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|Country Study > Chapter 8 > Strategic and Regional Security Perspectives - Commonwealth of Caribbean Islands > The Strategic Setting > Current Strategic Considerations > The Increased Role of the United States|
Traditionally, the United States has attempted to establish and maintain a peaceful, secure, stable, and friendly southern flank. It has sought to prevent hostile foreign powers from establishing military bases and facilities, engaging in destabilizing balance of power struggles, or supporting subversive activities in the Caribbean region; guarantee the United States access to strategic raw materials, trade, investment opportunities, and transportation routes; protect American territories (Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands) and military installations; and promote economic development in the region.
Referring in 1984 to American interests specific to the Commonwealth Caribbean, Vaughan A. Lewis, director of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS -- see Glossary), noted five separate but related concerns: security, communications (e.g., sea-lanes and shipping), natural resources, immigration, and narcotics trafficking. The latter two were relatively new concerns. By the early 1980s, the Caribbean Basin area had become a major transit route for narcotics smuggled into the United States from South America, and was also the largest source of legal and illegal immigrants in the United States, according to the Department of State.
Despite its important strategic interests in the Caribbean, the United States was reluctant to fill the security vacuum created when Britain began pulling out of the region at the end of the 1970s. There were diplomatic, political, and economic reasons for the United States not to move too quickly. It did not want to appear to be pushing Britain out of its traditional sphere of influence. Moreover, the United States recognized that the people in the English-speaking Caribbean, although seeking a measure of independence from Britain, remained identified politically and culturally with the British.
Several developments in 1979 generated a more active American interest in the Caribbean Basin region and contributed to a reassessment of the strategic equation by the administration of President Jimmy Carter. These included Bishop's seizure of power in Grenada, the Nicaraguan revolution, the presence of a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba, the Cuban deployment of troops to Ethiopia to counter a Somali invasion of that Marxist country, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a move that heightened American concerns over Soviet expansionist intentions.
The Soviet combat brigade issue in particular prompted the Carter administration to establish the Caribbean Contingency Joint Task Force (CCJTF) at Key West, Florida, on October 1, 1979. The CCJTF was equipped with a squadron of A-4 attack bombers and a radar-jamming navy electronics warfare squadron. The sending of a 1,500-member United States Marines task force to stage a beach landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that year also dramatized the new emphasis by the United States on regional security and defense. In addition, United States naval vessels began showing the flag throughout the Caribbean. The increased visibility of the United States in the region, however, was not uniformly welcomed by the island nations. The left-of-center governments of Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada, and St. Lucia criticized President Carter's decision to increase the United States military presence in the Caribbean on the grounds that it could "escalate tension and threaten the peace and stability of the region." They also rejected "any perception of the Caribbean region as a sphere of influence for any great power."
The Carter administration's security concerns deepened in the spring of 1980 when Bishop said that Cuban and Soviet aircraft would be allowed landing rights in Grenada. During the first nine months of 1980, United States Navy ships paid more than two dozen port calls in the Eastern Caribbean. Although the United States had granted recognition to the Bishop regime after it came to power, the Carter administration suspended all official contact with the government as a result of Grenada's reliance on Cuban forces, military advisers, and other aid.
The Reagan administration continued the policy of shunning Grenada, citing a security threat to the United States from the 3,048-meter-long airstrip being built by Cubans at Point Salines. The United States claimed that the airfield could be used for military purposes. United States concerns heightened in the early 1980s as the result of a renewal of Cuban subversion in the Caribbean Basin region; the growing insurgency in El Salvador; the Soviet-assisted military buildups in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Grenada; and the flight of refugees from Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean islands, as well as from Central America. As Grenada's ties with Cuba and the Soviet Union expanded in the early 1980s, the United States gave more priority to security contingency planning in the Eastern Caribbean. In one of the largest naval exercises by the United States since World War II, United States forces engaged in Operation "Ocean Venture" on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques between August and October 1981. That November the United States Department of Defense upgraded its regional defense network to command status by consolidating the two-year-old CCJTF at Key West, Florida, with the Antilles Defense Command in Puerto Rico. The resulting command, called the United States Forces Caribbean Command, was created on December 1, 1981, as one of three NATO Atlantic commands. Its area of responsibility covered "waters and islands of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and parts of the Pacific bordering Central and South America." The new command included naval and air forces, as well as army and marine units. Until then the United States Southern Command headquarters in the Panama Canal area had the United States Army's only major forward-based forces in the region. The primary United States naval facility at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, had neither ships nor aircraft permanently assigned.
