War without Borders: The Colombia-Ecuador Crisis of 2008


In a new report written by Dr. Gabriel Marcella from the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College, the concept of war without borders is used to analyze the strategic implications of the Colombian attack against a FARC camp inside Ecuadorean territory on March 1, 2008. Lessons learned apply directly to the policy of the United States and the hemispheric community.

“The lessons of the March 1 crisis are fundamental for security cooperation in the Hemisphere. The crisis is superimposed upon a Latin American tradition of laissez faire on ungoverned space and border control and continuing disagreement on what to do about terrorism. Moreover, the institutional capacity, political will, preventive diplomacy, and the mechanisms for security cooperation and conflict resolution between states have not caught up to the demands of wars without borders. An assortment of terrorists, contrabandists, and drug traffickers depend on weak borders and weak states. Though Clausewitz may have been right that war is the continuation of politics (or policy) by other means, the politics of wars without borders have changed that equation. Yet the analytical and institutional capacities of governments have not caught up to that change.

The United States can and must be a catalyst for confidence-building between Ecuador and Colombia in order to restore the full gamut of security cooperation between the two countries. At the same time, the United States needs to be more sensitive about the immense power it wields in its dealings with small states, such as Ecuador. The United States has been less than forthcoming in addressing Ecuador’s security needs in the last 10 years, at times for the noblest of intentions. Noble intentions can have profound negative impact if policy is not pursued pragmatically.”

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