Costa Rica’s Strategy for Peace – Armando Vargas Araya Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand

Costa Rica’s Strategy for Peace


Armando Vargas Araya, Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand

Keynote address at the Peace Festival,
United Nations International Day of Peace 2021,
organized by International Volunteers for Peace (IVP)
The Women’s International League for Peace (WILPF, NSW)
Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN)

The second year of the pandemic began with a jubilant celebration of peacemakers, as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force in January. Nine months later, how are we doing? How many more countries have acceded to the treaty? What path are nations following toward understanding and cooperation, or toward arms race and warfare? Is peace in the world advancing or retreating?

President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica, had this to say earlier today at the United Nations Informal Climate Leaders Roundtable on Climate Action: “Facing the double challenge of global warming and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is absurd to maintain or increase spending on militarization and nuclear weapons, in an insane race for world domination. Our planet is in danger. The lives of the next generations are at risk ”.

My objective now is to share with you some foundations, norms, policies and actions of Costa Rica’s strategy in favour of peace. Each country defines its own course in terms of security and defence, in accordance with its historical development, geostrategic environment and evolving national interests. In presenting our national experience, we do so with humility and respect.

Costa Rica opposes war. We are against violence as a means of overcoming political disagreements. The ancients alleged that war was the ultimate rationality of politics. We believe that war is the ultimate irrationality, the failure of all diplomacy and politics. A strategy of peace is the inescapable imperative of the present hour. All foreign policy and all security policy must be at the service of this virtuous idea. A policy of peace is the true and only course of action for our time.

Our democracy upkeeps peace and resists war, because we strive to live the ideals of Western civilization on a daily basis. We are a national community sustained by spiritual forces and the moral strength that arises from the will and the hope of human beings. We live in peace, with confidence in the best conditions of man for the patient and perennial construction of a society that guarantees everyone a free existence, and brings us closer to happiness. Costa Rica is not an economic power, nor can it be. Costa Rica is not a military power, nor does it want to be. Costa Rica is a moral power, because our people practice a living faith in the might of common sense, the muscle of will, and the force of decency. We believe not in “peace through strength”, but in strength through peace.

Our peace is not a fluke but the result of the long-term work of a prudent people, led by wise rulers on the route of a national project with a peaceful vocation. Like freedom, peace is not an original or permanent state: we have to build it again and again every day. We believe that the transition of our republic towards a peaceful, just, free and democratic coexistence constitutes a concrete and significant contribution to the forging of the destiny of humanity. An input from a small population nestled in the tropics, that has made tolerance its standard of life; a people that does not admit moral indifference and practices freedom of thought.

Costa Rica discerns that humanity is getting closer to the dilemma of uniting peacefully around a true universal right, or destroying the entire civilization built in millennia, annihilating us in the hecatomb. Our political aspiration is to contribute with our proven experience to the achievement of peace for mankind. In the struggles for peace, our people find meaning and pride in living. Warmongering, armamentism and violence do not discourage us: in the search for the ideal we have learned how to draw hope from despair – the dynamism of common sense, free will and decency unleash spiritual energy. We march with faith in the future and with sober realism.

Costa Rica’s vocation for peace is deeply ingrained in the national soul. As early as 1922, one of the architects of our nationality said: “The school will kill militarism, or militarism will kill the republic.” The school has triumphed, militarism has died, and the republic has grown stronger. Other peoples run the risk of having an army; we prefer to take the risk of not having an army.

Persuaded of the advantages of not having a military institution, we are committed to confront in all forums the arms race and the so-called military solution of political conflicts; to uphold our sovereign decision not to re-establish the military and to improve the civilian police forces; to continue to base our external defence on the will of our people and on the mechanisms of international law that make the principle of collective security a reality.

The process of Costa Rica’s strategy for peace is evident since the dawn of National Independence – which Bicentennial we celebrate this year. Four years after achieving the emancipation from the Spanish Colonial Empire, the first Head of State cautioned in 1825: « The armed forces – which in other states form a necessary element of government – have often been in themselves an ominous instrument of tyranny, a dark source of anarchy and disorder, or a plague that has devoured men and their properties. » And in 1891, the leader of radical liberalism anticipated: « there will be no permanent army when peace reigns. To maintain domestic order and ensure the safety and tranquillity of citizens, the institution of the police is established. »

This was the historic achievement accomplished in 1948. After a short civil war, a revolutionary junta was established under the leadership José Figueres Ferrer. A victorious general, Figueres disbanded the vanquished forces, as could be expect, but he then did something unheard of. He disbanded his own armed forces, the very same that had brought his regime to power. In a memorable event, he took a sledgehammer to the outer wall of the country’s Cuartel Bellavista army base, to “symbolise the elimination of the remnants of the Military Spirit of Costa Rica.” To this day, on December 1 each year, we celebrate the Día de la Abolición del Ejército, our “military abolition day.” Article 12 of our constitution declares “the Army as a permanent institution is proscribed.”