Five English-speaking island nations in the Eastern Caribbean. In March 1983, shortly after the RSS was adopted formally, veteran prime minister Vere Cornwall Bird, Sr., of Antigua and Barbuda described the nascent regional defense and security system as "insurance against the violent overthrow of democratically elected governments," such as took place on Grenada in 1979. "We cannot afford to have another Cuba or another Grenada," he declared. That month President Reagan, displaying aerial reconnaissance photographs, underscored the threat of "another Cuba" in Grenada by announcing that the island was building, with Cuban assistance, an airfield, a naval base, a munitions storage area, barracks, and Soviet-style training areas.
In October 1983, the political situation in Grenada deteriorated suddenly, and the Commonwealth Caribbean perceived itself as facing an ominous threat to its security and constitutional system of government. On October 13, 1983, a harder line and more militant pro-Soviet NJM faction led by then-Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard ousted Prime Minister Bishop in an armed coup and placed him under house arrest. Coard proclaimed himself prime minister and installed the ruling sixteen-officer Revolutionary Military Council (RMC). Some observers attributed the coup in part to Bishop's attempts during the final months of his rule to distance his government from Cuba and the Soviet Union. On October 19, People's Revolutionary Army (PRA) troops executed Bishop and three of his closest deputies and killed scores of civilians. The next day, General Hudson Austin, the PRA commander, proclaimed himself head of the new RMC. The coup, the assassinations, and the other carnage outraged Commonwealth Caribbean leaders.
Alarmed at the radical turn that Grenada appeared to be taking, the RSS member islands and Jamaica asked the United States to intervene. Before acting on the informal OECS request, Reagan sent a special ambassadorial emissary to consult with the OECS and other regional leaders. The emissary met in Barbados on October 23 with the prime ministers of Dominica, Barbados, and Jamaica -- Mary Eugenia Charles, J.M.G.M. "Tom" Adams, and Edward Seaga, respectively -- who all strongly reiterated their appeal for American assistance. Subsequently, Grenada's governor general, Paul Scoon, despite being under house arrest, made a confidential appeal for action by OECS members and other regional states to restore order on the island. Scoon, a native Grenadian, represented Queen Elizabeth II, Grenada's titular head of state -- in a military action against the Coard-Austin regime. Seaga, who played the leading role among Caribbean leaders, later revealed that the formal request was made after the United States had promised "immediate action." OECS director Lewis later stated, however, that the decision to seek United States troops was made only after OECS nations realized they lacked the forces to take control of Grenada.
Final preparations for Operation "Urgent Fury" began on October 24, when United States forces landed at staging sites on Barbados. Early the next morning, combined United States-Caribbean forces consisting of 1,900 United States Marines personnel and United States Army rangers and 300 soldiers and policemen from 6 Commonwealth Caribbean islands landed on Grenada at several locations, including the Point Salines airstrip, then under construction by Cubans. The United States military later announced that more than 6,000 United States troops had participated in the invasion. None of the members of the Caribbean force took part in any fighting. They guarded Grenadian prisoners and Cuban internees and later accompanied United States troops on security patrols of St. George's and other areas. The combined forces established authority within a few days after overcoming limited initial resistance by PRA troops and fiercer resistance by 784 Cubans, of whom 24 were killed in action and 59 wounded. Within two weeks, the Cubans, seventeen Libyans, fifteen North Koreans, forty-nine Soviets, ten East Germans, and three Bulgarians had returned to their countries. By December 15, all United States combat forces had withdrawn, leaving only training, police, medical, and support elements.
In explaining its participation in the Grenada operation, the United States government cited, in addition to the aforementioned OECS appeals, the need to ensure the safety of the roughly 1,000 United States students on the island, whose lives it claimed were endangered by the breakdown of law and order and a "shoot-on-sight" curfew. The Reagan administration also expressed concern that the students might be used as hostages. A total of 599 United States citizens were evacuated safely, at their request; those who were interviewed expressed great relief at being out of Grenada.
The Department of State also set forth the legal aspects of the Reagan administration's position by stressing the right of the United States under international law to protect the safety of its citizens, the right of the OECS nations to take collective action against a threat of external aggression, and the right of the United States to take action in response to requests from the OECS and the governor general of Grenada. Critics accused the Reagan administration of violating United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) prohibitions on intervention and the use of force. United States military intervention constituted, in their view, a gross violation of Grenada's territorial integrity and political sovereignty. Supporters of the administration's position pointed out, however, that Article 22 of the OAS Charter specifically allows members with regional security treaties to take collective action in response to threats to peace and security and that Article 52 of the UN Charter similarly recognizes the right of regional security organizations to take collective action.
