355. Telegram From the Embassy in Barbados to the Department of State1

279. Subj: U.S.-Latin American Military Relations. Ref: 77 State 306726.2

1. General overview: In Barbados, Grenada and the five Associated States within this Embassy’s area of jurisdiction the military sector is of minor significance.3 There are few places in the Hemisphere where the military have less weight. Barbados and Grenada are only recently independent and national security was assigned a low priority as the new states faced up to the problems of statehood.4 Some of the Associated States may be on the threshold of independence. Until they are free the UK is responsible for their defense.

2. Most of the political entities in the Eastern Caribbean have small, poorly equipped home guard units of varying degrees of efficiency. The police fulfill most security requirements. However the perception of national security needs is changing. Within recent months Cuban military actions in Africa and continuing radicalism in Jamaica and Guyana raised the level of concern in many of the states in this region. They now are showing increasing concern that the requirements of national security be provided for. Legislation establishing a defense force is now before the Barbados Parliament. The Govt of Grenada is seriously concerned by what it percieves as external threats. Both govts clearly would welcome cooperation with the United States in this area. Future cooperation in the military field is therefore a potential area for developing significantly closer relations with Barbados and Grenada and most of the other states in the region should we choose to do so. Our lack of responsiveness inclines Barbados towards regional security cooperation with St. Lucia, St. Vincent and possibly Grenada, under [Page 880] the umbrella of British support. Grenada whose leaders are strongly anti-Marxist may be turning to Chile for security assistance.

3. There follow our responses to the specific queries contained reftel:

A. At present U.S. ties with the host countries military are not essential to good U.S. relations here. Eastern Caribbean countries place highest priority on economic assistance. However, a good military relationship would greatly facilitate area responsiveness to U.S. security needs.

B. Governmental, individual and service U.S. military relationships with the host countries’ armed units are excellent although necessarily limited by the embryonic nature of the local defense forces. U.S. naval and air force facilities in Barbados and Antigua have excellent personal and professional local contacts.

The host countries attach great importance to those relationships. They want them to be closer. There was strong resentment in Barbados at what appeared to be a reluctant and tardy U.S. Navy response to Barbadian pleas for information and assistance when a Russian naval force appeared off shore in July 77.5

C. The Eastern Caribbean states would welcome port visits, military demonstrations and training films. Some would particularly desire scheduled but not necessarily frequent military intelligence briefings specifically on Soviet-based activities in Cuba and on Cuban activities worldwide. Barbados has specifically requested technical and material assistance to its fledgling coast guard. A U.S. response offering training in functional areas such as sea search and rescue, equipment maintenance and an occasional slot at a U.S. military academy would be well received. The Barbados Battalion initially expected to number about 150 would also be responsive to U.S. offers of assistance. Almost any steps in these directions would contribute toward laying a ground work for future close military relationships in this area.

D. Local miliary establishments have a high opinion of U.S. military capabilities. These entities would welcome U.S. advice but also would anticipate it would lead to the acquisition of American military equipment in the future. Generalized lack of funds make it unlikely that significant equipment purchases could eventuate on any of the islands. Arms purchases will mostly be made in Great Britain and in minute amounts. Barbados is expected to spend $20,000 on arms in 1978–79 with perhaps $10,000 a year thereafter. These figures are greater than those of all the other islands combined.

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E. Because of the incipient state of the military sector in this area any personnel exchange programs, training or any form of personal contact by the U.S. military with their opposite numbers would pay substantial dividends in the future.

F. See D. above.

4. Comment: I believe we must soon begin consideration, preferably in consultation with the UK and Canada, of feasible but low-keyed initial steps which could be taken towards establishing potentially useful relationships with the emerging but weak military sectors in the Eastern Caribbean. It would be better for us to start now and in a low-key rather than to over-react should the Cubans or Soviets step up military activities in the region. There would be some receptivity to our initiation of such a program. Many island leaders fear the return to the area of Cuban troops now in Africa.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780048–0756. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 306726 to all American Republic diplomatic posts, December 24, 1977, the Department instructed each post to comment on the following issues: A) the relative importance of the military relationship between the United States and the host country, B) the present state of the aforementioned military relationship, 3) the current U.S. policy regarding a military relationship with the host country, D) how the military relationship could best be served if arms sales were reduced or eliminated, E) whether personnel exchanges could contribute to the aforementioned relationship, and F) the Embassy’s expectations regarding the host country’s foreign arms purchases. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770480–0887)
  3. The five West Indies Associated States were Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua, and St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla.
  4. Barbados became independent in 1966; Grenada became independent in 1974.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 305.