OK, I got some emails about Colombian membership in NATO. The rumors are true: President Santos did float a trial balloon about joining the organization. NATO, unsurprisingly, said no. NATO would have said no regardless, but it was useful that the North Atlantic Treaty states that new parties to the organization have to be in Europe. Article 10:
The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty. Any State so invited may become a Party to the Treaty by depositing its instrument of accession with the Government of the United States of America.
The country will sign a cooperation agreement with NATO, but it is still not clear what that means. NATO says, however, that all cooperation agreements are the same, and you can find out what the organization says about said cooperation here.
NATO member or not, Colombia and the U.S. are close allies. We have a free trade agreement. Small numbers of U.S. troops operate in-country. The Colombian supreme court overturned an agreement giving the U.S. access to Colombian bases (see page 39 of this CRS report) but the U.S. still builds facilities there. (The text of the agreement can be found here.)
And the U.S. is surprisingly popular. Here is Latinobarómetro’s 2009 results on the question, “Does the U.S. treat your country with respect?”
SIDE OBSERVATION #1: It is interesting that Venezuelans place themselves in a category with Uruguay and Brazil, and not with their Bolivarian comrades in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina. My hypothesis is that it reflects Venezuelan polarization: all Venezuelans know that relations between the U.S. and Venezuela are bad, but many more Venezuelans take the American side than do their compatriots in the other big Bolivarian countries.
Here are the results to a general question on the state of bilateral relations:
SIDE OBSERVATION #2: The Venezuelan results are consistent with my hypothesis: everyone knows that relations with the U.S. are terrible, but many of them blame their own government.
SIDE OBSERVATION #3: A large subset of Mexicans are uniquely suspiscious of the United States, and uniquely prickly about national sovereignty. In fact, the U.S. treats Mexico with at least as much respect as Colombia (likely more) and relations are at least as good as with Colombia (likely better). But for understandable historical reasons, Mexicans don’t see it that way.
Finally, the Colombian results appear to hold over time. It is not just a phenomenon of the Obama-Santos relationship.
In short, even though Colombia will not be joining NATO, it has a uniquely close relationship with the United States. Moreover, that special relationship is supported by Colombian public opinion, and thus likely to endure.
None of this is to say that the U.S.-Colombian relationship is necessarily good for Colombia. The jury is out on that one, although if there is demand I will present some evidence that it just might be bad.