In May 2017, Colombia became the first Latin American nation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 countries based on the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949. Colombia, however, is a NATO global partner, not a member. To find out more about this agreement and the possibility for other Latin American countries to follow suit, Diálogo spoke with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller.
Diálogo: Can you please make a distinction between a NATO partner and a member?
NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller: Founded in 1949 with 12 members, NATO now counts 29 member nations in Europe and North America. The Alliance exists to protect the people and territory of its members, founded on the principle of collective defense: meaning that if one NATO ally is attacked, all NATO allies are attacked. For example, when terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, all NATO allies stood with the United States. NATO members benefit from and sign up to all of the rights and responsibilities flowing from our founding Washington Treaty.
Over the years, NATO has developed a network of over 40 partners on five continents, in order to strengthen security beyond allied borders. Partners contribute to NATO in many ways for our mutual benefit. This includes deploying forces in support of our missions and operations, sharing education and training, working on research and development, and exchanging expertise. Partners do not share the same rights and responsibilities as NATO members, notably the commitment to collective defense under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.
NATO is committed to working with partners around the world who share our values and interests. We fully respect that our partners are free to choose the relationships they want, and only ever offer support at their request. The 29-nation NATO alliance reached a partnership agreement with Colombia back in May 2017.
Diálogo: Did the peace agreement signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia play a major role in this decision?
Gottemoeller: The achievements of Colombia in its peace process are a lesson to the world. The process has helped to transform the country. NATO’s cooperation with Colombia has been developing steadily since 2013, and we proudly welcomed Colombia as our first partner in Latin America in 2017.
Diálogo: Why is it important to have Colombia — and maybe other nations from Latin America — as NATO’s global partner?
Gottemoeller: Since our cooperation began in 2013, Colombia’s Ministry of Defense has participated in NATO’s Building Integrity initiative, which helps build transparency and accountability in defense institutions. Colombians have also participated in courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, and the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. In 2015, Colombia contributed a vessel to NATO’s operation Ocean Shield to counter piracy off the Horn of Africa — a great example of the alliance and Colombia working side-by-side to address an international security challenge. Earlier this year , Colombia’s International Demining Center joined a NATO network, allowing for more mutually beneficial exchanges of expertise.
In the future, we will look into joint work on cyberdefense, maritime security, terrorism and its links to organized crime, promoting the role of women in peace and security, and good governance in defense and security institutions. NATO could provide expert advice to help Colombian forces develop the ability to work more closely with allies. Colombia also has a lot of experience to offer NATO, including in countering improvised explosive devices, counternarcotics, and counterinsurgency. NATO works with all of our partners to advance international peace and security, for the mutual benefit of all.
Diálogo: What needs to be done for a country to be officially designated as a NATO global partner?
Gottemoeller: NATO cooperates with a number of countries that are not part of regional partnership frameworks. We call these countries “global partners,”, and they currently include Afghanistan, Australia, Colombia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Pakistan.
In order to become a global partner, a nation must request such a designation from NATO. If all NATO allies agree to pursue the partnership, NATO experts sit down with officials from the nation concerned to discuss areas of potential cooperation. This process eventually leads to the development of an Individual Partnership Cooperation Programme, setting out areas where the partner wishes to work with NATO in a spirit of mutual benefit and reciprocity.
Diálogo: If a country becomes a partner, does it mean it would have to take part in collective military action?
Gottemoeller: NATO allies join the Washington Treaty, which has at its heart a commitment to collective defense. Our strength is our unity, and NATO has shown time and time again that we stand and act together in defense of our shared security — from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq. That said, allies retain sovereignty over their armed forces, and decide how and when to contribute forces and capabilities to NATO.
NATO partners are not party to the Washington Treaty, and it is always up to each partner to decide how they wish to cooperate with NATO. The alliance does not compel partners to take part in collective military action, or to do anything that runs counter to their interests. Our partners choose the areas where they want to cooperate with NATO, for the benefit of us all.
Diálogo: With the current global environment, do you foresee a new arms race with Russia and even a new Cold War?
Gottemoeller: NATO does not want to isolate Russia. We do not want a new arms race or a new Cold War. Russia is our neighbor. However, for our relationship to improve, Moscow has to respect its international obligations. Russia has used force against its neighbors, and engages in hybrid action such as cyberattacks and interference in democratic processes. Russia is also in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Dialogue with Russia is difficult, but that is exactly why it is so important. NATO has a dual-track approach to Russia: strong defense, and dialogue — and we are making progress on both.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg chaired a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in January, the ninth since 2016. He regularly meets with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov for political dialogue, and I regularly meet with Russian counterparts. NATO and Russia maintain open military-to-military lines of communication at a high level, in order to promote predictability and transparency in our military activities.