In the last quarter century, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 followed two years later by the collapse of the Soviet Union which signalled the end of the so-called East-West divide that had existed since the end of the Second World War, the world has undergone a fundamental reconfiguration.
So much so that if it were possible today to bring back to life someone who died, let’s say in 1985, he or she would have great difficulty recognizing the current global landscape. He or she would wonder, for example, why there is one Germany instead of two, where has Yugoslavia gone, and how come apartheid no longer exists in South Africa.
He or she would also question, how communism has largely vanished from the global landscape and how countries which still profess to retain this system, like the People’s Republic of China, have opted for economies which are essentially capitalist.
Now if the person had lived in the Caribbean, he or she would wonder, for example, how come inflows of aid from countries like the United States and Canada to support development projects have virtually dried up and why some regional exports like bananas no longer enjoy preferential treatment but have to compete on the open market.
Since billionaire businessman Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States at the beginning of this year vowing to put “America first” and “make America great again”, the world has entered a new phase of uncertainty. The inward-looking stance of the new administration in Washington, along with a weaker Britain resulting from the fallout of its decision to leave the European Union, have started to fuel discussion among experts that the world seems poised to undergo a fresh round of sweeping change.
Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the so-called Western world has largely looked to the United States and Britain, to a lesser extent, for leadership. Indeed, it was this Anglo-American alliance which was largely responsible for putting in place the economic, military, diplomatic and other arrangements which have shaped international relations over the past 75 years.
With an isolationist America and weakened Britain, an insightful article on the BBC’s website over the weekend observed that “the post-world war global architecture” has looked “increasingly weak and wobbly” in recent weeks. “The unexpectedly messy result of the British election makes it look still more fragile,” the article said.
It went on: “There is uncertainty in Westminster, and something nearing chaos in Washington . . . . Neither Britain nor America can boast strong and stable governments. Neither have the look of global exemplars . . . . Voids in global leadership are immediately filled, and we’ve seen that happen at warp speed over the past few weeks.
“Brexit has galvanized the European Union. The election of Emmanuel Macron has revitalized the Franco-German alliance, giving it a more youthful and dynamic look . . . . A green alliance has emerged between Beijing and Brussels. More broadly, China sees the chance to extend its sphere of influence, positioning itself on environmental issues as the international pace-setter.”
All the evidence, including Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Paris agreement on climate change, clearly indicates that the world is poised for an interesting but uncertain period ahead. And it looks, according to the BBC analysis, that global leadership will possibly switch from domination by the English language, with German and Chinese as the most likely candidates.
Are Barbados and Caribbean countries paying close attention to these developments, especially in terms of analyzing the possible implications for the region? As essentially passive players on the international stage, regional countries admittedly have no effective power to change the course of events, even sometimes when our interests are directly threatened, such as the case with climate change.
However, they are not entirely helpless and powerless. The important point which these challenges underscore, is that the best hope for the region, in terms of boosting its ability to cope and survive increasing marginalization, still lies in strengthening regional unity through a deepening of integration within the context of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
If we continue to postpone the decisive action which is required on this imperative, the time may eventually come when the region finds itself with its back against the wall and totally overwhelmed by external events. It is time to re-energize and give greater meaning to the seemingly stalled regional integration process.