In 1999, Colombia became the third largest recipient of U.S. security aid after Israel and Egypt.
The purpose of this thesis is to identify and discuss the driving factors of the U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia. The main question is: "To what extent can the threats posed by drugs explain U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia in the post-Cold War era?"
A common understanding of U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia is that it is driven by domestic concerns about the drug production originating in Colombia destined for the U.S. This thesis argues that such an understanding is an over-simplification of a complex set of issues. Drugs play a role in the U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia but the policy itself can only be understood on the background of geopolitics.
The U.S. has multiple and sometimes competing reasons and justifications for being involved in Colombia, and no single explanation adequately captures the complexity of U.S. policymaking. Hence, it is also crucial to address the complexity of U.S. domestic politics in order to understand U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia.
The aim of the theoretical part of my thesis is to demonstrate how the U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia may be interpreted through realist, liberalist, and constructivist lenses. All three approaches may add significantly to the understanding of U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia. Hence the approaches are regarded as complementary rather than competing.
Geopolitics appears to be a key factor motivating U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia because of U.S. economic interests in both Colombia and the Andean region. In my analysis, I argue that liberalism, with its focus on strengthening human rights, democracy and co-operation only accurately explains the stated objectives of Plan Colombia and not the real objectives: anti-narcotics, anti-terror, and oil interests. In addition, I have addressed whether Colombia is a security threat to the U.S. in (i) a traditional way or (ii) a wider understanding of the security term. I argue that U.S. politicians consciously play on the potential spill-over of the Colombian conflict in their rhetoric to obtain support for the anti-drug and anti-terror policy. Hence drugs seem to have become securitized through rhetoric. Social constructivism is one approach that may help explain this.
Nevertheless, neither of these approaches fully captures the complexity of U.S. policymaking. Hence domestic politics and the bureaucratic actor model also need to be taken into account in order to completely understand U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia.
Finally, although the reasons and justifications may vary from one administration to another, regardless of the administration – be it Democratic or Republican – all seem to agree that the U.S. continues to have strategic interests in Colombia and should therefore remain engaged.