Improving Security Policy in Colombia
How can the Colombian government consolidate security gains and improve security policy? This briefing recommends that the new government acknowledge that Colombia has still not reached the post-conflict phase. The government needs to: maintain pressure on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); develop and implement a comprehensive citizen security strategy; tackle the threat posed by paramilitary successors and new illegal armed groups; and advance military and citizen security policy reform.
President Uribe's eight-year military campaign against FARC has taken a heavy toll on Colombia's largest insurgent organisation. The government is now working to consolidate security gains by expanding state presence in formerly conflict-ridden regions. As part of an integrated conflict resolution strategy, the government must increase law enforcement and military capability against all illegal armed groups. It also has to strengthen institutions, expand the rule of law and protect human rights.
Security strategy in Colombia faces numerous challenges, not least because FARC's command and control structure has not collapsed. Security consolidation can only take root if Colombia tackles its pervasive problems of organised violence, criminality and illegality in an integrated way.
- Insurgents are adapting to military pressure with guerrilla warfare and aggressive recruitment in rural populations. They have also broadened involvement in drug trafficking.
- Some FARC units have formed alliances with other illegal armed groups, including paramilitary successors and new illegal armed groups (NIAGs) such as Rastrojos and Paisas. Alliances are mostly centred on drug trafficking.
- NIAGs are often temporary and fragile. But along with the second-largest insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), they add a new dimension to the conflict.
- Uribe’s military strategy against FARC was aimed at a defined target. The threat posed by paramilitary successor groups, NIAGs and other criminal actors, and the alliances between groups, is less structured. Colombia’s security forces lack a strategy to confront this new threat.
The new government should reassess current security policy and efforts underway to consolidate gains made under Uribe. The government should:
- Maintain military pressure on FARC and respond to the insurgents' new modes of operation, while avoiding human right violations. This involves improving military operations and operational capacity as well as regional security cooperation.
- Develop and implement a comprehensive citizen security strategy to address threats emerging from FARC, ELN, paramilitary successors and NIAGs. This should be based on analysis of the new tactics and alliances among different armed groups.
- Tackle the threat posed by paramilitary successors and NIAGs by: acknowledging their expansion, impact and complex nature; stepping up efforts to integrate effective law enforcement with military measures; and ending collusion between illegal armed groups and members of local authorities and security forces.
- Advance military and citizen security policy reform in tandem with the implementation of the security consolidation strategy. This should increase chances of success and move towards a civilian-led operation with a whole-of-government budgetary commitment.
Author: International Crisis Group
Source: International Crisis Group, 2010, 'Improving Security Policy in Colombia', Latin America Briefing No. 23, International Crisis Group, Bogota/Brussels
Size: 16 pages