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Regional Security System / Service [RSS)

Seven CARICOM states participate in a Regional Security System (RSS), a cooperative security treaty organization. The Regional Security System / Service [RSS) is a mosaic force. It is composed in the main of para-military troops from the islands with Baroaaos and Antigua having a military input. The day to day function of the various para-military elements is that of being policemen. Therefore, they do not have a military mindset and their training and equipment are rudimentary. To make the RSS viable, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and Belize [when able] must participate. This immeaiately raises the question of command and housing the headquarters.

The RSS comprises three military and seven police forces. The force commanders (heads of the military and police forces) provide the means (personnel and equipment) for the RSS to fulfill its purposes and functions. Pre-2005, there were a number of agencies and organizations with various security-related functions. CARICOM member states as well as associate members states were also members of these organizations. These included the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA), Caribbean Customs and Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC) and the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP). CDEMA was originally established in 1991 as Caribbean Disaster Relief Agency (CDERA).

Once the urgency for region-wide security cooperation necessitated by the hosting of the ICC Cricket World Cup dissipated, the Regional Security System (RSS) appeared to be reaching a crucial turning point. With the UK Special Assistance Team (UK-SAT) planning to leave Antigua in March 2008, the majority of RSS countries routinely in arrears, and Barbados privately claiming they may wish to "go it alone", the RSS may not survive much longer.

A crucial tool in the regional struggle to control drug-trafficking, the demise of the RSS would leave the countries of the Eastern Caribbean even more vulnerable to the drug trade, while damaging the region's efforts at greater integration. Without active involvement from CARICOM on security issues, the potential loss of the RSS could leave these small island-states vulnerable to increased trafficking and possibly worse. Such a scenario, especially involving an increase in the drug trade through the region, could have major implications for the United States and its "Third Border". Sustaining USG assistance to the RSS through the TAFT and other funds would have a large impact on the region's ability to avoid this scenario.

The Regional Security System (RSS) was created out of a need for a collective response to security threats which were impacting the stability of the Caribbean in the late 70's and early 80's. In October 1982, four members of the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Barbados to provide for "mutual assistance on request". St. Kitts and Nevis joined after gaining independence in September 1983 and Grenada in January 1985. The MOU was updated in 1992 and the RSS acquired juridical status in March 1996 under a treaty signed in Grenada.

The RSS is a hybrid organization in that its security forces comprise both military and police personnel who remain under the command of their respective forces. The principal stated functions of the RSS according to the Treaty cover a wide range of activities, from search and rescue to fisheries protection, but drug-interdiction remains the central focus. The RSS is headquartered in Barbados at Camp Paragon. The Secretariat of the RSS, the Central Liaison Office (CLO) was designed primarily as a coordinating unit, without executive authority over Member States Law Enforcement Units.

Executive decisions are made by the RSS Council, which is headed by the Prime Minister or Minister of National Security from each of the seven nations. The RSS budget is approved by the Council. The original MOU made provisions for a fast moving, non-bureaucratic organization that could react to the security needs of member states if requested. This was first demonstrated in October, 1983 when, together with the military forces of the United States and Jamaica, the RSS deployed troops to Grenada to restore democracy after the Marxist coup.

The primary objective of the C-26 program in the Eastern Caribbean was to provide Barbados and the RSS the ability to interdict maritime drug trafficking. The two C-26 surveillance aircraft served U.S. interests as force multipliers, providing JIATF-S with an expanded detection and monitoring net and enhancing the effectiveness of UK, Dutch and French maritime interdiction assets in the region. The aircraft were donated to Barbados from the United States and became operational in 1999. Shortfalls in the RSS budget have occasionally prevented routine maintenance and rendered them periodically inoperable.

However, according to Captain George Harris, the RSS air wing was rated the "busiest air wing in the world" by Jane's Defense magazine in 2004 (in terms of number of contacts intercepted). Since equipping the aircraft with radar in February 2001, the RSS Air Wing has flown 1,614 missions, resulting in the prosecution of 308 contacts. Captain Harris said that they have seized or disrupted 64,392 pounds of cannabis and 26,237 pounds of cocaine. Most of the narco-trafficking interrupted by the RSS air wing originates on the Paria Peninsula of Venezuela, just opposite Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. According to Captain Harris, local law enforcement is known to protect some 9 tons of cocaine on the Peninsula, which is then transported through the Caribbean by use of "go-fasts", or small boats such as Pirogues and cigarette boats.

In years past, when the RSS budget could not support needed repairs, one of the C-26 airplanes was grounded and its parts used to repair the functional aircraft. In FY2007, the RSS addressed this problem, increasing the Air Wing's budget to pay for maintenance and repairs so that both aircraft are now operable. According to the RSS Director of Administration Major Horace Kirton, the Air Wing accounted for half of the RSS budget this year (roughly $2 million USD out of a total budget of $4 million USD). Captain Harris explained that the Air Wing is currently conducting 15-20 missions a month.

