Colombia's Three Wars: U.S. Strategy at the Crossroads

  • March 01, 1999
  • Dr Gabriel Marcella, Dr Donald E Schulz

Colombia is the most troubled country in the Western Hemisphere. Drug criminals, guerrillas, and paramilitary groups are feeding a spiral of violence that makes "colombianization" a metaphor for a failing state. The authors address the strategic dimensions of the crisis. It argues that Colombia's future deeply affects regional security and U.S. interests. The country's afflictions are spilling over its borders, threatening Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, and the Caribbean. At the same time, Colombia is the origin of most of the cocaine and heroin entering the United States. The fear is that, if the situation continues to worsen, the country may become balkanized, with large areas under the de facto control of guerrilla and paramilitary regimes based, in large part, on narco-economies. U.S. policy is now at a critical juncture. A decision has been made to become more engaged in the war against narcotrafficking. Yet, the question remains: Can counternarcotics be separated from counterinsurgency? The authors believe that it cannot--that everything is related to everything else--and that unless the Colombian and U.S. governments address the problem through the creation of a coherent, holistic strategy, the situation will become much worse. In the latter half of their report, they discuss both the military and nonmilitary components of such a strategy. Among other things, they contend that restrictions on U.S. police training and counterinsurgency assistance should be removed or revised in order to enable the Colombian security forces to halt the momentum of the insurgents and paramilitaries and give them incentives to negotiate seriously. They also argue that a respect for human rights is of strategic importance.