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Colombia and NATO: An alliance for?

Last May 31 Colombia turned into a new member state of NATO as a global partner. NATO is a system of collective defense whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party, it is also the greatest military alliance in the world, and currently has 29 member states, including members in North America and Europe.

NATO also has other members in diverse modalities, such as association for peace, dialogue programs, and global partners, member states include Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Colombia, the first Latin American global partner. What does this imply? Which are the reasons that led Colombia to pursue this alliance? How does this decision have a bearing on the Colombian post-conflict?

To begin with, being a NATO global partner means greater cooperation in security and defense. In general terms, this type of membership implies cooperation mechanisms of mutual interests to face emerging security risks and challenges. It is about a flexible cooperation framework which individually and in common agreement with this multilateral organism where countries agree to contribute with military operations of the Atlantic Alliance, directly by sending troops or indirectly through other means. The partnership also provides opportunities for:

  • Access information exchange
  • Receive military training
  • Participate in joint military exercises
  • Standardize security procedures and protocols

In the search for strategic allies

What were the reasons which led the Colombian government to seek this alliance? Mainly they have to do directly and indirectly with the armed conflict and its solution. In fact, this approach had already begun back in 2006 when the administration of former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez sought international partners to support his democratic security policy and offset the criticism of leftist governments that predominated the region at that time.

However, it is the administration of Juan Manuel Santos which is backing up this initiative now. Since 2013 they signed an agreement for an exchange of information and security, which allowed the Colombian military to participate in training courses in Germany and Italy. Furthermore, the Colombian armed forces were also part of naval operations carried out by the Atlantic Alliance (also known as NATO) to offset piracy near the Horn of Africa. These approaches opened the door for the country to be admitted to NATO in May of 2017, decision which was recently ratified.

This acceptance was a good move for Colombia. From the military standpoint, the association with NATO will provide continuousness to the modernization process of the Colombian armed forces which began with the Plan Colombia, which helped to military debilitate FARC, with the ensuing peace agreement negotiation. In the post-conflict perspective, it will allow the government to answer two requirements. One, provide a new direction and use of a largest and most effective military device Colombian has had in its entire republican life; and second, maintain the coercive capability of the government in face of threats such as guerilla dissident groups, criminal bands and narcotrafficking, a very vital issue which needs to be solved in these first years of the post-conflict. Likewise, this impact will contribute to strengthening the legitimacy acquired by the Colombian military forces both internally as externally.

From the international standpoint, partnering with this collective defense system helps the government to change the negative external perception which was prevalent for many years; through this association, the country seeks to obtain prestige and project Colombia internationally as a trustworthy, stable, and cooperative state. This strategy is also in line with the support of military cooperation plans Colombia has with other Latin-American countries with U.S. support, such as the recent membership of Colombia to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD.)

From the regional point of view, Colombia currently has a relative comparative advantage in military capabilities, in general terms, which is not perceived as offensive (except for the Venezuela regime and eventually by Ecuador.)

While for some critics, approaching NATO is a slap in the face of regional efforts such as Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, for its Spanish acronym) and the South American Security Council, for others it is capitalizing on its capabilities to reinforce the global position of Colombia in security and defense matters, besides reinforcing the international support for peace in the country.

Beyond the motivations and expectancies of the present, the real impact of this decision will depend on the will and vision of the incoming new government, as well as its capability to place it to the service of Colombian interests.


Consejo Editorial