My last article on Barbados’ vote against the US received sufficient feedback to justify a further explanation. Some felt that it was simply a case of the US bullying another country, and Barbados’ courageous stand against the US’ offensive threats of retaliation against countries who dared not vote with it. But is this true?
In assessing claims of truth, we should evaluate evidence. What is the available evidence? The US decided to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem. Israel did not object. However, the UN objected and tried to force the US to change its decision. It did this by crafting a non-binding resolution to condemn the US before all nations at the UN General Assembly.
This type of targeted sanction is normally reserved for nations committing highly offensive actions, like genocide. The US objected to being singled out for this type of sanction, and the US responded by noting those who voted to condemn it, in order to re-evaluate their friendship agreements. This is not bullying, rather, it is a response to being bullied.
What is Barbados’ bullying experience with voting against US interests in Israel? I have found no evidence that Barbados has ever been bullied into voting the way that the US votes. The evidence shows that every year, it is typical that 100% of our votes are against the way that the US and Israel votes, and this has never put our friendship with the US at any risk. So why are some claiming that the US bullies us when there is no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim? Perhaps we are being manipulated.
Let us now address this last UN vote. This vote was unlike anything that we have ever done as an independent nation. It was not the typical vote that targeted an issue favourable to Israel or the Palestinians, this was a massive vote directly targeting the US for international condemnation. That is why the US Ambassador issued her unprecedented warning, which persons have mis-defined as bullying. This is the first and only time since our independence that we have ever put our friendship with the US in such jeopardy.
To put this in perspective, let us assume that China was singled out for severe criticism at the UN on human rights abuses, and China warned Barbados not to disrespect them before all nations. Would our principled UN representatives vote to publically embarrass China? Probably not.
Guyana is currently trying to exploit significant oil reserves in waters disputed by Venezuela. In my opinion, Guyana has a strong case, but let us assume that Guyana was singled out for criticism at the UN for this action, and they asked us not to disrespect them before all nations. Would we vote to publically embarrass our Caribbean friend and neighbour? Probably not. Why not? Because we are principled hypocrites? No. Because that is not how we treat our friends. But perhaps it is how we treat perceived enemies.
Errol Barrow summarised our foreign policy as friends of all and satellites of none. It seems that we are being manipulated into adding … and enemies of the US. The question is why?
Some have justified our vote by claiming that we have no beneficial relationship with the US, and therefore, nothing to lose by derisively criticising the US in front of all other nations. This is simply not true. Barbados is a highly favoured trading partner with the US. Barbados does not just have a good trading (double-taxation) agreement with the US, or a very good trade agreement like that of Trinidad and Tobago who had an active US military base at the time. We have a rare exceptionally favourable (to Barbados) trading agreement with the US. It is almost unheard of internationally and it is the envy or every country that learns of it.
Being the 2014 winner of the National Innovation Competition, I train groups of individuals, free of cost, to start and grow profitable businesses. Participants learn to trade with the US and take advantage of this highly beneficial (to Barbados) trade agreement, with direct access to the largest consumer market on the planet. So I know of what I write.
We are currently on the brink of economic ruin. The main thing that may keep Barbadians from losing their mortgaged homes, and out of dire poverty if we are surrendered to the IMF, is that favourable trade agreement. Regrettably, we carelessly treated our friendship with the US with reckless indifference.
Our representatives’ excuse that we were just voting on principle in support of International Law, seems to confirm that they simply misread the UN vote as just another typical vote against Israel’s interests. The US Ambassador’s uncharacteristic warnings should have prompted them to take a closer look.
So, if we could do it all over again, then how should we have voted? In my opinion, the most appropriate course of action for complex disputes where we do not have all of the facts, is to abstain from voting. We should remember that when a vote was taken to give the Palestinians non-member observer state status in the UN in 2012, Barbados did not get involved in the dispute and simply abstained from voting.
The approximately 70-year Arab-Israel dispute qualifies as complex. Adding a bilateral agreement between the US and Israel that is of concern to the UN further complicates an already complex issue. Therefore, the most appropriate course of action in the interest of all Barbadians was to abstain from voting. Eight of our Caribbean neighbours voted in the interests of their citizens and did just that.
Most Barbadians are completely unaware of the grave danger that our UN representatives have now placed us. If we actually misread the vote as I am charitably assuming, then the damage can be repaired. However, if it was intentional, then they should have at least warned us to brace for the likely consequences.
So my main point is that if we feel disrespected by another country at the UN, we should vote for the best interest of Barbadians. If we feel bullied, we should vote for the best interest of Barbadians. If the US bullies or does not bully another nation, we should vote for the best interest of Barbadians. If the Palestinians want to establish a runway in Gaza and a central bank in the West Bank, we should vote for the best interests of Barbadians. In my opinion, our recent vote was not in the best interest of Barbadians. I am willing to be convinced otherwise with additional evidence.
The only reason why we should not vote for our own self-interests is if there is genocide and the like in another country. Otherwise, we should do what every other country at the UN does – vote for the self-interests of our citizens, and be wary of being manipulated into voting for the interests of others at the expense of our citizens.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer, an analyst of history, and the founder of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com