A Global Americans Review of The Caribbean on the Edge: The Political Stress of Stability, Equality, and Diplomacy

The Trinidadian-born author offers the supportable contention that leadership and institutions are crucial variables in the performance matrix of countries in the region.


Winston Dookeran, The Caribbean on the Edge: The Political Stress of Stability, Equality, and Diplomacy. University of Toronto Press, 2022. 

Price: USD $75.00 | 240 pages

Distinguished economist and former Barbados Central Bank Governor DeLisle Worrell once declared, “The competitiveness of a small economy has nothing to do with price and everything to do with quality, service, and productivity.” While these three factors are necessary, they are insufficient—there is a complex influencing policy and practice matrix with many more variables. This notion is evident from this latest work by Winston Dookeran, Professor of Practice at the Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies. 

Dookeran outlines his intent to trace the ideas that evolved in development and diplomacy over the last decade in policy and academic circles, point to the missing gaps in data and strategy, and identify the way toward a new relevance in analytic leadership. Moreover, he views the work as setting “the analytic baseline for a road map to the changing globalization for the countries on the edge of history in the Caribbean Sea” and as “an anthology of ideas and writings that shaped my thinking over decades of work on development and on the Caribbean.” He pursues this laudable goal through 12 chapters organized into three sections called ‘Confronting the Framework,’ ‘The Missing Link in Thinking,’ and ‘Pathways in Analytic Leadership.’ Daniel Perrotti of the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Washington, DC office also provides a thoughtful exposition on the evolution of ECLAC’s school of thought and its influence on the Caribbean. 

The Trinidadian-born author offers the supportable contention that leadership and institutions are crucial variables in the performance matrix of countries in the region, and he invokes the wisdom of former Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson who flags the growing acceptance that the old-and-traditional style of governance is obsolete and laments the delayed creation of the desired new order because of continuous, cataclysmic changes. The delay has heightened the importance of seeking “a brand new paradigm for the exercise of political power and the management of national economies,” something that the COVID-19 pandemic has made even more urgent. Quite rightly, Dookeran acknowledges that GDP accounting can no longer adequately capture changes in standards of living; improvements in education and health care, and pollution abatement are among key desiderata in determining improved living standards. 

Statesmen and scholars alike will agree with Dookeran that “collaboration on agreed upon agendas and shared responsibility for the promotion of common interests do not mean that the nation state will disappear, or that national sovereignty will be lessened.” Still, there is incontrovertible evidence that state sovereignty in the Caribbean (and elsewhere) is compromised by the pursuits of non-state actors and the unintended consequences of what former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan once called “Problems Without Passports,” or PWPs. For instance, in the forthcoming book Challenged Sovereignty, this reviewer illustrates how PWPs such as transnational organized crime groups, illicit drug smugglers, and cybercriminals have been pushing Caribbean states towards the edges of their sovereignty and security precipices. 

As a former foreign minister of the twin-island republic, the author fully understands the importance of diplomacy and collective regional integration efforts in attempting to cope with the sovereignty and other challenges of countries in the region. He views the Caribbean as a diplomacy “buffer zone” and advocates that the region work within the realities of the new global economy and strive to emerge on a higher international platform. “In this context,” he contends, “the establishment of the Association of Caribbean States can be seen, not as an integration process per se, but as an attempt to strengthen the region’s negotiating position in international diplomacy.” Moreover, he considers this as a chance for the region “to move away from its traditional posture of protest diplomacy towards a more affirmative stance, in which vital interests are identified and promoted in anticipation of changing balances in world politics.” 

However, Dookeran is candid in bemoaning that the ACS has been unable to get an emerging consensus on how. This circumstance and other realities make both understandable and supportable his proposition that if the Caribbean is to strengthen its negotiating position at a time when both the United States and the European Union are preoccupied with matters unrelated to Caribbean development it must speak with a greater voice. Clearly, the state within Caribbean societies has crucial roles to play in the region’s diplomacy and political economy endeavors. As Dookeran puts it, “there is no doubt that the state has been pivotal in directing the progress of development towards equity and egalitarian public values.” Importantly, though, he is pellucid in contending that the obstacles to the growth process lie in undue reliance on the state and its outdated controls and systems, positing the need for “a ‘catalytic’ role for the state.” 

