Washington, focus on this subject at this time takes on greater significance.  Changes in Washington create imperatives for the region, two of which forms the basis for this discussion:

1) There are many unknowns and new dynamics resulting from having a new political administration in Washington. So far, we cannot point to anything specific that could guide reasonable expectations on what President Donald Trump’s plans for U.S.-Caribbean relations might be. Some of us may hold high expectations, or perhaps hopeful that the policies carried out by former President Barack Obama’s administration which enhanced U.S.–Caribbean relations, as well as policies carried over from prior administrations that have worked well for both sides will be continued and built upon rather than dismantled.

2) The “United States–Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016” (H.R.4939) provides a context for the evaluation of current U.S.-Caribbean relations and development of future U.S. engagement policy with the Caribbean.  H.R.4939 passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama in December 2016 enjoyed bi-partisan support and specifically mandates the Secretary of State, in collaboration with the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to “submit to the appropriate congressional committees a multi-year strategy for United States engagement with the Caribbean region.”  The first such strategy presentation to Congress will be due in June 2017.

These two dynamics present Governments of the region and U.S.–based Caribbean Diaspora members an opportunity to be proactively engaged in the evolution of future U.S.-Caribbean policy.  The importance of the Caribbean Diaspora in U.S.-Caribbean policy formulation and execution cannot be overemphasized and sponsors of H.R.4939 recognized this in the original Bill. Some U.S. political leaders have an awareness of, and appreciation for the potential role of members of the Caribbean Diaspora in U.S. engagement with the Caribbean.

I raise these issues with the hope that governments of the Caribbean region and members of the Caribbean Diaspora will take seriously the challenges and opportunities these new dynamics present to us.  Future writings on The Ward Post will continue elaboration of these issues, and provide a medium for discussion more broadly of U.S.-Caribbean relations.

My focus on security and good governance provides an opportunity to highlight areas of cooperation and collaboration between the United States and the Caribbean which will inure to the benefit of both sides of the Third Border, in particular as these issues are foundational to the region’s development, as well as securing the countries of the region and the U.S. from national, regional, and global security threats.  Most importantly, the H.R.4939 review offers an opportunity to review the current status and what needs to be done collectively to build a security architecture which serves the mutual interests of the U.S. and the region.  Security capacity-building and cooperation must be anticipated as a primary feature of the H.R.4939 review alongside review of trade and other economic relations.

There is a huge gap in the security capacities, the human, technological, and financial resources vís-a-vís the U.S. and Caribbean countries. Despite this gap each side needs the other, in order to ensure aspects of their own security.  The links between the people of the United States and the Caribbean spans centuries – old and new immigrants, and hundreds of thousands of natural-born Americans with Caribbean heritage offers both sides an opportunity to approach security from a position of trust and mutual interests.

There are currently significant areas of cooperation and collaboration between the United States and the Caribbean, in particular, the assistance provided by the United States to Caribbean governments through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) which enhances the security of the U.S. and the Caribbean region; investments in renewable energy resulting from the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative (CESI), and the supply of natural gas as fuel for converted oil-burning power plants, in particular in Jamaica; and the decades-old Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), and successor trade and investment programs; as well as financial sector treaties and agreements for cooperation in preventing tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes, including the recent FATCA agreements.

The CBSI has benefited Jamaica and other Caribbean countries in security capacity-building – training, equipment supplies and technical support. In particular, security cooperation and collaboration between the countries of the region, bilaterally and collectively, and the United States have had a significant impact on the capacity of Caribbean governments to secure their maritime boundaries, and for the United States to interdict drug trafficking through the region.

However, much more is required to obtain optimal security guarantees for Caribbean countries in maritime security, in enhancing law enforcement capacity, rule of law and good governance to deal with crime and other security-related issues. The cost of maritime security assets and security personnel training and equipment are cost-prohibitive for Caribbean governments acting without U.S. security assistance. Cooperation and partnership with the United States are indispensable, without exception, to effectively patrol Caribbean maritime boundaries.

As a super power, not unlike any other country, the United States prioritizes its own national security.  Drug trafficking through the region is a major problem for the United States, as it is a major driver of crime threatening Caribbean societies.  Illegal drug trafficking is a major driver of other serious crimes, such as money laundering, corruption, and illegal arms trafficking; all of which threatens the safety and security of the region.

