Jamaica is in a brave new world, a type of world which we as humans have not lived in for 30 to 100 years. It hearkens back to the old days of a multi-polar world, or put in another way, a world which has more than one great power. Such a world may seem alien to those of us who were born in the late 80s onwards. We have only known a world where the word of the mighty US is law, but those who were born in the 40s to 70s would remember a world where, if not consultation, at least thought was given to an action before taking it as the US had a real (in many senses) rival in the USSR.
Today, however, isn’t even like that. The closest I feel we can get in terms of comparison would be the 1700s when the world’s affairs were decided by a few nations, chief amongst them the Spanish Empire which was in a then unseen terminal decline.
The US, like the old Spanish Empire, is the chief military and (on the outside at least) an economic power. But like the Spanish Empire she has over-reached and others know that, and so just as the Dutch and French and English nibbled at the old empire till it withered away, so we now see the Chinese and the Indians and even the Russians to an extent nibbling away at the edges of the sick empire.
What decisions have the Jamaican state made in this regard? On the face of it there seem to be two rather straightforward questions; Do we maintain and strengthen our relations with our ‘auld ally the Americans, a nation that by all accounts has seen her best days and can only go downhill from here? Or do we align ourselves with the rising powers which are re-emerging in the East, nations which, on the face of it, can only go from strength to strength?
Both of those options are fraught with dangers which could cost us dearly. Siding exclusively with the US could, in the end, mean sectioning ourselves off from trade with the East (a real possibility as seen with the Trump trade war), while going east would almost definitely lead to some retaliation from the US (has anyone in the hemisphere forgotten Cuba?).
There is a less talked about in public third option which would entail playing both regions off against each other for our own benefit, an option which is said would be both the safest and securest in terms of wealth. Which one will we choose, what are the pros and cons, and most importantly is the state or either party actively taking action in any of these directions?
Dealing solely with the US and her satellites is the first choice in the minds of most persons. This is so for many reasons, but mainly because we consume so much US culture and they are our main trading partner. The school of thought which is, for want of a better phrase, ‘pro-American’ says that going with America would ensure that we have unfettered access to the American (and European) markets, ensure that our people are able to travel to these beautiful lands, and have access to their education. They say that with America as our largest trading partner it would be prudent to side with them as without them we would drown financially. Unspoken is the threat of a Cuban style blockade or the financial strangulation which we are currently witnessing with Venezuela.
The problem with that however is, the US economy has reached its zenith, it cannot go up anymore (what we see now is as good as it will get) and may in fact fall flat on its face at any point in time. The US, while remaining the dominant player, is fast losing its influence (diplomatic and financial) in Europe, Canada and Latin America (the satellite states which we also depend on). These satellite states are currently straining under the yoke of US imperialism and as such are trying to distance (though by no means a complete or near complete break) themselves from what has now in some aspects become a liability.
The fear of sanctions, embargoes or even invasions is real, but this is not the 60s, and even Venezuela could and can get out of their current quagmire without returning to the US trading empire.
The other school of thought says simply, go east. The rationale behind it does seem to make sense in many areas. The east is the manufacturing centre of the world. It is home to some of the best schools in the world and it is set to become the innovative hub of the world in the next few decades. The east has long surpassed the west as it relates to global trade (something which began in the late 80s) and as things stand now own a large chunk of world debt (India and China).
The world’s rising armies are to be found in the east, namely Turkey, India, China and the ever present Russians. These armies (barring the Chinese) have been in active combat for almost 30 years and to all who watch, have improved in leaps and bounds to the point where the Russians could directly intervene in Syria and change the balance of the conflict.
In the diplomatic field the east is also on a massive rise. The Indians, who have always had a presence, are now on a major diplomatic push. The Chinese, who are known for having been rather silent on the diplomatic front for the past 30 years, have come back with some serious economic strength behind them (as we see with their interactions with Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa), and the Russians, as has been noted before, have been making hay in the Middle-East, particularly the Syrian war.
The positives are that we would be tied to the rising powers of the world and we would have access to their economies. We could in theory act as a key link in trade between Asia and the East American seaboard due to our proximity to the Panama Canal while also acting as a financial hub to said Asian nations as they seek to do financial transactions closer to the American continent, while also safe from American economic spite.
The downside to this however is very dark, even if one quarter were to be done to us. To put it shortly we could be strangled in every sense but the literal. We could face blockades, sanctions, and possible violence as the US would not want to see a nation in this region breaking away (especially at this critical time). We could become a pariah along the lines of Venezuela or Iran where nations go out of their way to not trade with them in spite of the benefits because the imperial master says so. Invasion and occupation could even be on the cards, something which sounds far-fetched until one remembers Grenada, Panama and even Iraq.
Finally we come to what some call the best of both worlds, that is playing both regions off against each-other with us in the middle. This theory states that while the East is on the up, it isn’t there yet and while the West is spent it isn’t a finished power. Therefore we in this nation should be looking to get into bed with both while committing to neither. What this would mean hypothetically is Jamaican oil being managed by the Americans while we act as an offshore financial house for the Asian powers. Jamaica would continue to export its bauxite to the US while acting as a trans-shipment hub for cargo (manufactured in the east) bound for the US.
This road is, for my money, the most deadly road one could take. The phrase ‘the man who stands in the middle of the road gets run over‘ has much truth to it when applied to politics and international relations. It takes a skilled statesman (see Tito or Nehru) to go that precarious path. It runs the risk of the nation being shut out of all international finance and trade, east and west, as they may aim to make an example of us. The Americans may act in a blind rage at what could only be described as a pawn trying to make a king’s move while the Chinese may simply divest themselves of anything Jamaican, leaving us in a worse position than when they found us.
For me, while playing the two sides off each other does have the semblance of genius about it, I cannot see it happening as our politicians are not cut from the kind of cloth which can both move with the international tides but also swim against it (the last being Patterson). Our current politicians are crass, juvenile and not too sharp when it comes to policy crafting and implementation and they would only lead us to ruin with that course of action. What we should do is hitch our wagons to the rising east and abandon the stagnant and soon to be sinking ship which is the west.
This is already happening if one looks at the way the wind is blowing. Argentina and Brazil, nations which recently came back into the US sphere of influence politically after 15 years of animosity, are still firmly (and it increases daily) in the Chinese economic sphere of influence which naturally bleeds into the political influence (it enhances diplomacy to the nth degree).
The once stable ally of the west, Turkey, has also seen which way the wind is blowing and as such is looking to further integrate into the growing east (see the train, pipeline and economic-zone).
It is understandable why our leaders would prefer the status quo, it allows them to remain firmly in the western economic zone, gurantees security and allows them the ability to flirt with eastern finance. But it can’t and won’t last. Reckoning will have to take place, and the sooner we make it the better. The better we can plan against retaliation, plan integration and iron out diplomacy. To dilly dally and remain when all the evidence says leave is to tie us to a bleak near-future and that is a time and place I personally do not want to see.