BROTHERS IN ARMS

Colombia 2015 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: THE ARMED FORCES

The Ministry of Defence is Colombia's largest employer, with over half a million individuals, incorporating the armed forces, the police, and civilians.

The Ministry of Defence has at its disposal a colossal budget of $28 billion. In other words, 3.4% of Colombia's GDP is spent on defence and security, thus far exceeding the regional average. The ministry is comprised of 19 businesses in the Grupo Empresarial y Social de la Defensa (GSED), that in 2014 generated income of $7 billion in revenues, and $75 million in profits—approximately $12 million from exports to other regional countries (COP30,000 million). The GSED also has a health organization that is possibly the largest in the country—with over 1.4 million beneficiaries.

The GSED itself has turned into a hub of innovation, and boasts a long running technological development company, has fostered starts up, and has driven talent and expertise in local engineering projects to both public and private ends. The company is in charge of manufacturing all explosive devices, and is planning to invest in an ammonium nitrate plant to curb expenditures. Further consideration was given to the prospect of entering other regional markets, as well as continuing to sell to the Colombian mining industry.

The GSED has added numerous high-speed patrol boats, designed by its own Cotecmar, and constructed by STX Offshore & Shipbuilding in South Korea to its fleet. The Korean construction group also delivered the first amphibious vessel, and two vessels weighing more than 2,000 tons each. The GSED engineering group, CIAC also manufactured the T-90, the first plane to be manufactured in Colombia. So far, over 25 have been constructed, and in 2015 plans exist to begin commercializing the aircraft. The technical assistance program relates to a bilateral agreement between Colombia and South Korea that includes the transfer of technology between Seoul and the Ministry of Defence—one of several technical assistance agreement's the ministry has in place internationally.

THE CHALLENGES

It is widely acknowledged that the ministry of defence is entering a challenging period. It is approaching a situation that challenges its ontological underpinnings—an end to armed conflict in Colombia.

As a result the Ministry is already undergoing a process of modernization to ensure that its development as a structured organization contributes not only to the political stability of the country, but also bolsters its international reputation. The military training wing of the institution during the last five years has conducted numerous diplomatic missions and trained over 18,000 military personnel from over 63 countries.

The challenge for the institution then is to identify economies of scale and increase efficiency in order to become more self-sustainable. To these ends, the ministry recently contracted British consultancy firm McKinsey to conduct a study on the efficiency of the Armed Forces. A similar consultancy was undertaken by Ernst and Young on the country's health organization and pension system.

In light of the immense importance of the organization at a national and regional level, Minister Pinzón was personally invited to the World Economic Forum, as one of the world's Young Global Leaders for his already distinguished career in public service. More to the point, the military now has one of the most impressive histories in counter-insurgency in the world, and the opportunities to share and analyze the Colombian story could be beneficial for other nations.

In spite of these achievements—or perhaps as a direct result—the greatest challenge today comes from the irreversible peace process. Colombia must integrate over 230,000 soldiers into civil society, without upsetting the newly found peace and engendering the formulation of specialized organizational paramilitary style security organizations.

Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno
JUAN CARLOS PINZÓN BUENO
Former Minister, National Defense
Colombia is an exporter of security in order to face regional and global security challenges. Today, the Ministry of National Defense has one of the largest business groups in the country, the Social and Business Defense Group (GSED). These nineteen entities have the purpose of contributing efficiently and measurably to consolidating security and peace in Colombia through the timely supply of goods and services that support national defense.