Nuclear escalation and the Caribbean’s vulnerability

A nuclear explosion

With the continuing conflict in Ukraine, many countries in the EU and the Caribbean have moved to ban Russian residency. Most countries have fully suspended their visa-facilitation agreement between Russia as part of sanctions imposed due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has deep implications for the Caribbean. With the growing strategic challenge to the United States from the proliferation of populist authoritarian regimes, like Venezuela and Nicaragua, our shores in the Western Hemisphere may be less safe. Some of these countries loudly supported Russia’s actions and the work of Russian-backed separatists, as they did when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and when it illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

Since the Kremlin announced its conscription for young Russian men, there has been an uptick in the number of men fleeing the country. Although some island countries like Dominica, Grenada and Antigua joined the EU coalition to ban all Russians and Belarus citizens from their shores, there are still major collateral concerns for the region. The authoritarian populist countries of Latin America count on a strong Russian presence already—something the Russian president could increase should he wish to retaliate for sanctions and escalate pressure on the United States in a post-Ukraine situation. Russia’s behaviour in the current crisis illustrates a repeated pattern of leveraging the region to deliberately pose strategic threats to the United States, thus creating space for its aggressive actions in Europe.

Russia has the option to use the region to demonstrate its presence because of the friendly support from countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Brazil. If there is nuclear escalation, the truth remains that everyone will be affected in one way or another, and not in a good way. The Caribbean will suffer, exponentially, from not receiving the traded goods they need, or want, or rely on. Food imports will be curtailed, and medical supplies will be almost non-existent. The ability to produce food will be severely impacted. This might last for a very long time; decades or even centuries. In addition, the Caribbean would also have to deal with the overwhelming flood of migrants and refugees seeking shelter—which would collapse any economy.

Our dependence on oil would most definitely cause major interruption and almost irreversible harm. Transportation would come to a screeching halt and the fear of a mad max situation would be highly likely.

In 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted and supported by many Caribbean islands to achieve a more peaceful world free from the threat of nuclear weapons. However, I do not think any treaty could prevent a nuclear escalation and any nuclear escalation would cause catastrophic harm that would result in the cost of countless lives and destruction to critical infrastructure. No island is immune to these consequences and people in neighbouring and distant countries who have nothing to do with the conflict would suffer the effects of radioactive fallout, climate disruption and resource insecurity.

Even a so-called “limited” regional nuclear war involving a small fraction of the world’s nuclear weapons would severely disrupt the climate and agricultural production, resulting in widespread famine. The region is particularly vulnerable to further exploitation from larger countries who would have their own self-interest at heart.

While the West is “prudent planning” behind the scenes to prevent chaos and panic in their home countries in the event Russia was to detonate a nuclear bomb in or near Ukraine, the Caribbean is nowhere near close to preparation. There are no military silos, there are no bunkers to take shelter and certainly no protection from the Kremlin’s “city killer” aka POSEIDON.

Nuclear weapons are strategic equalizers for weaker sides in conflict relationships, but they do not buy defence on the cheap. They can lead to the creation of a national security state with a premium on governmental secretiveness, reduced public accountability, and increased distance between citizens and governments.

I’m not sure which one we should fear most!!

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York.

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