Coercive diplomacy “is essentially a diplomatic strategy, one that relies on the threat of force rather than the use of force. If force must be used to strengthen diplomatic efforts at persuasion, it is employed in an exemplary manner, in the form of quite limited military action, to demonstrate resolution and willingness to escalate to high levels of military action if necessary.”
– Major Lisa A. Nemeth. “The Use of Pauses in Coercion: An Explanation in Theory”, 2009.
“The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.”
– PROVERBS 18:7″, New International Version.
As we come to the end of the celebration of our 36th year of independence I thought that I should share my views on the events of September 16, 2017 and the attendant policy/strategy being employed by Guatemala with respect to its unfounded claim to Belizean territory.
It appears to me that the Guatemalans have embraced a policy of strategic patience undergirded by a strategy of coercive diplomacy. In employing this approach they have completely and shamefully outmanoeuvred and outsmarted Belize’s foreign policy “experts”. The practical effect of Guatemala’s strategic outlook has been the annexation of the Sarstoon and a foolhardy commitment to the very narrow ICJ pathway. Belize as a result finds itself in the most precarious position it has ever been since its independence.
On September 24, 1945 Guatemala formally advised the British that they had declared the 1859 Treaty null and void, and then they proceeded to claim all of Belize. Guatemala, it seems, was attempting to seize upon anti-colonialism sentiments that were rampant post-World War II. But the Guatemalans miscalculated and the British who had emerged, though battered, as one of the victors of World War II quickly called Guatemala’s bluff and invited Guatemala to take the matter to the ICJ in January of 1946. The Guatemalans refused, adopting instead a policy of strategic patience.
The invitation by the British to take the matter to the ICJ and Guatemala’s subsequent refusal to do so, has been used by today’s proponents of the ICJ panacea, to point out that Belize has achieved some kind of victory by way of the Special Agreement. Sedi gleefully declares that not even the British could have gotten the Guatemalans to go to the ICJ and that somehow we should celebrate this as a crowning achievement. The fact of the matter is that the Guatemalans understood in 1946, as they do now, that the power, position and prestige of a state can and does impact on matters at the ICJ. There is no way that the Guatemalans could have gone to the ICJ in 1946 and succeeded. But things in 2017 are not as they were in 1946 and the Guatemalans know this! The Guatemala of 2017 is not the Guatemala of 1946 and Belize in 2017 is not the Great Britain of 1946. Though Guatemala did hit some rough spots between 1946 and 2017, it has emerged as a regional powerhouse, even holding a seat on the UN’s Security Council in 2012; incredibly with the support of CARICOM. Talk about a diplomatic coup!
Let me point out here that strategic patience does not means “do nothing” and it is not a solution to a particular problem. It simply means that a nation is prepared to wait until the conditions are right in order to advance its own interests: whatever those interests may be. Since 1946 Guatemala has expended great effort to keep the unfounded claim alive. The long term objective of its policy of strategic patience was clearly to legitimize its unfounded claim and I dare say that its strategic patience has paid off. A mere 27 years after Belize’s independence Guatemala’s unfounded claim has become a “legal claim”. In the life of a nation state twenty seven years is not a long time.
Over the intervening period since 1981 Guatemala has also, quite cleverly, encouraged if not sponsored the insidious eastward drift. The more visible manifestation of the eastward drift has been along the western border in the Chiquibul, but perhaps the most dangerous manifestation of this tactic has been the naturalization of Guatemalan citizens: a significant 6.03% of our population based on the 2010 census. I have been making the point for some time now, that citizen protection has always been used as a pretext for extra-territorial military action. The so-called “football war” fought between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 has its antecedence in land reform in Honduras that disadvantaged tens of thousands of Salvadorians. El Salvador used citizen protection as a pretext to commence military action, thought by many to have been sparked by the football controversy. In an earlier letter to you, I drew the similarities between the citizen protection arguments used for extra-territorial military action by Russia in Crimea and the US in Grenada and Panama. How and why we allow our politicians to get away with naturalizing Guatemalans, when we know that it can provide a pretext for extra-territorial military action, is beyond me.
Belizeans would be wise to understand that the ICJ option has not been purely a product of Belize and Guatemala. What our political leaders have failed to say to us is that they are under considerable pressure to “resolve” Guatemala’s unfounded claim. Between 1975 and 1981 nobody was listening to Guatemala’s foolishness, but by 2008 the so-called “friends of Belize” were saying to us that the ICJ is the way to go. The ICJ option emanates directly from Washington and London; they have prescribed for us medicine that they themselves would never take. And to ensure that we take said medicine, Guatemala in 2016 reverted to a strategy of “coercive diplomacy”.
In April of 2016 Belizean security forces shot and killed Julio Rene Alvarado Ruano, a Guatemalan teenager, well within Belizean territory. The subsequent independent investigation would find that our security forces acted justifiably having come under fire by persons illegally in Belizean territory. Without waiting for any meaningful investigation Guatemala’s President ordered troops to be amassed along the Sarstoon River and the western border. They then proceeded to annex the Sarstoon. The policy-strategy blend of strategic patience and coercive diplomacy had aligned and aligned beautifully for Guatemala. Sedi, enamoured with Foreign Minister Morales, was caught off guard. The news of Guatemala’s mobilization terrified Belize, and in a manner we have come to expect under the superintendence of Dean Barrow and Sedi Elrington, Belize’s response was both feeble and confusing. Understanding the prohibition under international law against the threat of the use of force, Guatemala would later inform the international community that it had not mobilized. But the die had been cast: the Sarstoon was lost!
Eighteen months later, the Sarstoon remains under the effective control of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF). If you doubt that the Sarstoon has been annexed, you need only examine the behaviour of the GAF on September 16, 2017 when they illegally entered Belizean territory to harass those who had embarked on the Sarstoon Eco-Challenge organized by the hero, Wil Maheia. To add insult to injury the GAF then escorted a TIDE boat (that had two Coast Guard members on board) to Belize’s forward operating base well inside Belizean territory. The behaviour of the GAF on September 16th is a good example of what a policy of appeasement looks like on the ground. The reaction of the Barrow administration supported their undeclared policy of appeasement: no public consternation over the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and no formal complaint to Guatemala and the international community!
To contrast Belize’s sheepish behaviour on September 16, 2017, one can look at the recent incident in the Persian Gulf when in January of 2016, Iranian forces seized 10 US sailors who had inadvertently strayed into Iranian waters. Those sailors would be released 24 hours later amid howls of protest from the US Government. I do not wish to speak on the merits of the detention; I merely wish to point out that Iran, a smaller, less powerful nation than the US, acted in its own national self-interest and was prepared to engage the mighty USA in defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is how it is in the real world where national leaders understand that sovereignty and territorial integrity are more than just buzz words. The preservation of a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity requires astuteness and courageous actions. Nothing less!
Regrettably, Belize continues to yield to Guatemalan aggression and each time we do so, it is like prey caught in the deadly embrace of an anaconda: with every breath the deadly embrace gets tighter and tighter. In fact, so effective has been Guatemala’s strategy of coercive diplomacy, we now have our very own Foreign Minister telling us that it is either the ICJ or war!
The mouth of fools is their undoing. It is written: check PROVERBS!
Major Lloyd Jones