By *Dominic Brisbane
At the beginning of any meaningful relationship, the first thing we should concern ourselves with is what we bring to the table, instead of asking what we can get out of that relationship. This is a fundamental truth to any successful union, whether it be love, friendship, marriage, or camaraderie.
If relationships are driven only by self-interest, they tend to be short-lived affairs as before long, participants compete rather than co-operate. We must be loyal to more than ourselves to build trust and nurture strong alliances. This is the lens through which we should view St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC). At the UNSC, the state of SVG will build important relationships with other countries to help manage some of the world’s biggest problems. But what do we bring to the table?
At this forum, SVG will bring the unique experience of a small nation that continually grapples with maintaining its independence while becoming increasingly interdependent, as globalisation drives countries to rely on each other to manage risks that are increasingly transnational in character. This is how globalisation works — the movement of people, goods, capital (money), and ideas across borders brings challenges that are difficult, or usually impossible, for a single country to manage. This is evident with today’s challenges of terrorism, climate change, and the global refugee crisis, just to mention a few.
Globalisation is an uneven process that affects each country differently. Some, especially the large industrialised nations, are able to accumulate a lot of wealth through globalisation, while small island developing states (SIDS), which have limited physical resources, are usually given a disproportionate share of the “burdens” of globalisation. The most significant of these burdens are the disasters produced by climate change which threaten to derail economic growth and development in SIDS, despite the fact that islands produce relatively insignificant levels of global emissions.
The illicit trade of arms, ammunition and dangerous narcotics (such as cocaine) is another burden which creates significant challenges for SIDS, despite the fact that these are all produced outside of our countries. With the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and subsequent changes in the global regulatory trade environment — primarily of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) — that led to the removal of preferential trade agreements for bananas — the Caribbean region was negatively affected disproportionately to the rest of the world. These are just a few of the ways that the “small island” experience of globalisation differs from the mainstream. There are too many to mention here.
Although it may seem as if globalisation disempowers small states, it is the very nature of these experiences that will prove beneficial to the discussions we will hold at the UNSC. Global decision-making affects SIDS in ways that they do not affect our larger and well-resourced counterparts. Better than most, we understand the adverse effects of global decisions. When a country is targeted with economic sanctions, that country’s trading partners, as well as others in the wider global economy, may suffer significant externalities.
These externalities often have disastrous consequences on the vulnerable economies of SIDS. When violent intervention takes place in an oil-exporting country, the supply of oil to the world market is usually reduced leading to increases in the price of oil, which create contagion (trickle effects) in many of the industries that oil supports — for example increased oil prices leads to increases in transportation costs, which in turn may affect prices of food and reduce tourism (areas we heavily rely on). Again, these factors disproportionately affect the economies of SIDS. This is why the nuanced perspectives of small island states are essential for quality global decision-making.
Globalisation produces many challenges and contradictions. Marc Abélès, a political anthropologist, argues that through globalisation “the state is overwhelmed by the complexity of the challenges and caught between the demands of the global and the tenacious realities of the local”. This proves especially true in SIDS that are limited in their resource capacities. Yet, our unique experiences with globalisation place us in an advantageous position to contribute to the highest levels of discussion and decision-making at the UNSC. Our focus should not be limited to what we can get out of this position, but how we can contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Beyond the narrow self-interest that often drives states’ behaviour, it sends a big message for small states like SVG that so often depend on external aid and assistance to step up to the table and lend its voice on important issues. It shows that despite our small size and vulnerabilities, we are able to see beyond these limitations and help the international community to deal with the most pressing issues. It also shows that as an independent state, we are of equal stature with the largest and wealthiest power brokers that operate within the UN ecosystem. SVG may be a small state, but it can provide big perspectives.
In a subsequent article, I will highlight some of the benefits that SVG may gain through its role as a non-pemanent member of the UN Security Council.
*Dominic Brisbane is a Vincentian academic who studies globalisation and global governance.
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