I had a dream last night that Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs gave the following brief speech to the UN General Assembly.
Just over fifty years ago, an American general proposed to ‘bomb North Vietnam back into the Stone Age’. This was greeted understandably with horror and outrage by most of the American public and the rest of the world.
Now an American president threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea and no one bats an eyelid. The total destruction of North Korea would annihilate 25 million people, and probably lead to the collateral death of another 10 to 20 million in South Korea, and may even lead to a nuclear war.
It would be a human catastrophe.
North Korea is ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship that has systematically oppressed and murdered its own people. Its leader is a narcissistic, mentally unstable, man-child, given to bombastic and lurid bellicose threats and insults.
But wiping out the entire population of that country is not a fitting response to the threat Kim Jong-un poses, especially to North Korea’s neighbours. Such a response might make sense only in a world in which there was no institutional framework for the conduct of relations between nations, and no international humanitarian law; a world of war of nation against nation in a brutal struggle for survival; a Hobbesian world in which life was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.
But we have come a long way since the Second World War. The proof of this is that there has as yet been no third world war; the warlike tribes of Europe are now united in a regional enterprise; trade and other forms of cooperation between states have grown exponentially; and the human rights of people are being increasingly recognized and guaranteed across state boundaries.
Yes, the creaky post-war architecture of international relations, including the United Nations, is in dire need of reform. Moreover, the digital technological revolution and the economic globalization that has swept through the world in the past couple of decades have left far too many people deprived of the undoubted benefits.
Yes, the present world is far from perfect. There is much justifiable frustration and even anger throughout many countries. But reverting to a world of dog-eat-dog conflict in which the rich and powerful lord it over the poor and weak is to set civilization back to the dark ages.
The role of political leaders is not to take us back but to lead us forward. It is to forge a vision of a better world, and to rally our peoples to that cause. Such a task requires patience, determination and courage, because there are rarely easy answers.
The two most significant multilateral agreements reached in the last decade are the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement. They represent the best instincts for cooperation in the international arena. Any disruption of the Iran agreement is likely to endanger peace and embroil our world in dangerous conflict.
We in the Caribbean live every day with the danger of climate change. Several of our countries have been devastated by recent hurricanes whose ferocity has been increased by global warming. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of these countries.
Our neighbour Venezuela is undergoing social and economic turmoil at the hands of an authoritarian administration that has shown neither economic competence nor respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Concerted hemispheric action is required to help the people of Venezuela.
It is totally counterproductive, not to mention abhorrent to most Latin American and Caribbean governments, for the most powerful country in the hemisphere to threaten military action to resolve the situation in Venezuela. This plays right into the hands of the Venezuelan regime.
We in the Caribbean understand the limited influence we can have on international relations. That is why we live in the hope that the United States will provide enlightened and inspirational leadership — at least occasionally.