The phrase “coming of age” is used to describe the period of entering adulthood. For the purpose of this commentary, it refers to the process of political maturity.
The Caribbean region is the world’s oldest example of modern globalization. European colonialism forcibly positioned the peoples and lands that were supposedly “discovered” through expansionism at the epicenter of the “new world.” Through the atrocities of slavery, native genocide, and other forms of oppression, the Caribbean region was colonized to extract wealth from the plantation economy. This wealth was an important building block of “Western civilization,” and helped to create what we regard today as “globalization.”
Beneath the debris of this imperial history, we uncover a number of contradictions. One such disparity is that while today’s Caribbean has been economically and culturally “globalized”, we remain substantially on the periphery of global politics. Whether through the failure of the United Nations (UN) to make substantive amends for Haiti’s 2010 outbreak of cholera, or its inability to curb the imperialistic tendencies of superpowers that bring instability to our part of the world, we remain the unfortunate afterthought of global policy.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the primary locus of political power in the world. Charged with ensuring international peace and security, the decisions made at this forum affect the life of every person on earth. Yet, any keen observer will see that some countries have more peace and security than others.
This is not only because these countries are wealthier, larger, or more powerful militarily than others, it is also because global decision-making is often controlled by a handful of wealthy, large, and militarily powerful states. Whether this wealth and power is a result of these global decisions remains debatable, but what is clear is that these decisions often ignore the realities of life in small countries until it serves the interests of the powerful. This is how power works. It propagates itself until it meets worthy resistance either from the outside or from within.
In this era of Climate Change, small island states have no choice but to expand their own political power to influence the decisions of the powerful. This is the only way that we can ensure that the interests of our peoples are given sufficient attention. This is also the only way that some of the previously mentioned historical wrongs could be systematically addressed.
Wealth extracted from the Caribbean through colonialism was used to drive the industrial revolution. Industrialization produces emissions that drive Climate Change, which in turn, threatens the very existence of the Caribbean as we know it. Coincidentally, some of the primary beneficiaries of colonially-driven industrialization are permanent members of the UNSC today. Yet, the countries that have been historically dispossessed, and are continually endangered, through various exercises of power stand on the outside of this important group.
A non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council gives small states the power to address Climate Change alongside some of today’s biggest challenges. Or at least it gives them the power to resist the bad decisions of the powerful through dialogue. We should all welcome Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ bid for a seat at the UNSC. If successful, we will be the smallest, and arguably the least powerful, country to ever sit at this table. In this our 40th year of independence, it will also mark our coming of age.
Dominic Brisbane is a Vincentian academic who studies Globalization and Global Governance.