President Juan Manuel Santos proposes to bring Colombia into NATO, even if it is through the back door. I think it’s a responsible initiative.
NATO is the most formidable military coalition in history. It was created by Harry Truman in 1949, in the middle of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was going through its worst imperial spasm. Although named North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the institution does not take that geographic circumstance too seriously. Italy, Greece and Turkey reside in another neighborhood, yet they are members of NATO.
Actually, NATO was not created to make war but to prevent it. Truman, who read the classics and loved history, used to quote the Latin phrase “ Si vis pacen, para bellum” — If you wish peace, prepare for war. That’s what he did. He was under the influence of the strategic thinking of young diplomat George Kennan.
The Soviet Union had to be contained, without unleashing another world war, until the contradictions of collectivism, inefficiency and oppression could make it implode. That took a few decades, but it worked.
Colombia’s Santos has good reason to protect his country from the potential danger of a regional war. Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro has just announced the creation of a workers militia of 2 million soldiers. He wants to manufacture one of the largest armed corps in the world. It’s perfectly logical for his neighbors to be afraid.
Add to this the dozens of war planes, battle tanks and sophisticated antiaircraft weapons that Venezuela has spent years accumulating. Weapons that are not adequate to maintain domestic order or deal with a local enemy. They are devices designed to wage conventional wars, presumably against other countries.
There is a golden rule that usually regulates the modus operandi of armed forces: “Form defines function.” When armies grow, they overflow and become very dangerous. The moment the Cuban regime, with Soviet support, was able to build the most powerful army in Latin America, it leaped into African adventures and stayed there from 1975 to 1990 — the longest international military operation staged by any other military body in the Americas, including the United States.
The most economic way for Colombia to keep Venezuela from dragging it into a war — as threatened in the past by the late Hugo Chávez, who publicly ordered his generals to move tanks and artillery to the border — is to place itself under the symbolic protection of NATO.
The other two options are worse. One would be to do nothing and risk exposing Colombian society to an armed conflict, precisely because of government indifference to a real danger. The other would be to begin a costly arms race that would bleed the country dry.
As a consequence of the actions of communist narcoguerrillas, Colombia is already the Latin American country that spends the most in combat equipment in terms of its GNP (about 3.8 percent.) Why invest more money in guns when the needs of its society are huge?
NATO has a dissuasive and beneficial effect. In general, it prevents wars. Add to this a pedagogical factor: It induces better behavior among military men and, to a degree, generates greater subordination to civilian governments.
At least, that’s what Spanish socialist Prime Minister Felipe González presumed when he propitiated his country’s permanent association with NATO. He did so in the referendum held by his government in 1986, despite having rejected it in 1981, when he was a member of the opposition.
Bolivia’s Evo Morales has said that Santos’ initiative is a threat to his country. But Morales also said that the Roman Empire had attacked Bolivia. Looking at Evo Morales, one is reminded of the popular Colombian song, “ La Gota Fría” — The Cold Sweat — which tells of two folk musicians challenging each other. Sung by Carlos Vives, it notes: “How cultured could he be, when he was born in the cactus patch?”
That’s Moralito for you. Colombia needs to join NATO to, as the song says, “put an end to this mess.”