Before December, 2005, when the United States was still providing fuel and maintenance support, they conducted 25-30 missions each month. Each mission includes a crew of two pilots and two sensor operators, and lasts from four to seven hours, requiring the cooperation of the local Coast Guard in each country. St. Vincent and the Grenadines remained a major source and transit point for the cannabis trade in the regions, and many of the Air Wing's missions are conducted either there or in Barbados.

According to Captain Harris, cooperation from the local Coast Guards varied, with St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados among the most cooperative. He flatly stated that the Antigua and Barbuda Coast Guard is "corrupt" and of virtually no assistance. Harris described in detail occasions where the Antigua and Barbuda Coast Guard had blatantly failed to arrest a contact that had been clearly identified by the RSS.

Among the recent RSS successes was a mission conducted between August 18 and September 24, 2007 on St. Vincent. The effort, which included a 30-man platoon provided by the RSS cadets attending phase II of basic training, successfully eradicated a marijuana farm in a mountainous region of St. Vincent, confiscating an estimated $100 million USD of drugs. The mission destroyed or confiscated 870,161 mature marijuana trees and 3,600 pounds of compressed marijuana. The mission was conducted as part of a training course funded in part by Bridgetown's Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) and Military Liaison Office (MLO).

One of the biggest issues affecting the stability of the RSS was the lack of funding. According to the original treaty, Barbados is responsible for 40% of the operations budget and the remaining six nations pay 10% each. Major Kirton explained that usually only St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Barbados are up-to-date on their payments, with some countries in arrears by as much as USD one million (Note: Major Kirton repeatedly mentioned Dominica as having the most trouble paying its dues, so they are most likely the most behind in payments. End Note). There are no consequences for a country not making its payments to the RSS.

The RSS Maritime Wing is located at a former US Navy base, Camp Blizzard in Antigua (which also houses the Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force headquarters), where the RSS has a maritime training school. Unlike the Air Wing with its two dedicated planes, the RSS Maritime Wing consists of two training vessels docked in Antigua and the various vessels owned by the seven respective Coast Guards of the RSS nations. The Eastern Caribbean Coast Guards have a wide variety of vessels, engines, machinery and facilities, all in varying states of operability. Like Camp Paragon in Barbados, instructors at Camp Blizzard come from all seven countries of the RSS. The UK Special Assistance Team (UK-SAT) has been co-located on the campus of Camp Blizzard since 1999 and owns two Zodiacs it uses as training vessels.

The Technical Assistance Field Team (TAFT) based in Puerto Rico and assigned to Embassy's Military Liaison Office (MLO) provides logistics and engineering support, without which Coast Guards in the Eastern Caribbean would be less effective. Based at Coast Guard Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico, the TAFT consists of three personnel and has several functions: developing, planning, and executing patrol boat dry-dockings; managing Foreign Military Financing (FMF); developing and executing contracts; engineering technical advice; planning and executing exercises; technical and procurement training; and conducting research for the seven independent nations of the Eastern Caribbean. TAFT also conducts on-site inspections of the facilities and patrol vessels of each of seven Eastern Caribbean Coast Guards twice a year. Bridgetown's MLO is currently using FY-06 funds to cover TAFT FY-07 expenses and was awaiting a response to its request to reprogram the frozen Barbados and St. Vincent accounts to fund TAFT through FY-09.

In April 2007 the Regional Security Coordinator of the RSS, Grantley Watson, sent a letter to the US Ambassador informing her that the British support for the RSS Maritime Training unit would cease at the end of March, 2008 and appealing for US funding. The British confirmed their withdrawal from Antigua (but in April 2008) and noted that they intend to donate the two training vessels to the RSS, though they are considering leaving behind a junior officer to act as an advisor to the RSS on maritime matters. Antigua contends that the vessels should belong to them, even though according to Bridgetown MLO, Antigua would not likely be able to maintain the equipment left behind by UK SAT without assistance. Originally, the RSS said that they wanted to move the two training vessels and the Maritime Wing to Barbados in an effort to create a more robust Maritime Time, but Antigua protested. For political reasons, the RSS has decided to keep the Maritime Wing based in Antigua, even though Camp Blizzard does not have adequate facilities for maintenance of the vessels and there is no strategic or logistic reason to keep the maritime training school there.

Most RSS members had fallen short in their financial and other obligations to the security arrangement. According to Arthur, this lack of commitment from other partners is pushing the GOB to "go it alone". Even though Antigua made a point of settling outstanding international debts (with INTERPOL and other international organizations) and despite their conflicts with the RSS regarding the possible relocation of the Maritime Wing, Antigua appears to remain in arrears. PM Arthur asked for clarification and confirmation that the two C-26's were indeed given by the United States to Barbados, and not to the RSS. Arthur's statements certainly suggest that Barbados is at least considering using the two C-26's for its own purposes. While the USG can confirm that the aircraft were given to Barbados for them to act as stewards for the RSS, PM Arthur has since asked the Embassy to provide a title for the planes. PM Arthur is surely aware that any attempt by Barbados to retain the two aircraft would be fiercely contested by the RSS, and he would need the title to prove Barbados' legal claim as the rightful owner.

