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Caribbean Islands-Controversial Security Issues

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After the signing of the RSS Memorandum of Understanding in 1982, some opposition groups in the Eastern Caribbean charged that the security plan was a United States idea, designed to keep conservative, pro-United States governments in power. These groups, and particularly Barbados' Democratic Labour Party (DLP), criticized the alleged secretiveness of their governments' participation in the RSS and in developing the SSUs. Conservative leaders, such as Dominica's Charles, countered that the RSS idea was developed by Caribbean leaders and that there was nothing secret about Dominica's RSS activities, which usually involved coast guard assistance, or its SSU, which carried out normal police duties when not training or exercising as a unit.

In addition to the regional debate over the pros and cons of the RSS itself, two related security issues were controversial in the 1980s: a proposal to establish a Regional Defence Force (RDF) and charges of "militarization" of the Eastern Caribbean. The plan to establish a regional force had been canceled in the late 1960s as a result of disagreements over the location of the proposed force and its leadership, in which country ultimate authority over it should reside, and logistical problems and financial constraints. The idea of establishing an RDF was again considered by the Eastern Caribbean islands in 1976, as well as shortly after the Grenada coup in 1979, but was shelved on both occasions owing to practical and political obstacles. During 1980 serious talks got underway on establishing a 120-member regional defense force "to deal with any internal armed threat to an elected government."

Barbadian prime minister Adams revived the RDF proposal in 1982 when the RSS was formed, but it was rejected as too costly. Undeterred, he again brought up the idea at the RSS meeting held in Castries, St. Lucia, in February 1983. By formally introducing his so-called "Adams Doctrine" in a speech to the annual conference of his governing BLP on January 21, 1984, Adams emerged as the principal proponent for establishing an RDF in the region. He recommended one regional army, consisting of 1,000 to 1,800 troops, instead of a number of national armies, because a combined force would provide an additional safeguard against insurrections, mercenaries, and military revolts.

An RDF would have been unprecedented for a region that had been guarded mainly by police since the islands began to become independent from Britain in the early 1960s. Despite their considerable strategic importance, none of the Eastern Caribbean islands had maintained more than a token military force. Only Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda still had defense forces in the late 1980s. The Barbados Defence Force (BDF), formerly the long- standing Barbados Regiment, was created by the BLP government in 1979. Comprising army, marine, and air divisions, the BDF was reported in 1986 to have from 300 to 1,800 troops (the latter figure was announced by Prime Minister Barrow himself). Most knowledgeable observers generally agreed, however, that the BDF had about 500 members. The 115-member Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force lacked the training, equipment, and organization of the BDF.

The other English-speaking islands in the Eastern Caribbean also were guarded mainly by police. Dominica's prime minister Charles disbanded the Dominican Defence Force in April 1981 after at least five key officers were implicated in a failed coup attempt involving United States and Canadian mercenaries. In 1979 the same force had intervened in a crowd-control incident and opened fire, killing two persons. The resulting constitutional crisis led to the dismissal from office of then-prime minister Patrick John. St. Kitts and Nevis also abolished its fourteen-year-old defense force in 1981, owing to its costliness and ineffectiveness, and converted its soldiers into policemen and firemen. It retained only its Volunteer Defence Force and the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force.

The RDF proposal would have expanded the 1982 RSS agreement to include a regional ground force element. Adams explained that the RDF proposal called for "the abandonment of individual defence forces and the incorporation of the existing forces into a regional force which would have a unified command under general political direction." According to St. Lucian prime minister Compton, the RDF would move into any island "which showed signs of invasion from internal subversion or outside intruders."

The RSS Council of Ministers, meeting in Bridgetown on February 7, 1984, studied a report on the implications of establishing an RDF. These leaders also raised the RDF question the next day in a meeting with visiting United States secretary of state George P. Shultz, with whom Prime Minister Adams held a private meeting. By that time, the RDF proposal envisioned an 1,800-member force costing US$100 million over 5 years (a figure that included purchases of helicopters and coast guard vessels).

In a meeting at BDF headquarters in Bridgetown on March 17, 1984, the leaders of the six RSS island nations resumed discussion of the proposal to establish an RDF instead of national armies. By October, however, they had scaled down plans for a Barbados-based RDF, primarily owing to the cost factor but also in response to charges of militarization of the region. Some critics were concerned that an RDF would divert scarce funds from badly needed economic development projects. Mitchell, who took office as prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a landslide victory in July 1984, announced that his New Democratic Party (NDP) was opposed to heavy spending on arms and armies in the region because of concerns about "militarization."

