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Q&A – Luis Carlos Villegas

Defence minister, Colombia

The peace deal made between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebels in 2016 remains on a knife edge. It has been rejected in a referendum, approved by Congress and faces a further test when the country heads to the polls in next year’s presidential elections. A former ambassador to the US, Luis Carlos Villegas played a key role in negotiations with Farc. Now he is defence minister and has shouldered a major share of the responsibility for implementing the peace agreement.

Monocle: There are concerns that delays in implementing reform proposals in the Farc deal will lead to revived fighting. What is your response to this?
Luis Carlos Villegas: The government is fully committed to article one [which deals with redistributing land to farmers] of the agreement. But we cannot magic it. It will take 10 to 15 years to implement.

M: With Farc neutralised, are there any other threats?
LCV: Yes, there is the [National Liberation Army, a rebel group known as] ELN and organised crime. We are in talks with the ELN at the moment. But it is difficult because of the federal structure of their organisation and because they consider themselves the last standard bearers of communism in Latin America. Those two things mean that we are currently focusing on the military solution. ELN, however, is a tenth of the size of Farc.

M: What about organised crime?
LCV: It is not as bad as it was. In the past seven months homicides are down 6 per cent, extortion is down 40 per cent and kidnappings are down 44 per cent. However, drug cartels on the Panama border remain a problem.

M: Could the peace agreement mean that criminals and the eln are free to move into areas formerly controlled by Farc?
LCV: We are moving 80,000 police and soldiers into the former Farc-controlled areas. It is the largest military operation in Latin America.

M: Won’t this mean more defence spending when the public expects a peace dividend?
LCV: Yes, defence spending will increase to $10.6bn [€8.8bn]. But increased security will bring a peace dividend. Colombia is now a safer country. As a result tourism has leapt from $500m [€417m] 10 years ago to $7bn [€5.8bn] this year.


Ground Turkey

Turkey — Air force

Following the mass cashierings after 2016’s coup attempt against president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is so short of combat pilots that it is ordering civilian pilots with military experience to return to the airforce. Prior to the sackings, Turkey maintained a pilot-to-cockpit ratio of 1.25:1 for its f-16s – the norm observed by many airforces. It is now down to fewer than one pilot per fighter jet. “Turkey has had to shut down more than half of its f-16 squadrons,” says Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “For Erdogan it’s clear that the risk of weaker defences is outweighed by the value of a more loyal military.”


War names

Canada — Navy

The War of 1812 is history for the Royal Canadian navy (RCN). It is to scrap the names Queenston and Chateauguay for its new Joint Support Ships, which were chosen by the previous Conservative government as a way to honour pivotal battles in the 19th-century war. Why? The RCN felt that the War of 1812 – or is that the previous government? – doesn’t resonate with modern-day Canadians.


Taking a dive

A new type of special-forces craft has surfaced from beneath the quiet seas off the Isle of Portland in southern England, proving a concept three years in the making. The Diver Delivery Unit developed by tiny UK engineering firm SubSea Craft promises to skim special forces over the waves in a catamaran powerboat racer, before submerging and sneaking up on its target for the last few kilometres.

The craft is driven by “fly-by-wire” controls (in the future it will have the capability to be operated unmanned), uploaded with software-based missions and sent to resupply troops or reconnoitre enemies.

Company chairman Graham Allen hopes to have orders for the first seven production craft by the end of 2018. He plans to sell the craft principally to military customers. There has also been interest expressed by security companies and oil companies looking to do shallow-water pipeline surveys and repairs.

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