INDEFINITE FURLOUGH

Costa Rica 2018 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: MILITARY ABOLITION

In what seems to be an increasingly militarized world, Costa Rica offers an alternative route to political peace and economic prosperity thanks to the abolition of its military, now in its 70th year.

On December 1, 1948, José Figueres, then president of Costa Rica, abolished the nation's military during an event at Cuartel Bellavista, Costa Rica's then military headquarters. It is the only country in Latin America without a standing military and one of only 23 in the world. The true boon to Costa Rica's success following abolition lays with its economic and social successes, unparalleled in the region to this day.

Without a military to fund, Costa Rica's government found itself with a surplus of funds to finance social programs, from high-quality healthcare services to universal education, resulting in a strong quality of life. The success of these investments is reflected in Costa Rica's 92% literacy rate and Happy Planet Index ranking of number one out of 140 countries. Costa Rica proves that income and happiness are not mutually exclusive. The IMF places Costa Rica 68th in per capita income (2010), yet far wealthier nations such as France and Sweden rank 44th and 61st, respectively, on the Happy Planet Index.
Indeed, the US ranks 108th out of 140, yet regularly tops per capita income charts globally. The income gap is significant when comparing the US to Costa Rica, though the opposite is true when considering lifestyle. The quality of life in Costa Rica emerges in an environment where national finances are not skewed toward outward endeavors but rather inward investments.
US federal spending offers a stark contrast. In September 2017, the US Senate approved a USD80-billion hike in military spending, increasing its total to USD700 billion in 2018. This increase comes during a time when many opponents to free college tuition claim it is not affordable. Many in favor of free public university tuition argue the increase in defense spending alone is more than enough to cover Senator Bernie Sanders' tuition-free proposal, requiring USD47 billion from the federal budget. One can only imagine the possibilities for investment if the full defense budget was diverted to other programs.
Perhaps most notably, demilitarization has allowed Costa Rica to invest in green energy technologies and become a global leader in sustainability. It stands out for generating approximately 98% of its electricity from renewable sources, and the country aims to be the second carbon-neutral nation by 2021, second only to Bhutan. The country's prowess in sustainability offers opportunities to further diplomatic ties and boost the economy through exporting its expertise. Foreign governments and global investors alike are extremely interested in Costa Rica's green energy and eco-tourism know-how. In particular, South Korea's relations with Costa Rica were founded on a shared belief in pacifism though they have since evolved to include shared commitments to sustainable development.
While the abolition of the military has brought forth a breadth of alternative possibilities for Costa Rica's development and improved relations, demilitarization is not without its negative consequences, namely drug and human trafficking. Due to its strategic location, the country is critical for Mexican and Colombian drug cartel trade routes; however, so too is every other country on the isthmus. Nonetheless, between 2013 and 2014, homicides in Costa Rica increased by 14.6%, a break from the downward trend the country had enjoyed in the preceding decade. Moving forward, Costa Rica's ability to combat organized crime as well as protect national security is paramount to maintaining its status as a top destination for FDI inflow in the region.
In 1987, former President Oscar Arias made the enduring case for Costa Rica's stance when speaking before US Congress: “I belong to a small country that was not afraid to abolish its army in order to increase its strength.” Costa Rica continually proves its strength truly lies in its peaceful, sustainable development.