This Wednesday was filed in the US Congress the bipartisan bill titled the US-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act 2022which proposes, among other things, to declare the country a Major Non-NATO Member Ally (MNNA) and which was presented by Democratic Senator Bob Menéndez (New Jersey) with a view to modernizing relations with Colombia.
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A very relevant designation, with implications in security and defense issues, which only 17 countries in the world have.
Although the MNNA does not contemplate a mutual defense clause, as happens with NATO members, it does grant the designated country a series of military and financial advantages that other countries do not have. But, above all, it represents a clear sign of closeness in bilateral relations.
Currently there are only two countries in Latin America –Brazil and Argentina– that have a MNNA with the US. The rest of the list is completed by Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Jordan, New Zealand, Bahrain, and the Philippines. , Thailand, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia and Qatar. Although Taiwan is not part of it, it has had these same benefits since 2003.
The advantages granted by an UMM include inclusion in research and development programs with the Department of Defense and permission to use credits from the US financial system to purchase or lease defense equipment. Also, participation in anti-terrorism programs, priority in the delivery of US military surpluses that the country acquires, loans of equipment and materials for research projects, access to aerospace technology and reciprocal training.
And it gives the country the authority to store US military elements that are part of its war reserve.
According to legislative sources consulted by EL TIEMPO, with the political environment that exists today in Washington, it is difficult for these types of initiatives to advance. And, in any case, the Menéndez bill still has a long way to go, including approval in subcommittee, committee, plenary, and then a similar process in the House of Representatives.
Menéndez’s initiative was mentioned in a hearing dedicated to Colombia and organized by the Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by the New Jersey legislator.
“As Russia launches an attack in Ukraine against our democratic values, it is imperative to strengthen our relations in the region, particularly with strong allies like Colombia,” Menéndez said.
As Russia launches an attack in Ukraine against our democratic values, it is imperative that we strengthen our relations in the region, particularly with strong allies like Colombia.
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The MNNA was created in 1987 when Congress determined that Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand could enter into cooperation agreements with the Department of Defense despite not being members of NATO and gave power to the executive to appoint new members.
Since then the other countries have entered the list by presidential determination. The latest of these was Qatar, which was included earlier this year by President Joe Biden.
Still, the US Congress has the power to designate a country as it is now proposing in Senator Menéndez’s bill.
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The project not only recognizes the special status that Colombia has in the US, but also proposes a new roadmap for bilateral relations.
According to Menéndez, this new emphasis would be aimed at cooperation in security, the protection of human and labor rights, the promotion of investment and trade.
Likewise, the strengthening of cooperation in the environment, opportunities for women, the Afro and indigenous population, as well as support for the full implementation of the peace agreements.
Testifying at the hearing were Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Brian Nichols; the Assistant Undersecretary for Drug Trafficking Affairs, Todd D. Robinson, and the person in charge of Latin America at USAID, Marcela Escobari.
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Nichols welcomed the idea of designating Colombia an MNNA and said it would send a positive signal given the progress in the bilateral relationship. “Normally this process involves a recommendation to the president from both the Secretary of State and Defense and therefore I do not intend to skip that but I cannot think of another country more suitable for that role,” said the undersecretary.
The undersecretary, after other questions from Risch, said he does not believe in the explanation that the FARC has given when it maintains that it lacks funds to repair the victims.
According to Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón, it is very important “that there is talk of recognizing the country as a strategic ally, declaring it an MNNA. It is one more fact that strengthens and elevates the strategic alliance between the two countries, with bipartisan support. Within the framework of the celebration of 200 years of diplomatic relations, it is very significant that the Democratic and Republican senators highlight the special relationship between Bogotá and Washington.”
At the hearing, several senators, including Republican James Risch, expressed concern about Russia’s presence in Venezuela and its apparent interest in destabilizing Colombia.
Nichols told them that it was an issue that he closely monitored and that it had been central to his visit to the country last week.
Risch and other Republicans also pushed for the resumption of aerial spraying as the most effective way to control illicit crops in the country. But Nichols replied that this was a sovereign decision of Colombia and that there were other ways to advance in the eradication.
The undersecretary, after other questions from Risch, said he does not believe in the explanation given by the FARC when it maintains that it lacks funds to repair the victims, one of the commitments reached during the peace negotiations.
“I think that’s hard to believe. I don’t know (where they have them) but I imagine that part (of those funds) is buried somewhere, another part is in bank accounts abroad and another part is held by members of the FARC who they didn’t demobilize,” Nichols said.
SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
On Twitter: @ sergom68
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