It is sincerely hoped that the ongoing Exercise Tradewinds 2017, along with the desired attention that it garners, further sensitizes Barbados and the wider region to the threat terrorism poses to our regional security.
Yesterday at the opening ceremony of this important exercise at St Ann’s Fort, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart warned that Barbados and its sister territories were not immune to the horrors of terrorist activity. His comments came against a background where the western hemisphere is a focal point for terrorist activity. Countries in the Americas and Europe such as the United States, England, France, Belgium, among others, have been targeted by Islamic extremists. These are sophisticated destinations with security protocols and intelligence capability and capacity superior to anything possessed by Barbados or other islands in the region. Yet they have been undermined on their domestic soil by acts of terrorism, in some instances, on multiple occasions.
Though Mr Stuart acknowledged that there has been relative peace and tranquility in this region, he suggested that flashpoints for terrorism have been increasing exponentially over the years. The prime minister correctly drew attention to the vulnerability of our region. “The tensions to which I advert are caused mainly by the activity and designs of criminal organizations which, in pursuit of their revolting agenda, prosecute nefarious acts against vulnerable and innocent law-abiding citizens,” he stated.
Prime Minister Stuart also linked the attraction of the region as a tourist destination to its peaceful environment and suggested the lure of the region could be adversely affected not only by terrorism but also by other destabilizing activities such as gun violence and human trafficking.
But will the messages be heard? Will they be taken seriously? If history or the present attitudes that prevail in Barbados can be used as a gauge, it is highly questionable whether Barbadians generally take national security and safety with the level of seriousness that they should.
The United States of America had been a target for extremists long before September 11, 2001, but has since been forced – sensibly – to take national security even more seriously. Her allies – especially those who frequently either join or support her in her foreign escapades – are also targets.
But Barbados, like many in the region, is still caught in a time warp. While the sinister threat of terrorism hovers over our head and some agents of hate draw ever closer and closer to this region, many are seemingly oblivious to details which show that many terrorists who have brought murder and mayhem to cities in Europe and the United States were not interlopers but were very much homegrown fiends.
During his opening remarks yesterday Mr Stuart tacitly drew attention to what has also frequently been a problem in this region – unity. CARICOM or no CARICOM! The prime minister noted that with the return of radicalized West Indians to the Caribbean, it was crucial that regional territories designed a coordinated response. But though many still see cricket as the only thing that truly unites us, history provides little evidence that regional governments have been reluctant to cooperate on the few occasions when some threat to political and social stability of a member nation has been posed.
Indeed, as Mr Stuart indicated, strategies such as the Exercise Tradewinds, have served to galvanise the cooperation among regional countries, in tandem with their powerful American ally.
“Dialogue from a defence and security standpoint is usually expressed in foreign military engagements such as Exercise Tradewinds. Over the 33-year life span of Exercise Tradewinds, we in the Caribbean Community have developed regional and international partnerships, which have remained strong,” Barbados’ political leader said.
But as anyone involved in national security will attest, it is not only what the experts and others on the frontline do that mitigates the threat of terrorism, the average Joe and Jane play an important role in the battle as well. The present population of the Caribbean is believed to be about 43.7 million, fewer than one per cent of the world tally but still a significant number of eyes, ears and intelligence. Conversely, the figure may also represent a significant degree of potential ignorance. It is therefore incumbent on governments and security specialists in the region to ensure that important information and best practices filter down from such initiatives as Exercise Tradewinds.
In the present world environment, being better safe than sorry should be one clichéd dictate that finds no barrier to being embraced by our people. But will it?