Defense and Security


Democratic Security and Defense Policy

One of the first measures of the Uribe Administration was to declare a State of Limited Emergency that provided the legal framework to carry out some of the measures necessary to address the acute security problems facing the nation. The Constitutional Court endorsed the legality of the State of Emergency. It has since been renewed and has been used by the Government to raise taxes to finance the fight against terrorism (see below) and to enact legislation that will allow more effective law enforcement and military action against illegal groups.

However, the security problem in Colombia requires a long-term strategy. In order to address it and reinstate the rule of law and regain control over the country, the Uribe Administration developed a "Democratic Security and Defense Policy." This policy was devised amidst the backdrop of a modernization of the Armed Forces that has been underway for the last four years.

Many of the improvements on both a qualitative and quantitative level have been introduced as a result of close collaboration with the United States. This closer collaboration has been strengthened through Plan Colombia and has important results to date. For example, today the Colombian Armed Forces have:

• 60% more combat ready soldiers than four years ago;

• Helicopters which have significantly improved the mobility of Armed Forces throughout the national territory;

• Attack helicopters ensuring means to be more aggressive in the fight against FARC and AUC;

• Increased basic combat supplies, including rifles and ammunition; and

• Significant less human rights complaints against them.

Unfortunately, the FARC and the AUC have also become stronger and increasingly sophisticated as a result of their involvement in drug and kidnapping activity. These groups now work in close collaboration with other international terrorist groups. In addition, they are shifting their tactics to create increased terror, including targeting urban areas of the country. Recent urban bombings illustrate this point. The heightened violence by the FARC and the AUC has been met by unprecedented political support for the President. Polls show his popularity and that of his policies at very high levels2, which further emphasizes the legitimacy of Government policy to counter domestic terrorism and violence.

That is the context and backdrop of the National Security Policy. The basic principle behind the strategy is to establish and reinstate the rule of law in Colombia and protect the population. It takes into account this is not just a military matter. The strategic objective behind the policy is to weaken illegal narco-terrorist groups through a variety of political, economic and military means in order to force a negotiated settlement that leads to a lasting and democratic peace.

In order to ensure State presence—that is, law and order—and regain control over the entire Colombian territory, the Democratic Security Policy sets out to:

• Gradually restore police presence in all municipalities

• Increase judicial action against crimes of high social impact

• Strengthen public institutions

• Reduce human rights violations

• Dismantle terrorist organizations

• Reduce kidnappings and extortion

• Reduce homicide levels

• Prevent forced displacement and facilitate the return of forcefully-displaced people

• Continue the multi-track fight against the illegal drug trade through interdiction, eradication and judicial action

The policy aims to achieve these goals by:

• MORE ACTIVELY ENGAGING THE CIVILIAN POPULATION. Although it is the ultimate responsibility of the State to uphold rights and freedoms, security is also the responsibility of all citizens and of society as a whole. Active citizen participation and cooperation with authorities is a key part of strengthening institutions and democracy. Citizen involvement and cooperation aims to shift collaboration and support from illegal groups to legitimate State institutions.

Increased civilian participation will take many forms. The Government will encourage the voluntary cooperation of citizens with authorities. Research on the prevention of crime suggests that it is more effective with citizen involvement. A network of citizens will act as a "neighborhood watch" in both urban and rural areas to provide authorities with information that will help prevent crime and pursue criminals.

In addition, a program has been established to reward those who provide information that leads to the prevention of a terrorist attack or the arrest of members of one of the illegal armed groups. The Government will also be establishing a system of incentives and rewards for information about property belonging to organizations or persons with links to terrorism or narcotics.

• SUPPORT SOLDIERS. In an effort to increase the military and State presence in rural areas, the Government will recruit "support soldiers" that combine productive activities in the countryside with military service. These support soldiers will be fully trained and will improve security in the more remote regions of the country.

• INCREASING INTELLIGENCE CAPACITY. Intelligence is critical to countering the more sophisticated urban warfare now being carried out by the FARC and other groups. Important steps have been taken towards a more coherent intelligence operation by all different agencies with the establishment of a Joint Intelligence Committee. The revamp of the intelligence system will render greater real-time intelligence processing and analysis. Not only are State forces gathering the correct information in an effective and efficient manner, but analysis is being carried out at greater speeds and is more readily available to all relevant security forces.

• REINSTATING CONTROL OVER NATIONAL ROADS. A core component of the security strategy is to regain control over our sovereign territory by maintaining security on Colombia’s national road system. The road security operation is beginning to show results, as demonstrated by increased traffic on inter-municipal roads. This effort includes weekend caravans that have made it safe again for people to travel outside their cities. This has a positive impact on local economies and on people’s sense of security.

• DEMOBILIZE ILLEGAL GROUPS. Colombian State institutions are jointly working to strengthen mechanisms to promote and regulate individual voluntary demobilization of members of illegal groups. The goal is to demobilize 6,000 members. Demobilization will reduce the violent actors operating in the country and affect morale among illegal groups.

Colombia has increased financial, employment and security incentives to promote demobilization, to improve the dissemination of information on the program among members of these illegal groups and to strengthen coordination among the different entities involved in this process. There are credible intelligence reports that show recruiting has become increasingly difficult for illegal groups and that more and more of it is being done forcefully. This is a good reason to believe that the desertion program will work.

• INTEGRATE ARMED FORCES SERVICES. Service integration has begun in earnest in Colombia with the creation of the Sixth Brigade and its first results are apparent. The change being introduced in Colombia is much like the Goldwater-Nickles Defense Reorganization Act. The Act undertook a systemic reform of the U.S. military and led to outstanding performance in the Persian Gulf War by modifying the chain-of-command and service rivalry problems.

• INCREASE DEFENSE SPENDING. The Government has moved quickly in order to implement defense and security strategy. One of the most important aspects in this regard was the generation of new revenues to fight terrorism and violence. The Government raised taxes on upper-income individuals and corporations to generate an additional $800 million in revenue to pay for 6,000 new elite soldiers, 10,000 new police officers and as many as 100,000 civilian informants who will provide intelligence to authorities. In fact, some companies and individuals contributed the tax even though they were not obliged to do so, in a clear demonstration of the country’s mood and commitment to fighting terror. To date, the Ministry of Finance has secured in excess of $650 million and the last quota of the tax has still not been collected. This has exceeded Government estimates.

The Uribe Government has committed Colombia to increasing defense expenditures from the current level of 3.6% of GDP to 6% of GDP by 2006. The goal is to increase the number of security forces from 250,000 (150,000 military + 100,000 police) to 850,000 over the next four years.

About this site | Photo credits