Colombia will be the first Latin American country to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a “global partner.”
The South American nation already has a strong United States military presence in its territory, supposedly with the objective of combating drug trafficking. But its incorporation into NATO, a symbol of the interventionist militarism of Washington and its European allies, is an even more controversial step.
President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision sounded alarms in Latin America, a region with a peaceful vocation that in the last century has only been attacked by military forces of the United States and Britain, both members of this transatlantic alliance.
NATO’s origins date back to 1949, during the confrontation with the Soviet Union in the heat of the Cold War. After the disintegration of the socialist bloc in the early 1990s, the alliance broke its promise not to expand eastward, and today is the main military threat to Russia, while it conducts military operations beyond its geographical zone.
Colombia first showed interest in joining NATO in 2006, under the government of the militarist Álvaro Uribe, but it was rejected for not complying with the geographical criteria. However, in June 2013, Santos signed an information sharing and security agreement, which was expanded at the end of 2016.
The May 25 announcement means the Andean nation joins the list of eight NATO global partners: Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Pakistan.
A NOD TO WASHINGTON
Santos’ decision sends a clear message of Bogota’s interest in maintaining its alliance with Washington and acting as its spearhead in the region.
The U.S. currently has access to a dozen military bases in Colombia, from which it can threaten neighboring countries not to its liking, and control the abundant natural resources of the region.
This proximity to Washington is accompanied by multi-million dollar budgets that have become a way of life for the Colombian military. No less than 9 billion dollars have flowed into the coffers of the country’s Public Security Forces since the signing of the so-called Plan Colombia in 1999, according to official figures.
However, the data shows the failure of the Plan, supposedly destined to combat drug trafficking and its serious social consequences.
In eight years of the Uribe government, fully implementing U.S. advice between 2002 and 2010, more than three million Colombians were forced to move from their home territories, a figure that is equivalent to half of the 6.2 million internally displaced persons recorded in the country since 1985, according to the paper El Tiempo.
When Plan Colombia began, 163,289 hectares were estimated to be planted with coca. Last year, the United States government itself estimated that about 150,000 hectares continue to be dedicated to this illegal crop, a far cry from the proposed 50% reduction.
Likewise, the U.S. military occupation has been accompanied by reports of the sexual abuse and rape of 54 underage girls by U.S. soldiers in the vicinity of military bases located in Melgar and Girardot.
SATISFYING MILITARIST SECTORS
The end of the armed conflict implies a reduction in the number of military units and the budgets dedicated to fighting guerrilla forces, funds that could be used in development plans.
But the scenario of a Colombia in peace, after the signing of historic accords with the country’s main guerrilla groups, is the worst nightmare of those who have profited from the business of war for more than half a century.
The signing of the agreement with NATO also seeks to reassure certain military sectors that feel they are losing out with peace, and have a significant influence on the political life of the country, currently in the midst of the electoral process to choose Santo’s successor.
According to data published by theInternational Security Studies Group(GESI), the Colombian defense sector is providing advice on the restructuring of the Honduran, Guatemalan, Dominican Republic, and Panamanian police forces, and with this latest move, Santos could be seeking to capitalize even more on the export of military services.
A controversial aspect is the role that Colombia will play within the transatlantic alliance, and the question over whether it will be involved in military actions beyond its borders.
“This program seeks to work on developing the integration of military forces,” Santos stated on attempting to clarify the scope of his decision. “We are not going to participate in NATO military operations,” he added.
However, last year, the Commander of the Colombian Army, General Alberto José Mejía, revealed to El Colombiano newspaper that his country was preparing to take part in the training of troops in Afghanistan, something that in the end didn’t happen.
Global partners “develop cooperation with NATO in areas of mutual interest, including emerging security challenges, and some contribute actively to NATO operations either militarily or in some other way,” according to the organization’s website.
TURNING ITS BACK ON LATIN AMERICA
At the end of his second term, Santos intends to leave as part of his legacy the entry of Colombia into what he terms “leaders of good practice” at the international level.
This definition includes the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of the most developed countries that accepted Colombia’s membership May 25, after a seven-year process.
“Being part of the OECD and NATO improves the image of Colombia and allows us to have much more play on the international stage,” Santos stated.
However, his actions constitute a slap in the face to Latin America and Colombia’s closest neighbors, especially Venezuela, constantly attacked by the United States and considered an “extraordinary threat” to its national security.
In a statement issued shortly after Santos’s announcement, Caracas denounced before the international community “the intention of Colombian authorities to lend themselves to introduce a foreign military alliance with nuclear capability in Latin America and the Caribbean, which clearly constitutes a serious threat to regional peace and stability.”
In 2016, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia voiced their concern about Colombia’s approach to NATO and even proposed an urgent UNASUR meeting to discuss the issue.
However, Colombia has diplomatic commitments that it would be violating with its entry into NATO. Among other instruments, it is a signatory to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Tlatelolco Treaty); the CELAC Declaration of Havana which proclaims Latin America and the Caribbean a Zone of Peace; the Declaration regarding a South American Peace Zone, and the Measures for the Promotion of Confidence and Security and their Procedures approved within the framework of the UNASUR South American Defense Council.
“Colombia is a country that must be inscribed in the zone of influence of nations that are building peace in the world, and not military interventions or armed conflicts,” Senator Iván Cepeda, a member of the congressional committee that deals with issues of foreign policy and national defense, told the press.
“I do not see what Colombia, which is trying to consolidate its peace process at this moment, has to do with military pacts or blocs that can end up placing us in international war dynamics,” he concluded. •
RECENT NATO OPERATIONS
-1995: Operation Deliberate Force, against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The civil conflict in this region left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
-1999: In violation of the UN Charter, without the approval of the Security Council, Operation Allied Force is carried out, through which an air campaign is launched against vital Serbian military targets for 78 days, causing serious material and human damage.
-2001: Operation Enduring Freedom is launched in Afghanistan. NATO military units are still on the ground 17 years later, in a war that appears to have no end.
-2001-2003: At the request of the government of Macedonia, NATO conducts three military operations (Essential Harvest, Amber Fox and Allied Harmony).
-2004-2011: NATO Training Mission-Iraq launched to provide military advice and training for Iraqi security forces. It is estimated that close to one million Iraqis have died as a direct or indirect consequence of occupation forces.
-2001: Military intervention in Libya. As a result of the bombing, several dozen civilians were killed, the country was destabilized, and Libya went from being one of the most developed nations in Africa to a failed state, dominated by traffickers in arms and people.