The applicability of the right to intervene to protect United States citizens may have been weakened somewhat by an obscure provision of international law stipulating that such interventions must be limited strictly to protecting the foreign national from injury. Whether or not the ouster of the unrecognized RMC regime exceeded that restriction was unclear. Furthermore, some commentators argued that the Soviet and Cuban presence in Grenada did not constitute "external aggression" because it was requested by the (unelected) regime.
Geopolitical and strategic concerns, although not specifically cited, also clearly weighed in the decision of the United States government to act. Without making a public issue of the Bishop regime's Marxist-Leninist system of government, the Reagan administration became increasingly concerned over the deepening of Grenada's political ties to the Soviet Union and Cuba. Of particular concern to United States policymakers was the potential use of the island as a Soviet-Cuban base for intervention in nearby governments, interdiction of vital sea-lanes, reconnaissance by long-range aircraft, and transport of troops and supplies from Cuba to Africa and from Eastern Europe and Libya to Central America.
United States strategic affairs analysts have noted that, had Grenada become a Soviet-Cuban base, maritime and air traffic along the coast of Venezuela and westward toward the Panama Canal could have been controlled from the island. The Galleons Passage, one of the main deep-water oil tanker passages into the region, passes Grenada's southern coast. The Caribbean's southeastern approaches offer a naval force the opportunity to dominate the sea-lanes running from the Strait of Hormuz to the North Atlantic oil- shipping routes. Moreover, much of the Caribbean production and refining capability is within tactical air range of Grenada, which lies fewer than 483 kilometers from the oil fields of Trinidad and Tobago and eastern Venezuela. Within a 925-kilometer radius of Grenada -- the range of Cuba's MiG-23 fighter-bombers -- are the oil fields, refineries, tanker ports, and sea-lanes that have supplied a large share of the petroleum imported by the United States.
In support of its claim that Grenada might have served as a Soviet-Cuban base of operations in the region, the Reagan administration noted the presence in Grenada in October 1983 of the well-armed and militarily trained Cubans, mostly construction workers but also some Cuban troops from the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior; fortifications, including the battalion-sized military camp built by the Cubans at Calivigny; warehouses filled with weapons and munitions; the nearly finished 3,048-meter Point Salines runway; personnel from Eastern Europe, Africa, and East Asia; and captured documents, which included five secret military agreements: three with the Soviet Union, one with the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea), and one with Cuba. Some leading specialists on Soviet and Cuban policies in Latin America believe that the voluminous secret files discovered in Grenada after the invasion amply document the NJM's attempts at Marxism-Leninism and its extensive political, ideological, and military ties with the Soviet Union and Cuba.
Another uncited reason for the involvement of the United States clearly was concern over the potential use of the island as a staging area for regional subversion. Reagan had stated earlier in 1983 that Grenada was "a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied for use as a major military bastion to export terror." Although Grenada had not yet begun exporting revolution to the region, captured Grenada documents provided ample evidence of these subversive intentions, as discussed in meetings between Grenadian leaders and their high- level Soviet counterparts. For example, one document read as follows: "Our revolution has to be viewed as a worldwide process with its original roots in the Great October Revolution. For Grenada to assume a position of increasingly greater importance, we have to be seen as influencing at least regional events. We have to establish ourselves as the authority on events in at least the English-speaking Caribbean, and be a sponsor of revolutionary activity."
As the first military intervention by the United States in the English-speaking Caribbean, the Grenada action marked what may be seen as the final act in the displacement of Britain by the United States as the region's principal power. In a speech to the Royal Commonwealth Society in London in November 1983, then-Barbadian prime minister Adams declared, "In hemispheric terms, 1983 is bound to be seen as the watershed year in which the influence of the United States . . . came observably to replace that of Great Britain in the old British colonies."
Both Britain and the United States had diplomatic representation in the region in the late 1980s. Britain maintained ties to its former Caribbean colonies through West Indian diplomatic representation in London and the Meeting of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth, as well as through the British High Commission in Barbados, the High Commission representatives on each OECS island, and representatives or ambassadors to the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. The post-1983 diplomatic representation of the United States in the Commonwealth Caribbean islands included embassies located in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago. This representation remained largely unchanged from the early 1980s, with the exception of the opening of a United States embassy in Grenada in 1984. The United States ambassador to Barbados was simultaneously accredited to five OECS countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Christopher (hereafter, St. Kitts) and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Only Jamaica and Barbados had a resident American military attaché; the United States defense attaché in Venezuela was accredited to Trinidad and Tobago.
