The US-Colombia military base agreement is completely misunderstood, and it is one of the many examples of U.S. military agreements aimed at exporting security in order to stay out of foreign countries in the long run, argues prominent U.S. political-military strategist and author Thomas Barnett.
According to Barnett, the U.S. uses similar base agreements across the world to assist, train, and empower local militaries and governments to handle their internal security situations on their own. The reason, Barnett claims, is that establishing security is essential in order for a country to integrate into the global economy and take advantage of the benefits offered through globalization.
In an interview with Colombia Reports, Barnett explained that in his opinion, the U.S. has been taking responsibility to ensure global security since the end of World War 2, in order to enable all regions of the world to become stable, secure, and as a result, part of the internationally integrated world – in an effort to promulgate peace and prosperity.
By collaborating directly with the Colombian military, Barnett asserted, the U.S. is able to help Colombia establish a secure environment within its borders, and prevent “instability from erupting in the first place.”
Regardless of whether or not globalization is a positive phenomenon, the role that security plays in enabling “globalization to become truly global” is fundamental, explained Barnett, and that “the U.S. has been the only country capable and willing to export the security needed” to lay the framework for globalization to take hold across the world.
Misconstrued nature of “bases”
The U.S.-Colombian base agreement has been a contentious topic since it was first announced in 2009. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, for example, reacted by accusing the U.S. of trying to start a war with his country, and using Colombia as a pawn in its “Yankee” imperialist empire. Many other South American countries have had similar reservations about the agreement.
To Barnett, the notion that the U.S. is trying to forcefully impose its imperialistic hegemony over Colombia and the rest of South America is “just nonsense.” This conclusion, Barnett went on to explain, is the product of limited thinking that is not focused on the bigger picture. It is failure, he explained, to grasp the global trends and implications that call for the need of increased security. It is this understanding of global trends from which the base agreement in Colombia (and the rest of the world) is derived.
Barnett went on to explain that most people have a misconstrued idea of “what exactly is a ‘base’?”
“People use the term base and it’s a very misleading term – A lot of people hear it and assume that the U.S. is building a series of Ft. Braggs with between 30 to 40 thousand troops. In reality, it’s more of a facility where the U.S. military embeds itself in a host nation’s base. There is already a military base there, and the U.S. is simply coming to embed itself in the current structure. It’s not a new construction.”
As to the issue of sovereignty, Barnett explained that the United States does not have free reign to do as it pleases in countries where it has base agreements. “For the U.S. to do anything in each country, they need to get permission from the host nation every time. They do not have sovereignty.”
He went on to explain that the bases are meant merely to “train and augment existing national military units. When people say we shouldn’t be doing things for people, that we should be teaching them, well, this is exactly what we are doing – Helping local militaries build capacity and knowledge.”
Positioning of the base agreements in a global context
Accoring to Barnett, the destinations that receive U.S. security exports, or base cooperation agreements in the case of Colombia, are areas of the world that are struggling to overcome hardships, and establish security in order to join the integrated global economy.
For Colombia, this refers to areas affected by the drug trade, terrorists, and destabilizing non-state actors such as the FARC, paramilitary and drug-trafficking cartels.
“The bases are about disrupting networks of drug smugglers, terrorists, and other international crime syndicates. Any place that is highly affected with those types of actors dissuades foreign investment and economic integration, and as a result, makes it harder for those states to integrate into the global community. Non-state actors thrive on areas that are not integrated; areas that haven’t benefited from the reach of globalization. When you expand the capacity of the local countries (through base agreements), you go after those non-state actors by empowering locals to fight them. As a result, the U.S., or any other country in the integrated global community, won’t have to go get them later on.”
Why the U.S.?
Many critics remain unyielding against the base agreement, asserting that it is immoral and degrading for the U.S. to position its troops in foreign countries, and that they do it strictly out of personal economic interests. To Barnett, however, it is a necessity in the modern, globalizing world – Something that the U.S. did not directly choose to do, but was forced to do by default; being the only modern military with the capacity of exporting security on a global level.
The U.S., Barnett argued, is by no means the main beneficiary to having countries increase their internal security, stability, and join the integrated global economy. That role, Barnet claimed, is reserved for China, who’s enormously export-dependent, local consumption-deficit economy strives to find new markets to do business and trade, in addition to other rapidly developing countries who are joining the league of global powers. One day in the future, Barnett predicts, the Chinese, Brazilians, Argentineans, Indians or Russians, or any other new world power, will have to step up and shoulder more of the responsibility in exporting security and stability in order to help other countries join the globalized world.
For today, however, Barnett claimed that, “the Chinese [and other rising powers] are not there yet.” They lack the capacity and the will to ensure security to enable globalization to expand. As a result, Barnett explained, “we [the U.S.] are just trying to hold the line by doing this networking around the planet via base agreements, to encourage indigenous development of security, under the assumption that over time, we’ll have help in this process from rising powers of the age.”
“When the day comes,” Barnett concluded, “that another country steps up and says that they want to put an end cross-border, drug trafficking shenanigans in South America, and that they will put military bases there, then the Americans would be ecstatic, because they would think, ‘finally, we don’t have to do this, thank god!’”
Thomas Barnett is an American military-political strategist who currently serves as the Senior Managing Director for Enterra Solutions, an international consulting firm. He is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Pentagon’s New Map”, “Blueprint for Action”, and “Great Powers: America and the World after Bush”.