Arthur's statements are in stark contrast to his efforts in summer 2006 to push CARICOM to sign a Treaty on Security Assistance. According to RSS Major Kirton, Arthur and Trinidad & Tobago PM Patrick Manning were the chief advocates of that Treaty, signed in July 2006, that allowed for the creation of a "Security Assistance Mechanism" for CARICOM member countries. The signing of this CARICOM treaty, however, raises doubts about the eventual need for the RSS. Arthur's efforts to create a CARICOM security entity may be designed to provide "planned obsolescence" for the RSS, allowing Barbados a convenient method for "going it alone". Alternatively, Barbados may just be turning to CARICOM for security assistance in an effort to attract the resources of larger Caribbean nations such as Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in shouldering the financial burden of the RSS. The most likely reason for PM Arthur's interest in the titles for the two C-26 aircraft is that Barbados is seeking to build its capacity in its efforts to expand off-shore oil exploration. The GOB has considered purchasing helicopters to assist in its oil exploration efforts, but the convenience and cost savings of using the two aircraft already resident in Barbados may be too tempting for PM Arthur to pass up.

China donated $650,000 USD to help the BDF upgrade and modernize. The Dutch company Damen negotiated with Barbados to sell three medium-endurance 110-foot patrol craft. Damen offered an excellent deal with financing and a repair facility. Barbados has been investing heavily in its own defense infrastructure, in the form of a new Coast Guard base (at a cost of $29.5 million USD) and a new pension plan. It is likely that these new projects were funded with the money donated by China, and are also aimed at building capacity with off-shore oil exploration in mind.

PM Arthur's indirect admission that regional integration has limits is very uncharacteristic for Arthur, who has historically been one of the strongest proponents of regional integration. The closure of UK-SAT in Spring 2008 could be a crucial turning point in the history of the RSS and for regional security cooperation in general. Given the active and productive role the RSS currently plays in regional counter-narcotics, the collapse of this organization could have significant security implications for the region. If Barbados does decide to pull out of the RSS and co-opt the C-26 aircraft for themselves, efforts to stem narco-trafficking in the Eastern Caribbean could be damaged, and the region's efforts to integrate may likewise suffer. By providing funding for the TAFT and reinstituting even some of its previous funding for the RSS, the USG could play a major role in keeping this fragile military alliance afloat and likewise counterbalance other encroaching interests that may influence Barbados' commitment to integration.

By 2017 the RSS Air Wing operated two Sensor fitted C-26A surveillance aircraft in support of the RSS Member States.

The precedent for the donation of the two aircraft was set in the aftermath of a visit to the region by then President Clinton in 1996 ?under the auspices of a Presidential Draw down. Under the agreement two aircrafts were to be donated to the Regional Security System by the United States for use in Counter Drug (CD) operations in the Eastern Caribbean.

The first aircraft, which was not outfitted with a sensor package was delivered to Barbados in January 1999, and was officially handed over by then US Ambassador Mr. William Crotty to the Prime-Minister of Barbados, the Rt. Hon Owen Arthur, at a ceremony held on the South Ramp of the Grantley Adams International Airport. During the same period the second aircraft was delivered to Provincial Airlines in St. John's Newfoundland to be retrofitted with a sensor package. This aircraft was subsequently delivered from St. John's to Barbados on 10 January 01, and officially handed over to Senator Glyne Murray, the representative of the Barbados Government, by Ambassador Dailey, US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

In eight years of flight operations primarily dedicated to maritime Counter Drug operations in the Eastern Caribbean, the Air wing logged more than 8000 flight hours in support of Regional Coast Guards, law enforcement and International agencies. The Air Wing flew 1791 maritime Counter Drug missions resulting in 356 contacts of Go fasts, Pirogues and other vessels involved in the illicit trafficking of Cocaine and Cannabis making it the busiest CD air operation in the world. (Jane's Intelligence weekly Dec 04 issue).

In support of the Regional Security System the Air wing also provides Logistic support, (troops from the other Member States airlifted into Barbados to support operation RESTORE PEACE following the prison uprising - May 2005 and Cricket World Cup 2007) disaster relief (Grenada - post Hurricane Ivan 2004 approximately 46,000 lbs of relief supplies and 356 personnel airlifted into Grenada) and Search and Rescue (SAR).

The RSS Air Wing has developed a high profile with many International and Regional partners all of whom hold the Air Wing in high regard and work together on many joint initiatives. The experience gained and the high level of training has been invaluable resulting in a significant increase in the success of operations as the unit has improved and fine-tuned its capabilities in conducting tactical maritime surveillance.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2017 18:17:58 ZULU