Unlike Britain, the United States also maintained a military presence in the Commonwealth Caribbean islands in the late 1980s, although it was limited to small naval and air bases in Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas. Under a new basing agreement signed in April 1984, the United States agreed to pay the Bahamas US$100 million over a 10-year period for the use of 3 navy and air force sites. In the late 1980s, the United States Navy's Atlantic Underseas Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas and the United States Virgin Islands was still considered to be of critical importance to developing American antisubmarine warfare capabilities. American naval analysts have pointed out that the archipelago island geography of the Caribbean complicates monitoring of enemy submarines in the region by serving as a barrier against detection by the passive sound surveillance underwater system (sosus). Nevertheless, new technology reportedly made sosus-monitoring stations on certain islands dispensable. The American naval facility in Barbados, which included a sosus listening post, was removed in 1978 and relocated to Antigua. In the early 1980s, the United States considered closing its small naval facility on Antigua, including the United States Oceanographic Research Center there; but after the Grenada operation, plans were developed to convert the base into a training facility.
From the 1960s until the early 1980s, the United States Air Force and United States Navy also had maintained small bases on Grand Turk Island. In 1982 the air force decided to leave the island because its facility there was no longer cost effective or necessary. In 1983 the naval base was closed. For economic reasons the Turks and Caicos government strongly urged continuation of the United States facilities; in 1986 the government again indicated that it would like Washington to reestablish a military presence on the island.
Since the Manifest Destiny era of the mid-nineteenth century and the interventionist period of the early twentieth century, the United States has shown a strong interest in controlling maritime choke points in the Caribbean. The Caribbean region's proximity to the mainland makes it especially important to the defense of the United States. American strategic affairs analysts generally seem to agree that if any of the Caribbean rimlands or islands were to serve as a military base of the Soviet Union, Cuba, or another enemy power, United States and regional security would be endangered and the tasks of continental defense, American importation of strategic minerals and petroleum, and resupply of NATO forces in a global conflict would be further complicated. Moreover, the Reagan administration and proponents of its worldview have argued that the unchallenged peacetime expansion of military power into the Caribbean by the Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan triad could undermine the position of the United States in the Western Hemisphere politically and psychologically and undercut American credibility elsewhere in the world. Academic critics of these security views have tended to minimize or discount altogether the significance of additional Soviet-Cuban bases being established in the Caribbean Basin, arguing in part that the United States would take appropriate military action against them in the event of a major war.
The Caribbean region is the strategic link between the North Atlantic and South Atlantic for navies operating in the two oceans. The United States-NATO "swing strategy" is dependent on the security of the Caribbean sea-lanes. Global United States military strategy relies on moving United States-based forces across the Atlantic in the event of a crisis in Europe or elsewhere.
In addition to moving troops, as much as 60 percent of the supplies needed to replenish NATO forces, including petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL), would be shipped from United States ports in the Gulf of Mexico or would pass through the Panama Canal. Fifty percent of these supplies would transit the Straits of Florida, in easy striking distance of Cuban torpedo boats and airplanes. In the event of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict, most refined petroleum products required for the Allied war effort would come from United States refining facilities along the Gulf coast and major refining centers along the island chain encircling the Caribbean Sea and the coasts of South America.
United States trade is also dependent on the security of the Caribbean. All thirteen sea-lanes in the Caribbean are included in the thirty-one sea-lanes in the world designated "essential" by the United States government. A lifeline of seaborne commerce and communication, the Caribbean is an area of convergence of major interoceanic trade routes and a logistical and supply route for the United States. Ships plying these trade routes move bulk commodities and general cargo between the main production and consumption areas in Western Europe, southern Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere. According to the United States Department of Transportation, 1986 data indicate that somewhat more than half of the cargo flowing into the Caribbean originated in the United States, roughly a quarter in Western Europe, and most of the remainder in Asia.
The aggregate strategic and economic significance of the Caribbean to the vital interests of the United States may equal or exceed that of the Persian Gulf. In the mid-1980s, roughly 50 percent of United States exports and 65 to 75 percent of combined oil and strategic minerals imports were handled in the Gulf of Mexico ports of Houston, Galveston, Beaumont, New Orleans, and Mobile and passed through the Panama Canal or the Gulf of Mexico. The Caribbean sea-lanes, including the Panama Canal, also carried over 70 percent of United States imports of strategic minerals in the mid-1980s. Virtually all of the United States defense industry's vital supplies of manganese and chromium followed the South Atlantic sea-lanes from the Cape of Good Hope to United States ports.
