In 1997, I explained that the emergence of a comfortable impasse is one of the major reasons why some civil wars protract. This is a condition in which belligerent parties adjust to a low intensity war as a result of their incapacity to secure an outright military victory. Case in point is Colombia. But since then many important developments have taken place, of which the most critical has been the role of the United States and the impact of its military intervention.
Since 2002, there has been a significant escalation of U.S. intervention in the Colombian civil war using diverse operations including military advisers and intelligence services, while funding the most significant military build up in the country’s history. This led to a change in the balance of forces favoring the state, which in turn affected the comfortable impasse. Between 2002 and 2011, roughly $100 billion were spent on military hardware and personnel, which led to the creation of a hyper-security regime with a very peculiar political economy and institutional structures. Nonetheless, contrary to all expectations and to the disappointment of the hawks in Washington and Bogota, this hyper-security state has failed to achieve a military victory.
What occurred instead, as in most asymmetrical conflicts, was the leveling off the balance of forces in such a way that the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and to a lesser extent the National Liberation Army (ELN) have both absorbed the different phases of the state’s offensive and accordingly adjusted their military tactics to changing war conditions. The statistical data for the years 2009-2010 demonstrated that the FARC ‘s Rebirth Plan launched in 2008 achieved 70 percent of its objectives according to the Colombian magazine, ARCANOS. What is most revealing is the number of casualties in the ranks of the armed forces, which reached 2,500 in 2010 increasing from 2,320 in 2009, 2,065 in 2008 and 2,257 in 2007. More important in this respect is the ratio of armed forces fatalities versus FARC fatalities declined to 1.1:1, its lowest level since 1986. This slight advantage in favor of the state is an indicator of three things:
- The diminishing returns of the military build-up
- The limitations of the state’s offensive
- Plan Rebirth of the FARC is paying off
Finally, if this trend is sustained then an impasse that carries with it some elements of the old comfort will again be resurrected supporting the perpetuation of the war system!