Author Greg Mills speaks to Polity's Sashnee Moodley about his co-authored book A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence. (Camera & editing: Darlene Creamer)
No country has managed as rapid and positive a turnaround in governance and security conditions this century as Colombia. In 1999, FARC and ELN rebels were literally at the gates of Bogotá, and Colombia was a country synonymous with the antics of Pablo Escobar, known primarily for rapacious corruption, weak government, drug smuggling and criminality. Fifteen years later the guerrillas, seriously weakened, have been persuaded to attend peace talks in Havana, and the Colombian economy had been a top performer in Latin America.
To date, however, there has been no comprehensive examination of the different elements employed by the government to combat the guerrillas, win local and international political and military support, extend government authority to the 75 per cent of the countryside where it was seldom felt, and turn the Colombian economy around. How the Colombians did all of this is the subject of this book by four international specialists with untrammelled policy and practical expertise in counterinsurgency campaigns in Colombia and elsewhere, bringing a unique comparative perspective.
Based on field-work in Colombia’s regions, the study provides a history of the conflict, compares it to other historical and contemporary case-studies, examines the war from the perspectives of the government and the guerrillas, delves into the development of special Colombian capabilities (notably in intelligence and the use of airpower and special forces), and explains the economic dimension in terms both of historical exclusion and ongoing attempts at growth and inclusion. Finally, it concludes with an assessment of the country’s prospects: can the combination of improved security, a flourishing economy and the peace process offer an opportunity to finally translate Colombia from, in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s words, ‘a great perhaps’ into something more permanent?
About the authors
Greg Mills is director of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. He is widely published on international affairs, development and security, an adviser to African governments, and the author of the best-selling books Why Africa is Poor: And What Africans Can Do About It (2010) and Why States Recover: Changing Walking Societies into Winning Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe (2014).
David Kilcullen is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on counterinsurgency and military strategy. He is the author of The Accidental Guerilla, a Washington Post bestseller, Counterinsurgency and Out of the Mountains. He was formerly Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General David Petraeus in Iraq and to the NATO Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He is currently Chairman of Caerus Associates, a Washington-based strategy and design firm, and First Mile Geo, a geospatial analysis firm. He is also a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, studying insurgency and unconventional warfare. He has served in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Dickie Davis is the Managing Director of Nant Enterprises Ltd and an associate of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. He served for thirty-one years in the British Army, reaching the rank of Major General. During his military career he served extensively on operations in Afghanistan, commanding the first UK Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mazar-e-Sharif, leading the ISAF Reconstruction and Development effort and as Chief of Staff of Regional Command (South). He is a Vice President of the Institution of Royal Engineers, Chairman of both the Royal Engineers’ Museum and the Royal Engineers Officers’ Widows Society, and is Honorary Colonel of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia). He holds a Master’s degree in defence technology and is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.
David Spencer is Professor of Counterterrorism/Counterinsurgency at the William J Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. For the last fifteen years he has worked in a variety of positions in support of Plan Colombia, having previously been a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He served as a consultant to the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense during the 1979-1992 civil war. His previous publications include Colombia’s Road to Recovery: Security and Governance 1982-2010 (U.S. Government) and Strategy and Tactics of the Salvadoran FMLN Guerrillas: Last Battle of the Cold War, Blueprint for Future Conflicts (Praeger).