By Peter Tase
In the last two years (2012-2013), Colombia has given a high priority to the use of diplomacy in the interest of regional security strategy while actively pursuing bilateral, trilateral and multilateral agreements. The government of Juan Manuel Santos and particularly Colombia’s Ministry of Defense has constantly used prudence, cooperation, pragmatism and respect for international law in relation with its neighboring countries, thus contribute towards a South American peaceful region.
Colombia’s cooperation in international defense initiatives is the heart of consolidating the country’s position in becoming a relevant actor in regional, hemispheric and the global stage.
While taking into account Colombia’s great rise, improvement of quality and its positioning at the international arena, the ministry of defense has consolidated defense cooperation with other countries, considered to be a critical instrument of foreign policy that helps strengthen the inclusion of Colombia in bilateral and multilateral initiatives. In 2013, President’s Santos government has been a key player in maintaining regional security with neighboring countries.
Colombia is located in a strategic position of the western hemisphere: it has a large territory that connects North America with the South and it has enormous shores on both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. This geostrategic advantage allows Colombia to be the gate of entry to South America and through its network of sea ports it manages a large circulation of commodities, shipments that come in and out from U.S. and Europe in a daily basis.
Currently, Bogota has positioned itself as a reference point in the areas of defense, including: military training and capacity building, national security, the war against drug trafficking, combating terrorism and transnational crime. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, has led the efforts to strengthen cooperation in military technology, troops training and intelligence, with some neighboring and distant countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile Canada, Israel, United Kingdom, Spain, France, Korea as well as established relations with European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
With some of these nations, Colombia has drafted action plans that include a vast area of cooperation in military justice and penal system, training of personnel, cyber defense and security, infrastructure protection, participation in international missions and future transformation of armed forces.
In addition to its local DEA presence in Bogota, the United States has also supported Colombia in its risk management efforts, transformation of armed forces, and the war against drug traffic and organized crime. Under Washington’s guidance, Santos’ government has taken a leading role in the region as a country with a vast experience in regional security and is very active under the program named the Action Plan for Central America, founded in October 2012.
Colombia and United States have signed an agreement in October 2012 to establish a plan of assistance and cooperation to four countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panamá. In 2013 there have been organized over 25 training activities from which have been trained 43 members of security forces from the four central American countries.
Colombia and NATO
In early 2013, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos proposed to establish closer military relations between his government and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; his public statement, made in early 2013, raised many eyebrows in the leadership of Bolivarian anti – imperialist cluster of Latin American countries who also are very vocal in UNASUR. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president and one of the most outspoken leaders of Bolivarianism expressed a high level of concern and called Santos’ action as a “provocation” and a “threat to Bolivarian countries of Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua.”
According to Colombia’s defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Bogota “was not looking at an actual membership in NATO but was merely planning to sign a deal with NATO for cooperation in human rights, military justice, and the education of troops.” An agreement that was subsequently signed at a later stage.
For Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s Ambassador to Kuwait, “Colombia’s proposed association with NATO has raised genuine concerns. In her June 6 press conference, in Quito, Ecuador’s defense minister María Fernanda Espinosa, joined by her Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, stated that both nations want to know more, since they belong to a cooperative area in South America, and it is important that regional countries discuss these things.”
Despite regional concerns, Colombian Vice-Minister of Defense was the first ever Colombian high ranking official to attend NATO’s meeting in Monterrey and the only Latin American official who attended such an event joined by representatives of 138 countries.
According to Vice Minister Diana Quintero, “[Colombia] has approached NATO in order to be one of its global allies and this invitation is in response to NATO’s goal to share good practices and experiences with other countries.” Quintero stated that “NATO is not only a military organization, but it is a community with the best practices in defense budgeting, military doctrine and training.”
On the other hand Colombian pragmatism is evident in its participation to UNASUR and South American Defense Council. The ministry of defense has participated in the tenth conference of defense ministers of the Americas (CDMA) and has led discussion in relation to information exchange, citizen security training, and held conference in the Interpol and MERCOSUR.
Regional Contribution in Military Training
Since 2005 until mid-2013, Colombia has trained 17.352 military staff from approximately 47 countries in various areas of assistance, especially in the war against drugs, prevention of crime, organizational development. In 2012 Colombia trained 3362 people from 25 countries, including Panama with 1170 trainees; Ecuador, 500; Guatemala, 323; Mexico, 194; Costa Rica, 189; Peru, 169; Honduras, 125 and Argentina, 108.
In 2013 the Caribbean country trained 1.073 military leaders and personnel from 33 countries, including Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador.
Together with Colombia, Canada has also been an important partner to Central American Countries; there was an integrated security cooperation agreement, signed between both countries, with the objective to strengthen defense capacity for the governments of Guatemala and Honduras to combat trans – border and organized crime. Thanks to this program, in 2013 there have organized 24 training activities from which 536 members of armed forces were trained. Additionally Colombia’s Defense Ministry has signed cooperation agreements with Italy, Canada, United States, Germany, Ecuador and Panama. Colombia is expected to update military technology, continue to be in the forefront of defense logistics, intelligence and human potential.