As part of the partnership, the Military Forces of Colombia hope to receive training to modernize and contribute their experience to the fight against insurgency, drug trafficking, and demining.
On May 31, 2018, Colombia became the first Latin American country to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and gain global partnership status like that of Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Belgium, where the organization is headquartered, and signed a partnership agreement.
“We are global partners, not members. This condition only allows the country to participate in training operations, not in military operations,” President Santos said upon signing the agreement. “It means we’ll participate in modernization protocols to standardize processes, which will grant the Armed Forces access to a wide variety of NATO training in areas in which Colombia should improve.”
Scope of the agreement
The agreement formalizes the close relationship between Colombia and NATO. The Colombian forces will have access to exchanges and forums on issues such as cyberdefense, the importance of women in peace and security, and demining.
“I welcome the opportunity to learn from Colombia’s very exclusive knowledge of explosives,” Stoltenberg said. “This knowledge can be applied in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.”
Lessons on countering corruption and best practices against it are also on the agenda. Since 2013, the Military Forces of Colombia carry out a program that considers transparency, anti-bribery, and ethics as fundamental for transformation. NATO has an integrity building program in line with the policies of transparency the country strives for. The program will pave the way for the adoption of transparency norms to strengthen procedures such as military sales—the internal mechanisms also obey standardization and international supervision.
Higher interoperability levels
Joining the organization fell in line with the country’s new post-conflict reality. Colombian Army General Alberto José Mejía Ferrero, commander of the Military Forces of Colombia, led the design of the Damascus doctrine, on par with the need for more modern and competitive forces. Without the Damascus doctrine, a stronger relationship with NATO wouldn’t have been possible.
“The doctrine is a historical and revolutionary event that will provide more operational tools to commanders at all levels; it reinforces our counterinsurgency capabilities,” Gen. Mejía told Diálogo. “Damascus is the necessary and timely process of doctrinal revision, update, and prioritization for the Colombian Army, [with] a new vocabulary to achieve higher interoperability levels, because Colombia lacked a military doctrine with the necessary international standards to combat potential external threats.”
The new international status strengthens the Military Forces of Colombia. Commanders know that their units will take part in valuable training and acquire important skills.
“Being in NATO is a recognition of the level of our institution’s capabilities, conditions, and commitments, which we reached over many years of conflict,” General Carlos Eduardo Bueno Vargas, commander of the Colombian Air Force, told Diálogo. “Air forces from several countries want to conduct exercises with us. We know how to do things, and they want to know how we do it.”
Becoming a partner
To be a NATO global partner meant the Colombian military had to take on a myriad tasks in the process of updating, aligning, and building the joint doctrine of the military. Changes in organizational structures were necessary to improve internal procedures. Standards used to classify and label material and equipment also needed revisions, as did advanced training and educational programs for officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers.
The forces participated in exchange programs about doctrinal knowledge, military training, and education in the best centers of excellence and military training of the U.S. and Germany, among others. Since 2015, about 130 Colombian military members traveled to several countries to take part in conferences, workshops, seminars, and training exercises on transparency, resiliency, and leadership.
Colombia plans to modernize the military educational and training system with an academic program tailored to offer their skills and allow for interaction with other armed forces. The objective is also to engage in science and technology to improve administration, risk management procedures, and logistics support protocols. Colombia also works on modernizing cyberdefense capabilities.
“There are new threats against security and international stability, such as terrorism, transnational organized crime, drug trafficking and its derivative issues, and corruption—challenges we learned to confront,” Gen. Mejía said. “The experience of our armed forces, that particular DNA, stands out in the eyes of the world and is part of the knowledge we will exchange with NATO.”