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PRESS RELEASE – As we approach our 37th anniversary of Independence, there has never been a better time to raise a few pertinent questions about the notion of national sovereignty – in an era where everything is becoming more alike, and the symbols, institutions and instruments of sovereignty are increasingly being redefined – not least by the forces of international co-operation.
There is no denying the fact that the world society and economy have entered a new age of convergence and interdependence – and the slippery idea of sovereignty has changed over time. Against the backdrop of globalization and transsovereign dynamics, Saint Lucia has been affected by a range of important trends: the renewed and spreading consciousness of individual and human rights, higher development expectations, the disruptive power of the internet, the multilateral approach to decision-making and the general pursuit and inculcation of global values.
With all this convergence happening around us at breakneck speed, there is an abiding sensethat nation states like ours – already handicapped by very small markets and relatively backward economies – are losing their grip on their own power as it relates to their sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests. The encroachment of international and multilateral regimes on the internal affairs of small and micro states – whether in the form of tax and fiscal advisories, diplomatic demands or political directives – have invoked fears of foreign subjugation and aroused distrust, scepticism, even hostility.
The Jufalli case, for instance, which has prompted furrowed eyebrows in academic and diplomatic circles around the world, shows clearly how the rights of a small country can be violated by a larger state. The fact is, whether Dr. Juffali’s appointment was ignoble or not, it is the unequivocal sovereign right of Saint Lucia to make whatever ambassadorial appointments it wishes under international law.
It’s not up to a parochial London court to decide whether Dr. Juffali’s appointment is “spurious” or not, having been accredited as a diplomat by the host nation. If anything, only the people of this country should demand answers and make any such determination.
Arguably, globalization has not necessarily made life any easier for small developing states.Since the idea of sovereignty is already laden with expectations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for small states to pursue their economic goals, let alone their political ones, in the rising tide of global relations and economics. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the late Prime Minister of Singapore is reported to have once said: “Small island states are a political joke”.
Was he implying that in the modern context, the sovereignty of small states is a concept that resonates more in theory than in practice? Or was he suggesting that since the world will not change to suit the conveniences of small nations, they’ll have to constantly adapt to trends set by the developed world? Which begs another question coined by a political journalist: Is the notion of sovereignty sacrosanct or can we describe it as fallible?
As far as I’m concerned, sovereignty is not simply an entitlement, but an obligation – and is far from being fallible. The main justification for its endowment is economic and social development – and I’m not only talking about the sovereignty of parliament, but also the real sovereignty of the people in matters of constitutional change through the use of referenda, for instance. Without a doubt, there is a need to further entrench our sovereignty to allow our people to both think and do things differently as well as to facilitate a change in our weltanschauung.
Above all, our sovereignty should reflect a wide set of cultural norms and practices which reinforce our ideals of self-determination and self-identity. Equally critical is the imperative of developing structures and institutions which promote participative democracy – the result and outcome of which must be a people who are responsible for their own progress and take ownership of the processes of development and growth.
At times, it appears the main threat to our national sovereignty is not necessarily some external force, but our own indisposition and incapacity to defend our democracy, patrimony and rights as citizens. We often label ourselves “patriotic citizens” and boast about the irresistible beauty of our island. On social media and in the wider world, most, if not allcitizens use the tagline “Proud To Be Lucian” to express their love for country. Some genuflect before it, but few actually define it. What does it truly mean to be a sovereign nation with the Queen of England still officially the Head of State? How does the way we governed in small island states conflict with the need to tackle the major economic and global issues?
Sovereignty is a holistic concept which entails both personal and collective responsibility as well as the obligation to ensure that all human and civil rights are respected. Moreover, the thinking and actions behind sovereignty should ensure that the judicial, social and economic infrastructure and institutions which underpin our development as a people are in place and function as they should. The institutional capacity to administer justice and provide security is an existential challenge that any sovereign nation should tackle head-on. “In the absence of justice”, said Saint Augustine, “what is sovereignty but organized robbery?”
However, it is Gijs de Vries, a former European Union anti-terrorism co-ordinator, who nailed the point home when he observed: “You can’t get closer to the heart of national sovereignty than national security and intelligence services.” Needless to say, a breakdown in law and order in any country (think of Haiti, Grenada, Palestine or even Ukraine) is an invitation for some foreign power to either intervene or impose self-serving conditions on another country. When we are constantly hobbled by petty and tribal politics instead of pursuing a more participative, creative and progressive approach to development, the collective energies required to strengthen our democracy and guard our sovereignty are uselessly expended.
Just the same, if we thought we could enjoy full sovereignty without some measure of food security, then we ought to think again. Today we have to import most of our food from aboard – a serious injustice to our healthy soil and pleasant agricultural climate. It’s worth noting that annually more than US$2 billion is spent by CARICOM countries on food imports, although their combined population is only six million people. If ever we needed evidence of the neglect and underdevelopment of the agricultural sector in the region, this is it.
As for financial sovereignty, no such thing exist for small states like ours, as the power centres of global capitalism have sought to tackle tax evasion and money laundering – problems which they themselves have bred and facilitated – by unfairly targeting Caribbean countries and restricting financial flows with little consideration for the health of these economies.
Of further disquiet is the recent labelling of Caribbean islands as “tax havens” by individual state governments of the U.S. – despite the fact that these islands deal with the federal government and not with its individual states. For this and other reasons, small nations need to continuously be on the guard against the bullying and highhandedness of foreign powers that have ostensibly set “operative ideals” on how international relations ought to be conducted in the 21st century. On that basis, I implore small nation states to remain vigilant in the fight to protect the rights and interests of their people from a few large states and global institutions that are hell-bent on ruling the world.
For comments, write to [email protected] – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.