Costa Rica and the UN

Mods, I think there is a factual answer regarding what the UN will and will not do.

I was in San Jose (Costa Rica) last week on business, and I remembered that they have no standing army. When I asked a local businessman how secure he felt having no military he said that they are friends with their immediate neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama, and that if they were ever threatened that the UN would step in to protect them.

I was stunned by his answer since I don’t think the UN would be willing, or able, to stop another country from invading. Am I off base, or is the UN somehow chartered to protect a member nation that is attacked?

I realize that Costa Rica is considered a neutral country, but a belligerent nation could presumably walk in and take over with little resistance. That wouldn’t make me very comfortable.

I’m not sure what the UN would do beyond passing a resolution. However, Costa Rica is a signatory of the Rio Treaty which is a mutual defense pact. If anyone attacks Costa Rica, the United States, Brazil, and 14 other countries are obligated to render assistance.

Calling their festering and long term border disputes with Nicaragua “friendly” might be understating the external threat. During the period they’ve nominally not had a military they’ve had periods with some pretty militarized police forces. That’s included paramilitary police forces organized and equipped like light infantry (well there was also a period where they had American made M113 APCs so some mech infantry capability as well.) It aslo includes a company(-) size commando unit that has trained with special operations forces from other countries. In 1955 they demonstrated the ability and willingness to form and arm a volunteer militia as part of the response to Nicaraguan border incursions.

They mostly rely on diplomatic initiatives. The risk of outside intervention (whether through force or sanctions) certainly has some deterrent effect on Nicaragua. There’s also usually been a backstop of sleepy eyed Costa Rican killers with guns in uniform… they’re just police uniforms.

No military != no military capability.

Under Chapter VII, the UN Security Council is empowered - not obliged - to decide if there has been an act of aggression, and what action (which may include mlitary action) it wishes to take to restore peace and security.

It isn’t an automatic right of any country to expect others to leap to their defence, in the way that NATO countries are supposed to (but even then, actual action would require authorisation at the political level either by individual countries or collectively through NATO, so the automaticity isn’t to be taken for granted).

Yeah. For all practical purposes, the police are Costa Rica’s military force.

Pretty much; Costa Rica may not formally have an ‘army’ they most certainly have a military. While the Army fell out of favor in the 1949 Costa Rican Civil War and was officially abolished by the winning side, in its place a Civil Guard was formed that is organized, armed, trained and performs the exact same duties that an army does. It’s somewhat analogous to Japan which is constitutionally forbidden from having a military; so instead it has Land, Air, and Maritime Self Defense Forces which for legal purposes are branches of the police.

The presence of a standing army is not the only available deterrent to a neighbor just walking in and taking over. Would the USA just walk in and take over Canada, if Canada had no standing army? Or even in spite of Canada’s relatively weak standing army against the might of the USA?

In most countries of the world, the standing army is more ceremonial than anything else, nowadays mostly as a conduit for aid from their powerful friends.

That was also the case ini Panama, and when the US invaded, it didn’t matter if they were called an Army or not.

Hey - I was in CR last week as well! We coulda had a mini Dopefest!

They like to say the UN but I suspect they mean the US, but it’s not politically correct to say so. Even if the UN did give their backing, the US would liberate Costa Rica.

Costa Rica isn’t really threatened by its neighbors. Offensive operations requires more than just for the offensive side to be stronger than the defensive side. It requires good logistics, overwhelming superiority(which Nicaragua and Panama don’t have over Costa Rica’s police force and possibly citizen militias), and a willingness to put down civilian resistance over a period of months and possibly years.

No, the so-called Panama Defense Forces (previously known as the National Guard) controlled by the Noriega regime were not police but were officially considered a military. After Noriega’s ouster a new constitution officially abolished the military, as in Costa Rica.

Some branches of the police in Panama now, however, are virtually indistinguishable from military, especially the Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (SENAFRONT), the border patrol. Here’s an article in Spanish about the difficulties they have dealing with heavily armed FARC guerillas on the Colombian border.

I agree. Costa Rica is close very close geographically to the U.S., has lots of American expats and tons of American tourists at any given time and is very friendly with the U.S. The U.S. would not let it be taken over by force because that would signal very bad news for the region in general and for any Americans there. It is a small country that the U.S. can easily protect from any realistic threat if needed.

That said, I agree that the claim that Costa Rica has no military is a little dubious. I was in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport late at night a couple of years ago when some type of big disturbance broke out and a couple of men tried to escape past baggage claim running at full speed. They were pursued by an armed uniformed group that looked almost exactly like military to me. They eventually caught the men they were chasing and they may be technically considered police rather than military but they looked and acted much more like the latter to me.

I think the practical standard is not whether a force dresses in military-style uniforms or carries automatic rifles, it’s whether it has the kind of heavy equipment that would be needed to invade another country or confront another true military force. AFAIK countries like Costa Rica and Panama don’t have equipment like tanks, heavy artillery, fighter planes, warships, etc.

I think the practical standard is not whether a force dresses in military-style uniforms or carries automatic rifles, it’s whether it has the kind of heavy equipment that would be needed to invade another country or confront another true military force.

Here’s a list of Panama’s military strength.

Panama has no tanks, artillery, rockets, fighter planes, attack helicopters, or warships. They have 65 “armored fighting vehicles,” which could be the sort of thing used in riot control. They have 24 planes, all transports or trainers. They have 20 ships which I presume basically have Coast Guard type duties.

Costa Rica doesn’t even have a listing on the site.

By that standard the Viet Cong weren’t a military, nor has pretty much any guerilla army in history; even ones that defeated the military they were fighting and overthrew the government in power.

The Costa Rican Civil Guard was organized, armed, and fought as (in 1955) light infantry. That it was formed to replace the disbanded army is itself rather indicative of its function.

As a footnote the Civil Guard operated 4 P-51 Mustangs sold to Costa Rica for $1 each by the US government in 1955 during the invasion as well as arming several commercial aircraft; the invading Calderonistas had a small air force of 1 P-47D, 2 AT-6s and 2 DC-3s. One of the DC-3s was shot down by ground fire:

I think it’s still a useful distinction with regard to national forces. (In any case, South Vietnam fell mostly to NVA forces using armor and artillery rather than the Viet Cong.)