Mar 9, 2012

Laura's Blog: More Hokum From the Folks who Bring us the “Global War on Drugs”

By Laura Carlsen

The White House has been floating a new concept in its war on drugs—Colombia as an “exporter of security.” The phrase has popped up in government statements several times just over the past week.

Actually, this isn’t the first time. Then Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised Colombia as an “exporter of security” back in April of 2010. The phrase seems to have gone dormant for awhile after that, although the Pentagon and State Department have been talking about and using Colombian security forces to train regional forces, in part to avoid the domestic and international political costs of having U.S. agents on the job on foreign soil.

First, Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, used it again on Feb. 28 to describe her Mexico-Colombia-Brazil tour

We also discussed Colombia’s growing regional and global outreach in support of international peace and security. For example, over the last three years, Colombia has trained over 11,000 police from 21 countries in Latin America and Africa, as well as Afghanistan. Colombia has also been a leader in the SICA-led Central American donor coordination process. Colombia is succeeding in leveraging its experience in the fight against cartels and terrorists in a way that positions it as a net exporter of security far beyond its borders.

Next up was Dan Restrepo in a March 1 press briefing for VP Joe Biden’s visit to Mexico and Honduras this week:

We've also continued to work, for example, with our partners from Colombia, who have become a very significant exporter of security to Central America -- work to ensure, for example, in the last few weeks, the head of the National Police of Colombia traveled to Guatemala as part of the new Guatemalan government's effort to revamp the national security strategy in that country to ensure that it is facing what we all recognize to be a growing challenge in the region.

In the globalized world where everything’s a commodity, we’ve gotten used to being told the world is just a giant conglomeration of products and consumers, but I’d never seen security commodified like this before. It’s a dangerously false concept.

What does “exporter of security” mean? You can export security equipment (aka weapons or intelligence hardware), but security? This is the dictionary definition of security:

So if security is the absense of threats and danger, how do you export it? If “security” pertains to a situation in a certain State how can it be shipped off to another country and context?

Even more baffling, how did Colombia get to be an “exporter of security”? Does that mean it somehow has produced a surplus of security that it can now export?

Last time I checked, Colombia had active organizations officially listed as “terrorist” operating within its borders (on both the left and the right). In January of this year, paramilitary organization called Los Urabeños paralyzed five departments in an “armed strike” just to show they could. Paramilitary forces were found to control 30% of the National Senate. Some five million people have been displaced from their homes and communities by violent conflict and the country has the second-highest number of landmine victims in the world. While a declining homicide rate is laudable, this just doesn’t like a surplus of security.

Or, following the trade logic set up by the Obama team, maybe it’s that Colombia has a comparative advantage in security. A comparative advantage in security would have to mean that a nation had few threats and a high level of public safety (see above definition).

Again, not the case with Colombia. The country still suffers from a longstanding internal conflict, and is home to violent drug cartels and unscrupulous land-grabbers.

When we add Sherman’s qualifier of “net exporter of security”, the concept gets even more semantically unbelievable. A “net exporter” means that the amount of exports are greater than the amount of imports. So Colombia exports more security than it imports? What does this security look like as it’s being shipped around? Sherman’s additional qualifier of Colombia as a “net exporter of security far beyond its borders” is just compounded silliness—you can’t export within your borders.

Safety is a consequence of preventing and eliminating threats, not importing and exporting some abstract entity called “security.”

The safety of a state or organization against criminal activity such as terrorism, theft, or espionage: "national security."

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