A five-year plan proposed at the RSS meeting held on November 23, 1984, called for expanding the multilateral RDF into a permanent Caribbean Defence Force. With headquarters in Barbados and garrisons in Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda, it would have consisted of about 1,800 personnel, including 700 combat infantry troops and some 1,100 members of coast guard and air support elements. Implementation of the initiative, however, would have been dependent on increases in United States security assistance and exemption from a technical United States legislative restriction prohibiting the provision of foreign police training. When regional military leaders estimated the cost of the proposed RDF at US$60 million over five years, Washington rapidly cooled on the idea.

When Adams died from a heart attack in March 1985, the RDF plan lost its main advocate. After Barrow took office as prime minister in Barbados in May 1986, he joined ranks with Prime Minister Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and succeeded in blocking the RDF proposal. Opposition to the RDF idea among some island leaders also was a factor in its demise. Nevertheless, Antigua and Barbuda's prime minister Vere Cornwall Bird, Sr., still advocated the establishment of an independent, regional collective defense and security system in order to counter what he perceived to be a communist threat aimed at destabilizing the OECS member states.

The efforts by the English-speaking islands of the Eastern Caribbean to establish an RDF and an RSS, with both British and United States military assistance, were characterized by critics as tantamount to militarizing the region. Some academics contended that the region had become militarized. Even OECS director Vaughan Lewis expressed reservations about the possible political consequences of establishing SSUs on the islands. "The reinforcement of local security systems," he explained, "leads to an upsetting of the balance between the various socio-political sectors . . . . The modernization process suggests to the military a sense of their own particular status as the only virtuous sector- -as the guardians of the system . . . . This sets the basis for the coup and counter-coup system."

In 1986 the two most outspoken proponents of the militarization charge were prime ministers Barrow and Mitchell of Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, respectively. At his first news conference on June 2, 1986, Barrow told reporters that he held reservations on the RSS similar to those held by Mitchell, including the suspicion that the RSS idea had United States origins. Although both leaders kept their nations in the RSS, they declined to allow their RSS forces to participate in at least two RSS exercises in 1985 and 1986. Barrow and Mitchell also stressed the need for training the police forces of the RSS member countries in internal security measures, instead of providing military-style training for defense and paramilitary forces.

In a letter dated September 2, 1986, and addressed to the prime ministers of the other RSS member states, Barrow stated his government's "strong reservations over the use of our resources for militaristic purposes or for unjustifiable usurpation of the sovereignty of our country by alien influences." At the same time, Barrow announced that Barbados would not agree to upgrade the RSS Memorandum of Understanding to the status of a treaty but would continue using it as the basis for security cooperation between Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. Other regional leaders, principally prime ministers Charles of Dominica and Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, strongly defended the RSS and rejected the militarization argument. Barrow's death from a heart attack in early June 1987 removed the leading critic of the alleged militarization of the subregion.

By 1987 the charges of militarization seemed to have been overstated. Unlike in Bishop's Grenada, the Eastern Caribbean appeared to lack the usual indicators of militarization, such as the formation of people's militias, military involvement in government, military buildups, or significant shares of GDP being devoted to the military sector. Spending increases for police and security forces appeared to be directed toward antidrug operations. Whereas the proportion of expenditures on the military in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Guyana more than doubled during the 1972- 79 period, none of these governments were considered to have particularly close relations with the United States.

The one-to-four ratio of United States military and economic assistance to the Eastern Caribbean in FY 1986 did not suggest a United States effort to militarize the subregion either. Although police force elements acquired paramilitary capabilities with United States assistance, these SSUs were limited to about eighty members each. Moreover, the largest defense force in the subregion, the BDF, had only about 500 members. In some circumstances, however, there appeared to be a potential for SSUs to be misused as a political instrument in support of or against a governing party. The holding of RSS military exercises with United States forces also was a new development for the subregion.

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Yereth Kahn Knowles's doctoral dissertation, Beyond the Caribbean States, offers a scholarly account of post-World War II efforts to form federations and a regional security system. Useful information on the RSS is also contained in the following journal articles: Bernard Diederich's "The End of West Indian Innocence: Arming the Police"; Gary P. Lewis's "Prospects for a Regional Security System in the Eastern Caribbean"; and Graham Norton's "Defending the Eastern Caribbean." Relevant discussions of the militarization issue are Dion E. Phillips's "The Increasing Emphasis on Security and Defense in the Eastern Caribbean" and David A. Simmons's "Militarization of the Caribbean: Concerns for National and Regional Security."

Especially useful journal articles on strategic affairs include Edward A. Padelford's "Caribbean Security and U.S. Political- Military Presence"; Vaughan A. Lewis's "The US and the Caribbean: Issues of Economics and Security"; and George Black's "Mare Nostrum: U.S. Security Policy in the English-Speaking Caribbean." Books with insightful discussions of the strategic setting include those by Harold Mitchell, Lester D. Langley, John Bartlow Martin, Robert Agro-Melina and John Cronin, Thomas D. Anderson, and Robert J. Hanks. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of November 1987

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