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Caribbean Islands Table of Contents

Caribbean Islands

Postwar Federation Efforts

Britain's experiments in federation in its West Indian colonies had long been frustrated by regional insularity and parochialism. Regional cooperation increased during World War II, however, owing to the threat of a common outside enemy. The Anglo-American Caribbean Commission, established in 1942, played an important role in further regional integration efforts. The Second West India Conference in 1946 also was considered a landmark in international and regional cooperation because it provided the dependent territories their first opportunity to participate in a multilateral meeting aimed at forging joint policies with Britain and the United States.

Because of decolonization plans, Britain placed renewed emphasis on political and economic federation in the postwar era (see Political Independence, ch.1). Its resources drained by the war, Britain began promoting self-government within the Commonwealth in general, a long process that involved gradually granting the West Indian islands autonomy and then independence. The formulas of federation and associated statehood (see Glossary) were ways of solving the British problem of establishing a system that maintained regional order after independence. Nevertheless, the small size of the British West Indian islands and their populations, their lack of resources, and their dependence on outside markets made the decolonization process especially difficult.

Although the leading West Indians, particularly Jamaica's Norman W. Manley and Trinidad and Tobago's Eric Williams, favored federation as the best means to implement decolonization, the efforts at federation in the late 1950s and early 1960s failed (see The West Indies Federation, 1958-62, ch.1). The West Indies Federation, the first major change toward greater self-rule in the region, lasted only from 1958 to 1962. With its headquarters located in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, the federation united Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the British colonies in the Leeward and Windward islands. The New West India Regiment, a British-trained and British-armed unit, was reconstituted to serve as the defense force for the short-lived federation. The latter collapsed, however, within months after Jamaica, concerned that the costs of membership outweighed the benefits, withdrew following a national referendum on the issue in September 1961. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago instead decided to become independent in 1962; the former acquired two battalions of the dissolved regiment, and the latter, one battalion.

Because of the failure of federation, a concept that the United States had favored, American policy toward the region lost what little direction it had. The fact that Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago assumed independence without problem may have constrained further movement toward regional federation. In the mid-1960s, another attempt was made to join the remaining so-called Little Eight islands (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) into the Federation of the Eastern Caribbean, with Barbados playing the leading role in the organization's Regional Council. Financial requirements of federation quickly frightened off Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda, however. When Barbados became independent in 1966, the federation disintegrated. Nevertheless, a general framework for regional security collaboration was established. The formation of economic associations during the 1960s, including the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) in 1965, also helped to reinforce West Indian identity as a subregion.

During their emergence as independent states, the islands of the Eastern Caribbean largely ignored security-related issues, according to Gary P. Lewis. In 1966 the former Regional Council was superseded by the West Indies States Association (WISA), a stop-gap administrative arrangement that gave the Windward and Leeward islands limited autonomy. Six of the seven WISA members--Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines--assumed full responsibility for their own internal self-government and security, while the seventh, Montserrat, remained a crown colony (see Glossary). Britain retained responsibility for defense and foreign affairs for its associated states.

In 1967, after Britain informed WISA members that defense and security assistance to the region would be provided only in response to an "external threat," efforts to establish a regional security force in the Eastern Caribbean were given new impetus. Nevertheless, Britain continued to provide some police training and advice. With the WISA Council of Ministers serving as a means for coordinating joint action, regional leaders agreed on the need for military or paramilitary forces to control outbreaks of violence or other subversive activities.

In the ensuing debate, some regional leaders decided on the need for security forces, while others argued that the individual islands were incapable of supporting either security forces or standing armies. Some questioned the need for military forces in view of the British defense guarantee and the likelihood that local forces could do little to prevent aggression by an extraregional power. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago recognized, however, the need for security forces to patrol their territorial waters and carry out search-and-rescue operations and other security-related duties. Therefore, both countries established national forces in the mid-1960s by incorporating former members of the New West India Regiment (see The Public Security Forces, ch. 2; National Security, ch. 3).

The small islands of the Eastern Caribbean, being more vulnerable than Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, favored the creation of a regional military force. An early indication of the difficulty of such an undertaking was the islands' failure in 1967 to coordinate a regional force to prevent the unilateral secession from St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla of the tiny island of Anguilla, which sought to reestablish its colonial ties to Britain. British paratroopers were landed on the coral island to restore order and British control in 1969 (see British Dependencies: British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and Montserrat, ch. 5).

The formation of WISA led to greater economic and international coordination among the Eastern Caribbean states. In 1968 Carifta's membership was widened to include WISA members. That year, four of the smaller Eastern Caribbean territories--Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, and St. Lucia--formed the Eastern Caribbean Common Market, which was later joined by Antigua and Barbuda (1981), St. Kitts and Nevis (1980), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (1979). Little progress was made, however, toward creating a regionally integrated unit, so in 1973 the Carifta members agreed to replace their ineffective organization with the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom--see Appendix C). (The Bahamas joined Caricom in 1983). In addition to furthering economic cooperation, Caricom was intended to coordinate foreign policy among its member states.

Data as of November 1987


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