From the time of its emergence as a sovereign state in the international community in 1966, Guyana proclaimed three paramount and permanent national interests: the security and survival of the state; the pursuit of the social and economic development of the people; and, the need to develop and strengthen the infrastructure, institutions and mechanisms for national unity. These interests – national security, national development and national unity – became the principal preoccupation of the decision-makers during the first decade of statehood and, thereafter, remained embedded in Guyana’s foreign policy.
National security, defined primarily as territorial security, is seen as a physical condition in which the country is free from the threat of attack on its territory and sovereignty. Put differently, national security is a condition in which there is no significant threat to the capacity of the state to exercise sovereignty over, and to preserve the integrity of its territory. Maintenance of such security requires the protection of the country’s boundaries from encroachment by others and the preservation of its physical resources such as the sea, forests and mines.
National defence is the military contribution to national security, consisting of measures taken to reduce an aggressor’s capability to damage, or deprive Guyana of its national interest. In this context, deterrence may include the adoption of postures to discourage an aggressor from taking hostile action by posting the prospect of cost which out weighs potential gain. The aim of both defence and deterrence is to create a state of national security.
The task of Guyanese diplomacy is to conduct the country’s relations with neighbouring states and the wider international community through a peaceful process by negotiation, and within the framework of a given system, rather than resorting to the use of armed force. Diplomacy has been the traditional means employed to secure national interest, given Guyana’s weak economy with a GDP of only $577 million and small population of only 0.75 million. Guyana always regarded diplomacy as its first line of defence and sought peaceful solutions to its territorial problems.
Guyana’s main defence problems arise out of the claims to its territory by Venezuela and Suriname, its western and eastern neighbours, respectively, for reasons which are embedded in colonial history. For three centuries since it effective occupation and colonization, the northern tier of the South American continent was the source of conflict among the five maritime empires – Britain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Settlement was concentrate down the coastland, the hinterland remaining largely unpopulated except by small groups of Amerindians, and its territorial boundaries were not accurately demarcated.
The need for the territorial delimitation of the country that is now known as Guyana became evident after the independence of Brazil and Venezuela and the British capture of the three former Dutch colonies of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. Britain united these colonies into a single colony called British Guiana in 1831, and commissioned Robert Schomburgk, a German geographer, to survey and define its boundaries in 1840.
Venezuela was the first to challenge Schomburgk’s findings which sought to extend British jurisdiction westward to the mouth of the Orinoco River, embracing a large tract of land to the east of that river, on 2 February 1897, after a series of hostile incidents occurring over the years, Britain and Venezuela agreed to the Treaty of Washington providing for the controversy to be submitted to arbitrations, the award of which would be a ‘full, perfect and final settlement’. In 1899, the Award of the Tribunal was handed down and accepted and, by 1905, the boundaries were surveyed and maps issued on that basis.
Venezuela repudiated the Award in 1962, contending that it was null and void and that Venezuela is the owner of all the territory west of the Essequibo River in Guyana. Apart from its historical rationalizations, Venezuela maintained its claim on strategic grounds. With the longest Caribbean coastline of any state and the need to protect its shipping lanes, Venezuela has always been aware of the geopolitical significance of sea power. Possession of Guyana’s Essequibo would enhance Venezuela’s sea power greatly by giving it an undisputed salida al Atlantico – access of the Atlantic – making it an oceanic state and strengthening its access to, and control over, the Caribbean Sea.
In addition, based on the OAS decision of 1962 at Punta del Este to exclude Cuba from participation on the Inter-America system, Venezuela at that time regard the close relations between Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Guyana’s Cheddi Jagan and the possibility of a hostile, communist government emerging on its eastern border, as a potential threat to its own security since Guyana could be used as a sanctuary to supply Cuban-supported guerrillas in Venezuela. Possession of the Essequibo at that time therefore, would have both provided Venezuela with an Atlantic coastline and also created a buffer zone between the two countries.
Brazil, similarly, challenged the results of Schomburgk’s survey, which sough to extend British jurisdiction southwards but on 6 November 1901, Britain agreed to the Treaty of London, providing for arbitration, the award of which would be ‘complete, perfect and definite’. In 1904, the King of Italy, the Arbiter, handed down his Award which, since that time, has been accepted as the international boundary between Brazil and Guyana.
Brazil’s territorial interest in Guyana was rekindled even prior to the coup d’ etat April 1964 out of concern over the possibility that a communist government under Cheddi Jagan could pose a danger to the region. Brazil’s particular interest in Guyana, arising out of strategic concerns, was manifested in 1985 in the Calha Norte Project, devised by the National Security Council and aimed at making the Brazilian Armed Forces the major instrument to promote the economic occupation and development of its borders with its five northern neighbours – Colombia, Venez-uela, Guyana, Suriname and Cayenne – a distance of 6,535km.
The general thrust of the project lay in the concept of ‘