Let me mention five, among many, benefits directly resulting from the abolition of the army:
– Greater public investment in educational and social programs: 7.4 % of GDP in education, 7.36 % in public health – life expectancy is 80.4 years.
– A civil and pacifist culture, diffused to all aspects of daily life: 11.2 homicides per 100.000 inhabitants in 2019, compared to 25.9 in Central America.
– World recognition as a free, democratic and peaceful nation – two foreign-armed invasions has been repelled, and during the Central American security crisis of the 1980s, external pressures to re-establish the army were rejected.
– Institutional and political stability – since 1948 there have been 71 coups d’état in Latin America, none in Costa Rica.
– Ours is the top ranked among 84 countries as the world’s best performing location when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), with a score of 11.4 – that’s attracting 11 times the amount of FDI that might be expected given the size of its economy. It has come a long way since being an exporter of agriculture commodities decades ago; medical devices, software and IT and business service sectors account for 60% of its inward FDI projects.

The abolishment of the army was not a one-off act but the result of a national trajectory. It is an active process that requires adjustments as conditions change. Challenges such as the rising levels of the seas due to climate change, public health security in the face of viral pandemics, the exploitation of our ocean’s wealth by foreign fleets, the indiscriminate destruction of biodiversity, the threat of drug trafficking and the concomitant crime, the lack of drinking water and healthy food for all, extremist terrorism and human trafficking to enslave, the weakening of multilateralism, as well as new and subtle forms of hegemony. Defining and updating a National Security and Defence Doctrine is a difficult task for a country without a standing army, as there are no examples to follow. Demilitarization is not a bed of roses.

Costa Rica continues to develop legal institutions and human rights related to peace. In the most recent four decades, the republic has made a legal commitment to the international community to follow a strict policy of neutrality. It expanded the list of human rights to include the right to peace, as a guarantee to each inhabitant. It prohibited the manufacturing and import of weapons of war. It arranged to educate the entire population in a culture of peace and mutual trust. It is the headquarters of the UN University for Peace. In world forums, we have promoted initiatives such as the Arms Trade Treaty, the Central American peace agreement, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. For these and other reasons, the people of Costa Rica as a whole were awarded the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

Philosopher Ned Dobos, a Professor at UNSW-Canberra, has recently written of the ways in which Costa Rica’s decision to abolish its armed forces has contributed to the country’s unity, prosperity, and moral integrity today. “To be sure – says he –, these are not the only benefits that Costa Rica has enjoyed on account of that one decision. Another underappreciated benefit is that, insofar as the country does not need to reproduce and replenish its fighting forces, it does not need to continuously subject its young people to military conditioning that desensitises them to violence and degrades their virtues. This sentiment is clearly expressed in the words seen at the University for Peace, a recognised institution belonging to the United Nations, located in Santa Ana, Costa Rica. There, a famous phrase from a Japanese philanthropist on one of his visits to the campus is written: “Blessed is the Costa Rican mother who knows, when her child is born, that he will never be a soldier.” The popular proverb thus has a double connotation. The mother need not worry that her child will be asked to die for the state. But just as importantly, she need not worry that he will be conditioned to kill for the state, either. The three benefits of unity, prosperity, and moral integrity are therefore only a sample, not an exhaustive list. Professor Dobos writes: “This should give other countries, including Australia, ample food for thought when revisiting their own national security arrangements in the years ahead”.

The research, study, dissemination and mobilization of Civil Society organizations committed to the struggles for peace in Australia, is exemplary in the world. We can all learn from your intelligent and skillful use of freedom of thought, expression and assembly in the fight against militarism, the arms race, and nuclear weapons. Costa Rica
is proud to participate, shoulder to shoulder and for decades, in these endeavours with The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and other fraternal movements.

To conclude my remarks, I am pleased to extend a cordial invitation for you to visit our haven of peace, at the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Our country has been redirecting money divesting itself of its military in order to rise generations of healthy, happy people who value the importance of environmental welfare. We wish to share with you our “Pura Vida”, a mantra meaning “pure life” or, even more so “full of life” symbolizing the positive energy to be experienced and found in our unique way of life.