This week a U.S. delegation—led by Denis McDonough, the National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama—is to meet with the Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón and the Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín. This is the most important U.S. delegation to visit Colombia since the inception of Plan Colombia in 2000. This could be an indication of Colombia's future within the U.S. regional and global security strategy.
The United States has been grooming Colombia for a major role for longer than a decade, investing more than $10 billion in Colombia’s security forces, as well as providing military training. These efforts have significantly prepared the Colombian army for a regional role in the “War on Drugs” that the U.S. is championing in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. This also helps the United States in cementing security in distant areas such as the geostrategic oil-producing United Arab Emirates where former Colombian soldiers and officers are stationed to lead elite groups. This latter may expand to include other Arab Gulf states and beyond.
In this same vein, the recently released 2013 defense budge of almost$14.4 billion represents one of every seven dollars that the Colombian government spends, amounting to around 5% of GDP. Most of this money is spent on salaries and pensions for the 450,000 security personnel, the second largest security sector in Latin America, after Brazil. It seems that the momentum and appetite for more military spending does not reflect the peace-talks environment that started in earnest a few weeks ago between the rebels and the government. It may better correspond with a vision of the Colombian state and its leviathan military on how to use its “security” asset to subcontract security projects from the United States globally, very similar to that of Israel. The core questions that one can raise here are: Will this subcontracting business help the Colombian state deal with its unsustainable military expenditures in a global environment of shrinking budgets and economic crises? Is this viable strategy to avoid demobilizing its bloated military if a peace agreement is achieved with the rebels? And finally, will Colombia engage in regional conflicts particularly if it decides not to accept the recent ruling of the International Court regarding its maritime dispute with Nicaragua?
Nazih Richani is the Director of Latin American studies at Kean University. He blogs at nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos.