“We shall not involve ourselves in sterile ideological wranglings because we are exponents not of the diplomacy of power, but of the diplomacy of peace and prosperity. We will not regard any great power as necessarily right in a given dispute unless we are convinced of this, yet at the same time, we will not view the great powers with perennial suspicion merely on account of their size, their wealth, or their nuclear potential. We will be friends of all, satellites of none.”
Rt. Excellent Errol W. Barrow, Speech to the United Nations on Barbados’ admission to the United Nations, December 1966.
“Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”
– Winston Churchill, remarks at the Congressional Luncheon at the White House, June 1954
Arguably, our country’s earliest wading into the international waters of diplomacy while still, a colony of Great Britain was not an unrivalled success.
The gradualist that was Grantley Herbert Adams (later Sir Grantley) saw no inherent evil in the Union Jack flying over Barbadian soil as he spoke in 1948 to the Decolonisation Committee, one of the most important bodies of the United Nations, then a mere three years old. It was reviled by the pan-Africanist, pro-Independence activists of the era as a ‘spirited defence’ of British colonialism.
Perhaps Sir Grantley was mindful of the role that the men from the ministry in Whitehall, not the executive committee in Bridgetown, played in reshaping Barbadian and West Indian society through Lord Moyne’s Royal Commission into the Disturbances throughout the West Indies in the mid-to-late 1930s.
Our own Riots of July 26, 1937, became the unhappy herald of a happier era of positive social change and with it, some of the 120 million pounds sterling of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1945, spent for a vast array of health, education and social welfare projects throughout Britain’s possessions. Five years before it was a mere five million pounds.
But by then younger Barbadians, among them a World War Two navigator and Harold Laski disciple at the London School of Economics who would become premier, and the first black president of the famed Oxford Union debating club would become his deputy, were keen to put this island on the global political map.
And so it came to 1966, and our accession to the world’s club of nations, formed by the victorious Allied powers of the Second World War but riven with strife in a new Cold War with the Soviet Union, its satellites behind the Iron Curtain and confederates in the West.
1966 was a year when the world expected you to take a stand, pick a side. The United States was now fully enmeshed in an undeclared war in Vietnam against Ho Chi Minh’s Soviet-backed communist forces. Yet, in an era, no less polarised than our own, Errol Barrow would carve into the beating heart of a fledgeling nation’s foreign policy a mantra that has served us well while others warred and while we remain in love with peace: “friends of all, satellites of none”.
The record of Barbadian stateswomen and statesmen in the intervening years suggest to us that this was not the pompous rhetoric of a small island with a big ego. Whether it was the pioneering efforts of Dame Nita Barrow as a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group to help rid South Africa of apartheid, or Dame Billie Miller’s groundbreaking work as a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to return Pakistan to the family of nations with elections and good governance practice after General Pervez Musharaf seized power by a military-led coup d’etat.
The efforts of Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford in putting the sustainable development of small island developing states firmly on the pro-environment Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development is another landmark effort in diplomacy.
Indeed, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s intellectually rigorous contributions on the peculiar issues and innovations of small states in the Commonwealth is another noteworthy blow against the zero-sum realpolitik in which might makes right.
This has truly been Barbados’ best bipartisan effort – to able to punch above our weight in foreign affairs, as the late UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, famously described our island nation’s contributions.
In these and other arenas, Barbadian technocrats have been quietly pushing what levers of collective power have been available to it under alliances and associations, from the Non-Aligned Movement to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the UN and the Organisation of American States (OAS).
It is in this rich vein of form, sorely lacking for a long while, that we come to the latest political masterstroke in Barbados’ batting on the international affairs wicket.
Happily, as the other examples have demonstrated, these diplomatic and political gestures are bereft of guile, intrigue, subterfuge and manipulation. Prime Minister’s offer to host Norway-mediated talks on the Venezuelan Question between the warring political factions headed by Senores Maduro and Guaido is no mere act of an island seeking to be an idyllic backdrop for the latest global entertainment.
Barbados has seen its stock decline with the United States over Bridgetown’s leadership in CARICOM, as now collectively, this nation speaks with a strong and unambiguous voice on the need for non-intervention in, and dialogue on, the political and humanitarian crisis in Caracas.
It is utterly fitting that Barbados should continue to press globally what it has told the Trump administration privately: the Caribbean is and must remain a zone of peace. In a foreign policy ecosystem such as ‘friends of all, satellites of none’, peaceful conduct of foreign and domestic affairs in the service of development finds a friendly environment.
It is thus that we commend the Prime Minister for her latest efforts in bringing the words of nearly 53 years ago to life. We understand that they were uttered by the Prime Minister to her Norwegian counterpart, Erna Solberg, last week during her meeting.
Perhaps, our leader should present the current American leader with the words of a predecessor, spoken to then Prime Minister Barrow on our newly independent nation’s state visit to the United States. President Lyndon Baines Johnson said that night at a state dinner at the White House to Mr and Mrs Barrow: “We act in the belief that no nation large or small can or should turn its back on another nation that may be the victim, or may be unfortunate enough to be assaulted by aggression. We do not believe from all that we’ve learned through the years at such painful cost, that there is ever any such thing, Mr Prime Minister, as harmless aggression, anywhere or any time.”
Friends of all and satellites of none. Surely the recipe for non-aggression and mutual respect. The rich and powerful nations should take notice.