CARICOM’s Foreign Policy Standpoint on the Ukraine War, One Year into the Conflict

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The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) foreign policy establishment ought to confront the reality that alliance politics regarding great-power competition are back with a vengeance. From the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) eastward expansion to the Kremlin’s vociferous spheres of influence-based rejection of Ukraine possibly joining the ranks of that alliance and Western concerns about the deepening contemporary alliance between Beijing and the Kremlin, this is the geopolitical situation of particular consequence. In the latter case, the stronger alliance has arguably emerged because of Russia’s ostracism by the West. (While some focus to a considerable degree on the U.S.-led West’s open-ended promise to extend NATO membership to Ukraine, with such outreach making headway among some of the other former Soviet republics, it might also be argued that the latter moved west; it was not necessarily that NATO moved east.)

Accordingly, with due regard to its risks/opportunities and in pursuit of its core security-cum-economic interests, CARICOM ought to also systematically bring this relatively new, post-Cold War (international relations) normal into dialogue with the coordination of foreign policies among its member states.

In the Year since its Inception, the Ukraine War Looms Large on CARICOM’s Foreign Policy Agenda…

Today, as never before, the Ukraine war occupies a prominent place in CARICOM member states’ foreign policy decision-making. They have intensified their policy focus toward the Ukraine war, especially in the UN, taking a hard line against Russia’s aggression.

Following a year of the conflict, in this historical moment, virtually all of the 14 sovereign states of the bloc lent their support to a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution committing to that country’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity in accordance with its internationally recognized borders. But beyond that commitment, this resolution on “Principles of the Charter of the United Nations underlying a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine” demonstrates the Assembly holds firm convictions on Russia halting hostilities and removing its military forces from Ukraine without delay, completely and unconditionally.

CARICOM member states, along with 128 other UN members, voted in favour of this much-anticipated, nonbinding resolution adopted on 23 February, 2023. Just seven countries opposed the resolution, revealing on the face of it that—as this war entered its second year—with altogether 141 members of the world body doubling down on condemning Russia’s war of aggression and strongly supporting Ukraine, the international community demonstrably still stands with that war-torn country.

…But it’s Complicated…

The big picture take on the stance of the international community (inclusive of CARICOM) toward the Ukraine war is not so straightforward, though, not least because this protracted conflict—the largest in Europe since World War II and with global salience—is playing out as a key aspect of great-powers’ post-‘unipolar moment’, realpolitik ambitions. What’s more, in this extraordinarily complex geopolitical moment, “[h]ow countries define their national interest largely determines their willingness to work toward goals that are perceived to be in the global interest.”

In this regard, it is also notable that 32 countries—the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is a consequential friend of CARICOM, among them—exercised abstentions in respect of the UNGA vote to mark the (grim) one-year anniversary of the Ukraine war. This almost mirrored the voting dynamics regarding the adoption of a similar UNGA resolution in March 2022, which mustered 35 abstentions, while 141 UN members backed it and five countries voted against it.

Given this reality, what is dominating political and foreign policy elites’ Ukraine war-related debates in CARICOM capitals are questions regarding whose security and economic interests are being served by the conflict and, beyond that, at whose expense; but also, what kinds of (re)calibrations need to be made in respect of the bloc’s initial (on principle) formal condemnation of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, 2022. That condemnation brought into focus normative stakes and international law-related implications of Russian aggression, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned as “an affront to our collective conscience;” reaffirming similar remarks he made last year.

One year into that war, CARICOM leaders are seemingly coming around to the view that, by and large, their small states’ interests might be better served by turning the (diplomatic) page on and to the exclusion of the said initial condemnation, focusing instead on a call “for a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the [Ukraine war].” If their record of abstentions—which I discuss elsewhere—in relation to Ukraine war-related UNGA votes is anything to go by, CARICOM member states have seemingly been coming around to this foreign policy stance for months now.

These states’ respective foreign policies, then, are not simply promulgated on principle à la a unidirectional foreign policy outlook. When the exigencies of their international relations demand it and to achieve their goals in certain contexts, they are also pragmatic. In this regard, as I elucidate elsewhere, the respective national interests of CARICOM member states are most aptly viewed through the prism of “foreign policy-based transactionalism.”

…CARICOM is Weighing Up the Balance…

This against a backdrop where, in general terms, CARICOM tries to balance between Washington—Kyiv’s principal Western ally—and Beijing, which is Russia’s close ally, whose purported neutral stance on the war strains credulity in the West. Also of note, for the last two decades, Sino-CARICOM relations have deepened considerably and Beijing’s diplomatic influence in the region is only growing, as nine CARICOM member states become more dependent on the PRC’s “development assistance, trade and foreign investment.”

Like any other great-power, the PRC’s pursuit of soft power-hinged economic statecraft is geopolitically motivated. Russia’s relationship with CARICOM is nowhere near as developed, with implications for the exercise of direct coercion or inducements. (Indeed, Sino-CARICOM and Russo-CARICOM relations are a study in contrasts.)

As the war drags on, the Kremlin’s calculation on the imperative of continuously driving a wedge between the Global South and Global North on the Ukraine war may increasingly draw on the considerable reach of the PRC’s diplomatic influence, raising the question: What does this augur for the future of CARICOM’s foreign policy standpoint on the Ukraine war as it has entered its second year?

As of now—as an initiative that has been drawn to CARICOM’s attention via high-level diplomatic channels and diplomatic maneuvers unfolding behind the scenes—Beijing is drumming up support for its 12-point peace plan to end the Ukraine war which, in some quarters, has raised eyebrows.

That said, Beijing’s diplomatic efforts to gain influence in the Caribbean and the Kremlin’s diplomatic maneuvering to possibly dovetail selectively on the same have to be viewed in a context where “[t]he United States has maintained extensive international hierarchies over states on the Caribbean littoral for more than a century.” Moreover, comparatively, the contours of Washington’s contemporary soft power-related hand in the Caribbean stand out.

…Yet, when it comes to Policy Drivers, Much Depends on Out of the Box Thinking

With the foregoing in mind, there needs to be a more concerted effort to periodically sync meetings of the CARICOM Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) in respect of the recent change in the frequency and dynamic of CARICOM summits. There is an “agreement [arrived at a summit of CARICOM leaders held in July 2022] to establish a calendar of six (6) Meetings of the Conference annually, with regular in-person Meetings being held in February and July, and virtual intersessional meetings scheduled during the year.”

Such a step alone has important implications for how the bloc’s political directorate will think about the regional integration schema relative to the world at large, which is caught up (for some time to come) in strong Ukraine war-related geopolitical headwinds. After all, as a policy decision-making collective, regional leaders can ill afford not to be on top of things in that regard.  The political directorate should, therefore, be applauded for their imprimatur in relation to the COFCOR meeting held in the margins of the recently-concluded Forty-Fourth Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in Nassau, The Bahamas. Going forward, more of this is needed.


Dr. Nand C. Bardouille is Manager of The Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean in the Institute of International Relations (IIR), The University of the West Indies (The UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of The UWI or EUI Latin American Focus Group. The author would like to thank Ambassador Riyad Insanally and Ambassador Patrick I. Gomes for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. It is dedicated to the memory of the late Ambassador the Hon. Dr. Richard L. Bernal, OJ, a valued mentor, who passed away earlier this year.