The National Interest

The euphoria of Independence and the exuberance accompanying the celebration of statehood in May 1966 were eclipsed a few months later by the ominous report that the Venezuelan National Armed Forces had occupied the Guyanese portion of the Island of Ankoko in the Cuyuni River in what is now the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region. The British Army had already folded its tents and for the new State, idealism collided with realism.

That was only the start. There followed a seemingly ceaseless series of crises. The unsuccessful efforts of the four newly-independent Caribbean States [Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana] to avert the secession of the island of Anguilla from St. Kitts-Nevis – Anguilla in 1967; the issuance of the Venezuela decree (known as the Leoni Decree after the Venezuelan President Raúl Leoni Otero) reasserting its claim to the Essequibo and its maritime zone in 1968; the attempted secession of the Rupununi District and the defence of the New River Zone in 1969 and other bruising international encounters almost every year, reached their bloody climax on 6th October 1976 when the Cubana de Aviacion flight CU 455 was blasted out of the air killing eleven Guyanese over the Caribbean sea. This was the environment in which the new state of Guyana was born.

Guyana emerged, as an independent state, in the Caribbean Basin comprising historically distinct jurisdictions with asymmetrical relationships among the big powers – France, the Netherlands, UK and USA – which still hold territorial possessions; the Circum-Caribbean ‘middle’ powers – Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela – with the ability to influence regional relations and, at the next level, the small states which exert little or no influence on international affairs.

It became apparent that the sovereignty of small states was only “conditional”. It became clear, also, that Kofi Annan’s advice: “You can do a lot with diplomacy but, of course, you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by firmness and force”, should not be ignored.

Much has been written and spoken about the roots of Guyana’s diplomacy in those early days. It is imperative that cadets and diplomats be schooled in the lessons of the past decades and those lessons should be re-learnt in this Foreign Service Institute for their future guidance. Literature abounds, sadly sometimes, in obscurity:

∙ Forbes Burnham’s, In defence of national sovereignty and peace;
∙ Shridath Ramphal’s, Development or defence: the small state threatened with aggression;
∙ Rashleigh Jackson’s, Safeguarding the security of small states;
∙ Cedric Joseph’s, Anglo-American diplomacy and the re-opening of the Guyana-Venezuela boundary controversy.

The study of Guyana’s international relations, the understanding of the national interest and the practice of diplomacy should not be left to chance.

A state’s foreign policy represents the guiding principles and objectives in projecting its sovereignty within the global community. The mission of actualizing the state’s foreign policy is entrusted, principally, to its Foreign Service.
Diplomacy can be defined to as the “the formulation of a strategy aimed at achieving national interests in the international field, and carrying out this strategy by diplomats.” The objectives of diplomacy are to promote the national interest.
Diplomats are of vital importance to small states which lack the economic, geographic and strategic power to impose their will on other states in the contentious and confrontational theatre of international relations. Small states must pursue their national interest mainly through diplomacy.

The practice of diplomacy is increasing in scope and complexity. International negotiations now cover a wide spectrum of fields most of which often require specialised and technical expertise. Traversing this treacherous territory cannot be left to the unschooled and uncommitted.

Diplomacy requires a corps of educated and dedicated diplomats. A professional Foreign Service, possessing a proficient cadre of career diplomats, is obligatory for the promotion and protection of a state’s national interest.

The national interest

The concept of the national interest of any state, rendered in French as raison d’état, is not an exact science. The national interest, however defined, refers to the principles and objectives which a state seeks to promote and protect, in its relationship with other states.

The national interest has practical application. It forms the basis of a state’s foreign relations. It links diplomacy to the state’s domestic interests. A state pursues its domestic interests in the international community through diplomacy.

The state has an obligation to articulate a cogent and coherent foreign policy and to identify the foundational elements of its national interest. I said, in my address at the opening session of the Heads of Diplomatic Missions held in Georgetown on 3rd April 2017 that Guyana’s diplomats have a duty to protect the country’s citizens, the country itself and the community, the latter referring to our commitment to regional integration.

∙ The protection of citizens, wherever they are, is paramount. No Guyanese must be considered or be stateless. The State has an obligation to extend its protection to every citizen. The diaspora’s enormous size, extensive dispersal and enthusiastic nationalism are precious assets. Guyanese resident in the diaspora should be assured that the state, within its means, will respond to their needs for protection and representation.

∙ The protection of our country and the promotion of its development are no less important. The national interest demands the preservation and protection of our territorial integrity and respect for its sovereignty. Guyana’s ambitions at independence were not dissimilar to that of any other newly independent state. Forbes Burnham, the first Prime Minister, summarized those ambitions in the words: “We want to preserve our newly-acquired independence, to develop our resources with our own energies and the assistance of friends.”