The strategic importance of the Caribbean sea-lanes to the United States and Western Europe began to increase in the mid-1980s as strategic minerals became scarcer and imports from South Africa were jeopardized by the growing conflict over that country's apartheid policy. Should the Suez Canal be blocked during wartime, traffic probably would increase because more Europe-bound ships would have to take Caribbean routes. Both Western Europe and Japan were highly dependent on the Caribbean sea-lanes for trade. No less than one-half of Western Europe's imported petroleum passed through the Caribbean in 1986. About 25 percent of Western Europe's foodstuffs, as well as important minerals such as uranium, manganese, chromium, platinum, and vanadium, followed this route.
The development of Latin American and Caribbean nations as major producers of primary minerals for industrialized states increased their importance to the United States in the 1980s. The Caribbean Basin is an important source of many American raw material imports, especially strategic minerals such as antinomy, barite, bismuth, flourite, graphite, gypsum, mercury, rhenium, selenium, silver, sulfur, and zinc. Jamaica has been a principal Caribbean supplier of bauxite and alumina to the United States.
In the late 1980s, the United States also was importing POL products from several Caribbean Basin countries, primarily Venezuela but also from the Commonwealth Caribbean, mainly Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. In 1986 Trinidad and Tobago accounted for 50 percent of United States imports of these products from the region (about a 17-percent increase over 1982 imports from that nation), and the Bahamas accounted for 17 percent (about a 3- percent decrease from 1982 imports). With a production of about 65 million barrels, Trinidad and Tobago is important strategically as an oil producer. In the late 1980s, a little over 10 percent of United States imported petroleum, including its oil imports from Venezuela, was refined in Caribbean ports, such as those in the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago. Before being shipped to the United States, much of the imported oil not refined in Caribbean ports was transferred from supertankers to smaller vessels at deep-water Caribbean harbors. The Commonwealth Caribbean's three transshipment sites were located next to refineries at South Riding Point, Bahamas; Cul de Sac Bay, St. Lucia; and off Grand Cayman.
The extensive use of Commonwealth Caribbean islands as transit points for the smuggling of narcotics into the United States by foreign traffickers in the 1980s became of increasing concern not only to the United States government but also to island governments faced with the associated problems of growing corruption and youth drug addiction. By the mid-1980s, Commonwealth Caribbean countries such as the Bahamas and Jamaica were shifting rapidly from primarily transit countries to transit-consumer countries, according to the United States Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters.
In the late 1980s, Jamaica was the only Commonwealth Caribbean island producing significant amounts of narcotics for clandestine export to the United States. In 1980 it overtook Mexico as the second largest supplier, after Colombia, of marijuana to the United States and maintained that position for much of the decade. During that period, Jamaica accounted for an estimated 13 to 15 percent of the marijuana smuggled into the United States mainland, according to the Department of State. Commonwealth Caribbean islands, including Jamaica, also were used heavily as a transit point for drug trafficking between South America and North America. The Eastern Caribbean archipelago has served as a shipment route for cocaine smuggled from Colombia and Bolivia to the New York City area.
The Bahamas had served historically as a conduit for contraband smuggled into and out of the United States. After 1976 the archipelago became an important drug-trafficking zone for Colombian marijuana and other Latin American narcotics. Situated close to Florida and other states in the southeastern United States, it became a transit zone for drugs produced in Colombia and Jamaica and transported to the United States by boat or private aircraft. According to February 1987 press reports, Norman's Cay, a small island about sixty kilometers southeast of Nassau, had served as the main transshipment point for the Medellín Cartel of Colombian cocaine smugglers since the late 1970s. Having about 700 islands scattered over 259,000 square kilometers of ocean, the 1,207- kilometer-long Bahamian archipelago is ideal for drug smugglers. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, ships bearing tons of marijuana, often accompanied by cargoes of cocaine, entered the southern Bahamas after passing through the Windward Passage and transited either the Caicos, Mayaguana, or Crooked Island Passage. They also entered from the east through the Northeast Providence Channel, after navigating the Mona Passage or taking a longer route on the eastern flank of the Caribbean.
The logistics of drug interdiction in the Caribbean are extremely difficult. In addition to the Bahamas islands, there are more than 300 other islands and several thousand cays 1986, budgeted at US$8.375 million, was intended for fighting drug traffickers. Jamaica alone received US$8.275 million of that amount. At an RSS Council of Ministers meeting in Castries, St. Lucia, in October 1986, the Eastern Caribbean states agreed in principle to take joint action against drug trafficking by establishing a regional coast guard surveillance program. They also agreed to conduct joint drug interdiction exercises aimed at occupying certain sea-lanes used by narcotics traffickers.
Data as of November 1987
Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.
Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Barbados was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.
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Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.
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