Q. Let me start with a bottom-line question: Is the Caribbean a security threat to the United States? A. The region is not a security threat. However, because of a variety of factors, the Caribbean could be used as a staging area to attack the United States -- either the homeland itself or to attack the nation's interests. The first is the geographic proximity; the Caribbean is right next door. The region itself is another factor. It, in part because of tourism, has open borders, a relaxed approach and a welcoming attitude, which could lead people to exploit that.
Q. What are the U.S. interests in the Caribbean?
A. The U.S. gets a significant amount -- the last figures I've seen are 32 percent -- of its oil and liquified natural gas from the Caribbean. The oil coming from Venezuela, which is also part of the Caribbean Basin, is another important American interest. The U.S. is the single largest importer of liquified natural gas from Trinidad and Tobago. If you affect the production of that gas or the petroleum from the Caribbean, you're affecting this nation's interest. It may not be a dramatic impact, because the U.S. has other sources of imported oil. But it will cause a ripple effect on other people who produce and sell to the U.S.
The U.S. also has refining operations there. There are big refining operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in St. Lucia and Curaao. Actually, the second-largest, if not the largest, refinery in the Western Hemisphere is in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
If you go to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Guyana or Suriname, and ask what is the critical manufactured product, they will tell you bauxite. Most of the bauxite produced in the Caribbean comes to the U.S. Each of us uses bauxite and not just the aluminum foil. You can't build F-16s without bauxite. You can't operate the electrical industry without bauxite. It's not like the Caribbean is the only source, but it's cheaper because the shipping costs are less expensive.
I can't forget offshore banking. Over the last decade and a half, offshore banking, insurance and finance have grown tremendously in Caribbean countries. Some countries that were not major players are now beginning to develop an interest in it, like Barbados, Belize and the Cayman Islands. The Bahamas is a key player.
Q. We have a problem providing security with the openness here, but we have the resources. Are the resources there in the Caribbean?
A. The resources are not there, which makes it important that Caribbean countries do partnerships at two levels. They better partner among themselves, and they also have to partner with the U.S. and other countries because those partnerships are in the other countries' interests. For example, a lot of people don't realize that Guadaloupe, Martinique and French Guyana are integral parts of France. Therefore the French have an interest in the Caribbean. The Dutch have an interest in the Caribbean. The British still have colonies in the Caribbean. So Caribbean countries need to partner with the United States, the French and the Dutch so that the resource limitations there can be overcome.
No Caribbean country has enough sea assets, coast guards and navies, to do the work. I was telling colleagues in St. Kitts about an incident that the head of a certain defense force in the Caribbean shared with me. This defense force's coast guard vessel was chasing a drug trafficker and the coast guard boat ran out of fuel. They had to get help from the French out of Martinque. They hadn't had a maintainence program for years, in part because they don't have the resources to maintain the vessels, and they didn't realize that the fuel gauge was broken. That may be a small thing, but it is symbolic of larger issues. If you look at the critical intelligence-gathering, most Caribbean countries have to rely on U.S. intelligence sources. There's no independent assessment. The resources aren't there.
Jamaica and the United States have undertaken a massive partnership on the port security issue, but come July 1, all Caribbean countries have to meet new international standards. You're talking about additional pressures on countries where the resources aren't there. If you know that and I know that, the bad guys know that. Some of the bad guys have a better intelligence system than many of the smaller Caribbean countries do.
Q. You've been concerned about the impact of the drug trade on the region. What's the impact on the region now and have we responded to it adequately?
A. I wrote a book called Drugs and Security in the Caribbean: Sovereignty Under Seige. Part of the research involved spending three nights aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter doing drug interdiction. It drove my wife crazy, but I wanted to do it. I remember asking the captain what was his biggest high in fighting the drug guys. He told me: "Professor, there isn't any! We aren't able to match their capacity to move the drugs." This Coast Guard cutter was 270 feet long and its maximum speed was 28 knots. Some of the drug guys have boats that go 65 knots. So, if the big United States has limitations in its ability to match the resources of drug traffickers, imagine the limitations of the smaller Caribbean countries.
The resources were not there before 9-11. Since then you have a clear and present danger which for most countries in the hemisphere requires adequate response. What does that mean? It means you have to divert resources from one area to another; and when you shift resources, you create space for the bad guys. They're going to look to see how to best exploit those vacuums of security engagements, and those vacuums are there.
It will become imperative that the Caribbean countries do a reality check. Where are we in terms of the threat? Where are we in terms of the resources we have and those we can acquire, and how can we best plan for contingencies, rather than be in a totally reactive mode?
Unfortunately, the reality for most Caribbean countries is that they're in a reactive mode.
Q. So, who are the bad guys? We're talking drug traffickers but are there others?
A. I've long argued that in the Caribbean context and in the context of small countries, the issue of security cannot be seen in a military aspect. What's true of post-9-11 is also true of pre-9-11. There have been threats to Caribbean sovereignty and the quality of life from the drug traffickers, but there's a larger non-military threat that is emerging from HIV-AIDS. The issue of AIDS is a long-term threat to stability, integrity and security of the Caribbean countries.
In addition to that, the grinding poverty in the Caribbean is going to set the stage for a lot of political discontent, and Haiti is just one example. The Dominican Republican for the past three years is another. Guyana and Jamaica are evidence of that. The poverty is going to precipitate and spawn discontent where the enemy isn't on the outside but is within a country's borders.
Q. Has your research uncovered any al-Qaida or any of their sympathetic allies in the Caribbean?