Guyana’s has sought the protection of the international community in the face of threats to its territory. It has solicited support and elicited statements of solidarity for its sovereignty and territorial integrity from the Caribbean Community, the Commonwealth, Non-Aligned Movement and from friendly states.

Guyana places its trust in international law. Its relations with other states are based on mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, cooperation for mutual benefit, respect for treaties and international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the maintenance of regional peace and security.

The national interest involves, also, attracting investments and promoting international trade. Investment is a stimulus for increasing production, increasing growth and generating employment. Market access for the country’s goods and services will boost earnings and ensure a stronger national economy. Guyanese diplomacy is expected to engage in efforts to attract investment, access markets and increase exports.

Guyana, a low-lying coastal state, is obliged, also, to protect the environment. The country is in transition to becoming a ‘green state’ which will emphasize the preservation of the environment, the protection of the country’s biodiversity, the generation of energy from renewable sources and the implementation of measures aimed at climate adaptation and mitigation. Efforts to stem global emissions and to promote renewable energy use are consistent with the country’s national interest.

∙ The Caribbean Community and regional integration are vital to Guyana’s economy and security. An essential element of foreign policy has to be the continued commitment to regional integration. Guyana’s first Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 1966, our independence year and seven years before CARICOM was established, said of relations with the Caribbean: We devote every effort to the strengthening of Caribbean unity, the development and maintenance of regional cooperation and integration at all levels and the building of a strong viable Caribbean Community.

The foundations of Guyana’s foreign policy were laid in the early years after Independence. Guyana, having attained its Independence in May 1966, began the process of establishing a Foreign Service.

The young state facilitated the entry of some of the best minds into the Foreign Service directed by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham who held the portfolio of Minister of External Affairs, and superintended by Sir Shridath Ramphal, the Minister of State for External Affairs and supported by a team of capable public servants and diplomats.

This talented team not only built a foreign service from scratch but, also, crafted a foreign policy which enabled the young state to ward off the early challenges to its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The first decade since assuming full responsibility for our country’s external relations was Guyana’s ‘golden age’ of diplomacy. Republican status in 1970 saw the extension of relations with other countries, including socialist states, the recognition of the People’s Republic of China and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba.

Guyana was a loud voice within the Non-Aligned Movement, an uncompromising advocate for ending apartheid in South Africa and a fervent supporter of the African liberation struggles.

The Republic, by the second decade of the life of Independence, could boast of being a founder of the Caribbean Community; of having hosted the first meeting of foreign ministers of Non-Aligned states in the western hemisphere; of being elected to the Security Council twice; of having its acclaimed sons elected to the Presidency of the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, as Secretary General of the United Nations, Presidency of the United Nations Council for Namibia. Guyanese, much later, would assume Chair of the Group of 77 and the West Indian Commission. Its Heads of State have chaired the Caribbean Community and the Rio Group.

Guyana is proud of its foreign service and the service of its diplomats. Guyana’s prestige in the international community has been enhanced by its pursuit of an enlightened foreign policy for which we are respected by most. The Republic, today, enjoys diplomatic relations with more than 130 states. It is a member of the Union of South American States (UNASUR), the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and an Associate Member of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR).

Sir Shridath Ramphal
Sir Shridath Ramphal is Guyana’s most distinguished global statesman. His stewardship and service to the citizens and homeland and his role as an inveterate integrationist are incontestable.

Sir Shridath has continues to serve his country with distinction. He was key member of the Guyana team, which successfully argued the country’s case before the Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). He is still providing advisory services to the Government of Guyana, employing his expertise and experience in the international affairs. Guyana is eternally grateful for his inestimable contributions to building our Republic.

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana considers it fitting that this Institute, dedicated to educating our country’s cadets and diplomats, should be named after Shridath Ramphal, one of the architects of Guyana’s foreign relations.

It was my intention, when I assumed the Presidency in May 2015, that Guyana should recapture the exceptional standards for which our nation was known and respected for in the past especially in the Public Service and the Foreign Service.

The professionalisation of both the Public Service and the Foreign Service required training additional to what was provided in the public education system. The establishment of the Bertram College of the Public Service to train public servants and the re-establishment of the Foreign Service Institute and re-dedication to Sir Shridath Ramphal will contribute to the edification of a corps of competent diplomats to advance the national interest.

There is no place for mediocrity within the Foreign Service. The Institute will help to equip our young people with the art, craft, knowledge and skills expected of the country’s diplomats.

The commissioning of this Institute is a fitting way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Republic. The Institute will ensure a professional and competent Foreign Service. Nothing less will be expected of an institution which bears the name of an exemplar of high standards and intellect. Nothing less will be expected from Ramphal House.

The future is bright. A more professional Foreign Service is being fashioned, one that will produce diplomats who will continue the work of their predecessors in promoting and protecting the country’s national interest.

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