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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands


Throughout the period of British rule from the early nineteenth century until the move to independence in the 1950s and 1960s, the Commonwealth Caribbean islands relied on British protection. After independence, however, the islands to some extent went their separate ways and were preoccupied by their own national interests and security and defense concerns. In the late 1980s, these islands were still a largely undefended region; only Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago maintained defense forces, ranging in size from about 100 to 2,100 members (see table 10, Appendix A).

Despite their relative unimportance in terms of territorial size, population, and gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary), the English-speaking Caribbean islands were a factor in the interAmerican system in the 1980s owing in large part to the strength of their voting bloc (a solid one-third of the OAS members). Because of this regional identity, scholars have recognized the Englishspeaking islands as constituting a subsystem of the Latin American system. One specialist on Commonwealth Caribbean affairs has observed that West Indian collective security issues can be understood only within the general dynamics of West Indian politics rather than OAS-based collective security arrangements, such as the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). This is attributed to the lack of solidarity sentiments between the West Indies and the inter-American system.

Regional attitudes hardened as a result of two events that took place in the early 1980s. One was the war between Argentina and Britain in 1982 over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. With the exception of Grenada, the Commonwealth Caribbean islands sided with Britain in the war. The other was the joint United States-Caribbean operation against Grenada in 1983, an action that was condemned unanimously by Hispanic Latin America.

Because there is no consistent regional consensus on security and other issues, however, the English-speaking island subsystem cannot be treated as a monolithic bloc. For example, four Commonwealth Caribbean states--Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Belize, and Guyana--opposed taking joint military action with the United States in Grenada in October 1983. Furthermore, unlike most of the Commonwealth Caribbean, both the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago are signatories of the Rio Treaty, the former since November 24, 1982, and the latter since June 12, 1967.

The 1979 coup in Grenada was the first violent, nonconstitutional overthrow of an elected government in the history of the Commonwealth Caribbean. The potential military and subversive threat to the region posed by the Grenada situation spurred regional efforts to establish an RSS in the Eastern Caribbean with United States, British, and some Canadian assistance. Although these efforts did little to facilitate the combined United States-Caribbean military operation in Grenada in October 1983, they have developed significantly since then. An examination of regional security issues in the context of postwar regional integration efforts helps to explain how the RSS developed in the Eastern Caribbean.

Data as of November 1987