Under-funded since its inception in 2010, the CBSI requires far more support from the U.S. government.  The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has highlighted the lack of cooperation from the U.S. Congress with the Obama administration as one of the reasons for SOUTHCOM’s inability to effectively secure America’s southern border by providing more security assistance to the region.  With a Republican Congress and a Republican President there is hope that this dynamic will change and there will be more resources made available for the CBSI.  The H.R.4939 State Department review should highlight this issue as an important element in enhancing future U.S.–Caribbean engagement.

No matter how well-intentioned are the U.S. Embassies in Kingston and other Caribbean capitals and desk officers at the U.S. State Department in Washington, as regards appropriation requests for security-related funding for Caribbean countries, it is incumbent on Caribbean governments, individually and collectively to make the case to relevant Congressional committees that decide funding appropriations for the CBSI and other security-related programs.  Successive Caribbean governments, with very few exceptions, have failed to make their cases to Congress consistently, and the resulting funding has been at a level far less than what is needed to deal adequately with the problem.

As with the CBSI and other U.S. programs, the onus is on Caribbean governments in collaboration with the U.S. government to initiate and develop programs to satisfy the security needs of each country and the region.  In other words, Caribbean governments should be more pro-active and not wait for programs to be developed in Washington and offered by the U.S. government which might not be appropriate to meet their pressing security priorities.

The need for adequate intelligence sharing in U.S.–Caribbean security cooperation must also be included in bilateral and regional agendas; and the capacity of each country’s security and law enforcement sectors to manage and use actionable intelligence effectively when offered by the U.S. government will affect the level of trust and cooperation.  The disparity in the capacity of each country to share and receive intelligence requires a high trust level between intelligence community counterparts. Good governance, rule of law, and integrity of law enforcement personnel are major factors for trust in intelligence sharing between the United States and Caribbean countries.

The U.S. intelligence community is by far the most sophisticated in the world with the highest level of training and technological capabilities.  Information collection capacity is matched by highly technical information processing and analyses to arrive at actionable intelligence.  Highly sensitive with “secret” or “top secret” classification, the U.S. intelligence products are shared with other countries only under circumstances where such intelligence can be protected. The level of sharing is concomitant with the level of trust and the capacity of the recipient to use intelligence responsibly.

Caribbean countries’ law enforcement and security sectors rely heavily on intelligence shared by the U.S. and others.  However, it is unrealistic to believe the U.S. shares everything it knows about security risks and threats to the region with the region’s security and law enforcement communities.  There are constraints based on the fear of compromise of intelligence sources and resulting risks to U.S. national security interests.  Hence intelligence capacity is an area in which Caribbean countries need to grow their competences through training arrangements with the United States.  Improved intelligence capacities inure to the mutual security benefits of all partners.

Caribbean diaspora members with related expertise can add value to future U.S.–Caribbean engagement, but this can only become a reality if U.S. policy makers and Caribbean governments proactively engage the diaspora for their possible input in development and execution of related programs and initiatives.  H.R.4939 could be a vehicle, formally or otherwise, for increasing the levels of consultation and engagement with the Caribbean diaspora.  The Caribbean diaspora must be prepared to participate as partners. Such engagement must begin now.

Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, B.A., J.D., LL.M., is an attorney and international consultant, and Adjunct Professor in the Homeland Security Graduate Program at the University of the District of Columbia. As former Ambassador of Jamaica to the United Nations he served two years on the U.N. Security Council. He was Expert Adviser to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee for three years. He specializes in terrorism/counterterrorism legal and policy frameworks; anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT); sanctions implementation; crime and security; human rights, rule of law and governance.

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Amb. Curtis Ward

1 Comment

  • Great article ambassador Ward. This new piece of legislation should not be placed on the mantle of the US Congress as a showpiece. Caribbean leaders should convene special meetings to discuss how best they can engage with the US to arrive at programs that can help with the security of the region. The time for a joint security agreement between the US and the Caribbean has arrived. The movement of criminals and contraband between the US and the region is very easy. A joint security agreement will federalize certain criminal activities whether they are committed in the US or in the Caribbean once any component involves both areas. Therefore shipping illegal weapons from US to the region will be a federal felony and vice versa, shipping drugs or any human trafficking from the region to the will be similarly classified. It is far too long that persons have been conducting criminal acts and using sovereignty as a cover. The US and the Caribbean are “joined at the hip”. What sovereignty? We as Caribbean persons should seize the moment now to get a plan in place. The US is home to too may of us, many are three generations deep, we must proceed from paper signing to policy implementation. Good security is the foundation on which strong economies are built. If prosperity is our goal then we have to build it on a strong foundation. Time for action – “time waits on no man”

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