“Colombian foreign policy is facing one of its worst crises in a long time.”
The sentence above is how a report published last week on Colombia’s foreign policy began. One year earlier the foreign minister, Jaime Bermudez, amid the growing isolation experienced by Colombia and the looming problems with Ecuador and Venezuela, had the good judgment to commission this unprecedented report called “Mision de Política Exterior” (Foreign Policy Mission).
Local and foreign experts on international relations together with former government officials were tasked with reviewing and formulating foreign policy recommendations. The result is an objective report that explicitly states Colombia’s foreign policy errors, and, most importantly, paves the way to take the policy in a new and truly beneficial direction.
This report became all the more important after four presidential candidates (Rafael Pardo, Noemi Sanin, Juan Manuel Santos and German Vargas) stated in the most recent presidential debate that they supported the bombing raid by Colombia on a FARC guerrilla camp in Ecuador in March 2008. Moreover, three of these candidates left the door open to bomb other countries with guerrilla presence (Pardo, Sanin and Santos). Only Antanas Mockus and Gustavo Petro said they disapproved the incident due to its illegality.
The Foreign Policy Mission’s exceptional results are due in large part to its design. The report commenced by reviewing the national, regional and global environments. Taking into account this background, it then assessed central aspects of Colombia’s foreign policy together with the government’s past actions in order to formulate policy recommendations. The central aspects were: human rights; drugs and drug trafficking; security; multilateralism; bilateral and regional relations; trade and investment; environment and strategic resources; and the foreign ministry and foreign service.
The mission found that there had been crucial changes in the national, regional and global spheres. In the national sphere, Colombia’s internal problems of drug-trafficking and terrorism together with their consequences such as forced displacement had crossed borders. In the regional sphere, there had been a division among countries in terms of their political and economic policies, and new regional forums began to offer opportunities to enhance cooperation. In the global scale, the U.S. complete hegemony had started to weaken resulting in a power diffusion from the West to the East.
Yet, Colombia’s foreign policy had not adjusted to these significant changes, thereby exacerbating the problems. The report argued that in the last decade, to the detriment of the state, Colombia’s foreign policy has revolved around the military and security dimensions, deepening its alliance with the U.S., and experienced a drastic presidential personalization and destabilizing leadership by the Defense Ministry.
With this conceptual framework and assessment the report made various crucial recommendations of three central aspects that are more directly linked to the problems with neighboring countries: drugs and drug trafficking, security, and bilateral and regional relations.
First, the results of the policy against drugs have been ambiguous. The report recommended that Colombia use its bloody experience in the “war on drugs” to promote a re-evaluation of this policy, meaning that the state ought to take the middle path of promoting a modulated drug regulation. Since all the illegal armed groups – as well as local and presidential elections – depend on the drug trade this is a crucial aspect to explore.
Second, there are three important threats to security that demand a prompt adaptation of the strategy: the development of paramilitary-political mafias that have co-opted sectors of the government, the shift of the conflict to distant and almost abandoned border areas, and the urgent need for an effective social policy in cities to meet the needs of displaced persons, demobilized and unemployed. If there is not improvement in these areas, regional and international support for Colombia will remain half-hearted.
Third, the state ought to reclaim its autonomy in order to participate productively, and in the interests of Colombia, in multilateral organizations (both regional and global). It is imperative, therefore, to build a less exclusive relation with the U.S. In light of the gradual increase in relative power of other countries, especially Asian, this autonomy would allow Colombia to construct more mutually benefiting relations.
The Foreign Policy Mission would be extremely beneficial to the new government. It is imperative, therefore, that this new government bring new ideas and commitments. If, on the contrary, the president that Colombians elect has been deeply involved in the current government, this foreign policy crisis will most probably become the worst yet.