Seven Eastern Caribbean nations seek the same common goal: to achieve peace and stability in their islands. To succeed in this effort, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines agreed to mutually support each other since the 1980s, when the Regional Security System (RSS) was born with the vision of becoming a regional organization for defense and security. “It is a treaty-based organization,” said retired Barbados Defence Force Navy Captain Errington Shurland, executive director of the RSS. “It is a collective security agreement that basically states that in the event of a security challenge or natural disaster in one of the seven member states, all states will rally around to support the member state in need.”
The RSS focuses on the prevention and interdiction of drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, immigration control, maritime policing duties, among other functions, according to Capt. Shurland. “We do a lot of work when it comes to counter drugs and transnational organized crime with the deployment of our air wing” added Capt. Shurland. He noted that they have two C-26-type aircraft that are fully equipped with surveillance capabilities for counter-drug operations and search-and-rescue missions.
The RSS also focuses on natural disaster assistance. For example, Capt. Shurland mentioned the assistance to Dominica after the flooding from Tropical Storm Erica in 2015. In that instance, an RSS contingent supported the island nation with security, search-and-rescue, and relief distribution efforts to the most heavily affected areas.
The birth of the RSS
The RSS Treaty was signed on March 5th, 1996. It replaced the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by four members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States –Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines– with Barbados, in 1982. The Eastern Caribbean nations needed a collective regional response to the security threats of the late 70s and 80s, and the MOU was their tool to confront regional instability. Saint Kitts and Nevis and Grenada signed the MOU in 1984 and 1985, respectively, setting the stage to create the RSS.
Since its creation, the RSS has adjusted to the new international security environment. Today, the organization is divided into three directorates: Training, Operations and Plans, and Assets Recovery to better focus its scope. Additionally, in an effort to work jointly with the member states, the RSS created operational units integrated with the coast guards and special service units of the police forces. “Our collective security effort is based on military and police forces that trained together in humanitarian assistance or security threats,” added Capt. Shurland.
The Council of Ministers, comprising the defense and security ministers of the member states, is the RSS’s supreme policy making body. Likewise, the Joint Coordinating and Planning Committee, comprising the commanders of the defense and police forces of each member state, assist in the organization’s coordination efforts. “We work in conjunction with the coast guard and police forces of the member states,” said Capt. Shurland.
The RSS also established a regional and international partnership with the Caribbean Community Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS), the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), and the U.S. Southern Command, among other organizations. “We have to work collectively and internationally in order to defeat the various threats that we are facing,” said Capt. Shurland. He added the RSS has been supported mainly by partner nations like the United States, Canada, European Union, and the United Kingdom.
RSS Training Institute
Training is a major component of the RSS. “Our mission is to build capacity and standardize capabilities of all member states,” said retired Barbados Defence Force Coast Guard Captain Brian Roberts, the organization’s director of training. To achieve this, the RSS Training Institute was created in 2011 to better coordinate courses ranging from senior leadership to specialized areas like counter-drugs, anti-terrorism, cyber security, and disaster response. “We based the training on priorities and needs of the member states,” affirmed Capt. Roberts.
The institute plans and executes both land and maritime training to assist security forces with their security concerns. It also provides a mobile training team that travels to the various member states to train military and police forces. However, not all state members have the same requirements. “Some member states do not have military forces, but their police forces are trained to tactical-level skills in military operations,” added Capt. Shurland. “Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis have military forces, while Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada have police forces,” he added.
In addition to having trained a total of 597 students in 2016, the institute is currently registered with the Barbados Accreditation Council, but it is working toward the accreditation of all their programs in all seven member states.
“The RSS is a hybrid organization made up of military and police personnel,” said Royal Grenada Police Force Assistant Superintendent Randy Connaught, RSS staff officer for Operations and Plans. “It coordinates military and police working toward the defense and security of the region.”
“There is lots [sic] of leverage with our association within the RSS,” added Connaught. “Not just in the area of security, there may be instances where the forces of my country will be unable to respond adequately to major security threats, and it will need the assistance of collaborative units of the RSS.” For example, he mentioned that the RSS supported the population of Grenada after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. “It’s because of our association with the RSS, [that] we had assistance coming together and responding before a request was made. Countries on their own, I believe, cannot in their own respond to a mass level of emergencies and major security threats.”
The networks and international partnerships created by the RSS have made it an important asset in regional cooperation. “Our challenges and our cultures are almost the same, making it real easy for us to integrate and coordinate our efforts. [With the RSS], all our resources are combined to make our responses more effective,” he concluded.