Colombia's defense minister announced plans to increase the size of the armed forces by 25,000 troops over the next two years, raising the question of why the expansion is being planned when the government is in the middle of a peace process with guerrilla group the FARC.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said that the possibility that the armed forces might be downsized in light of a successful peace treaty with the FARC has "never been discussed." He made the remarks in Bogota during a three-day trade show on defense and security matters, reports EFE.
The government launched formal peace talks with the FARC in Oslo, Norway in October and they are due to resume in Cuba on November 15.
Colombia's armed forces currently number over 450,000 personel, including military and police, the second-largest in South America after Brazil. It also has some of the highest military expenditures in the region, spending some $100 billion on defense between 2002 and 2010.
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Pinzon's pledge to continue expanding Colombia's armed forces could be one implication that the government expects to continue fighting a drawn-out, aggressive war on the ground for years to come. One risk is that even if the government comes to a formal agreement with the FARC, the guerrilla group may no longer have the ability to control all the elements within their organization. This could mean that even if the FARC formally demobilizes, splinter groups could continue fighting and trafficking drugs in Colombia's more remote regions, as happened with the demobilization of the AUC. By continuing to expand the armed forces, the government is arguably preparing for such a scenario.
In another indication that Colombia is keen on expanding its defense capabilities, the country recently announced that it is now capable of producing its own drones. The unmanned aerial vehicles will reportedly be used for military operations and for monitoring attacks on oil pipelines, a trademark of guerrilla groups. Such efforts are indication that even with the ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the Colombian government still intends to rely on military power and technology as a core part of its security strategy.