As might be expected, the discourse in The Caribbean on Edge could not ignore the matter of the COVID-19 pandemic. The author provides a sober, local-global analysis. Although Trinidad and Tobago is the unit of analysis in the local context, his assessment and suggestions carry region-wide resonance. He makes the point that the economic equilibrium of his birthplace has been disrupted by the pandemic’s loop-type shock, which resulted in the collapse of the global oil market, among other developments. Under these complex and interactive circumstances, he argues—and rightly so—global strategic thinking cannot be linear. Drawing on the work of Daniel Drezner, Ronald Krebs, and Randall Schweller on the “End of Grand Strategy,” published in the May/June 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs, he identifies the elements of three strategies that might be valuable to the post-pandemic Caribbean. 

Scholars, policymakers, and health security experts near and far discern not just global geoeconomic fallout from the pandemic but also geopolitical ones. Dookeran shares this thinking and replicates the outlook offered in a May 2020 edition of The Economist. It posits that China’s sphere of influence will grow, that a shift in the global balance of power from West to East will occur, and that the pandemic will become a catalyst for change in Europe’s pursuits and how China engages with the developing world. Beyond this, Dookeran maintains that the logic of the economic equation is often at odds with the logic of the political equation, and that “getting the right balance and policies is a major challenge in political economy.” For him, it is about the politics of the distribution of power in a society, the political sociology of sustaining stability, and the right economic formula for compensation between winners and losers. 

On page 41 of his book, Dookeran offers some prescient observations that might well be situated in his Epilogue and set the stage for his next scholarly enterprise: “Today, the agenda before us has widened considerably, covering the old issues of democracy, development, and integration but at the same time responding to the new issues of sustainable development, good governance, and a new integration paradigm for the region.” He also asserts, “Perhaps more now than before our resilience is being tested, and the sense of our own Caribbean identify is quickly changing. Our response must therefore be to build an enduring commitment to confidence in the Caribbean future that will at the same time retain a sense of Caribbean nationhood.” 

Over the years, the Caribbean has benefited from the worth and wisdom of what might be called crossover leaders who have distinguished themselves in both the political and the academic/scholarly/literary arenas. They could be grouped into two tiers. In the first are luminaries such as scholar-statesmen Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic, Aimé Césaire of Martinique, Leslie Manigat of Haiti, and Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia, along with scholar-activists José Martí of Cuba, CLR James of Trinidad and Tobago, and Walter Rodney of Guyana. The second group would include scholar-practitioner and Nobel Laureate Arthur Lewis of St. Lucia; professor-politicians Omar Davies, Peter Phillips, and Trevor Munroe of Jamaica; scholar-diplomats Cedric Grant, David Dabydeen, Ronald Sanders, and Odeen Ishmael of Guyana; scholar-diplomats Richard Bernal, Norman-Girvan, and Stephen Vascianne of Jamaica; and scholar-politician-ICJ jurist Mohamed Shahabudeen of Guyana. Of course, this is just a partial list.

Winston Dookeran’s trajectory—trained at the University of Manitoba and the London School of Economics, taught at the University of the West Indies, and served not only as governor of his country’s central bank but also held ministerial portfolios for Finance, Planning and Mobilization, and Foreign Affairs at different times—is also noteworthy. Thus, this “anthology of ideas and writings,” which draws on several earlier works, is informed by a breadth and depth of engagement as both a scholar and a policy practitioner. His book is a thoughtful and timely contribution to the discourse on Caribbean regional policy and diplomacy that students, scholars, and policymakers in the region and those interested in its pursuits and progress should not only acquire but study closely.  

Ivelaw Griffith is a Fellow with Global Americans and a founding member and Fellow of the Caribbean Policy Consortium. His next book, Challenged Sovereignty: The Impact of Drugs, Crime, Terrorism, and Cyber Threats in the Caribbean, will be published by the University of Illinois Press.

More Commentary

Scroll to Top