One of the things that makes Costa Rica one of the most unique countries in the world is its lack of a military force.
Yes, you read that right. Costa Rica does not have a military and it hasn’t had one in over 70 years. Having no standing military has resulted in a lot of savings for the country, which the government has reinvested in education, a social safety net, and health care. This is one of the reasons Costa Rica remains an icon of political and economic stability amidst the very unstable Central American region.
In this article, we take a look at the history of the Costa Rican military, why it was abolished, and what advantages and disadvantages come with not having a military. Read on to find out more.
A History Of The Costa Rican Military
Despite its current lack of a standing military, the country of Costa Rica actually has had a tumultuous history that involved a lot of war and bloodshed. It is one of the reasons the country’s flag has the color red on it to symbolize the martyrs that died defending the country and its people. During its time under the Spanish Empire, the Spanish saw that there Costa Rica didn’t provide too much of a military strategic advantage so there weren’t a lot of armed forces stationed there.
However, economic decisions made in Spain in the 19th century didn’t sit well with the people of Costa Rica, which lead to a “cultural awakening” that resulted in Spain losing popularity not just in Costa Rica, but all across Central America. This unrest sparked various civil wars fought for independence from the Spanish Empire. The war against the Spanish was eventually won in 1821, but that didn’t spell the end for conflict just yet.
The years after the war saw a host of regional conflicts largely between Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. This caused a civil war which was hard fought by all sides in the United Provinces of Central America. The war and conflict lasted for a significant amount of time and it ended with Costa Rica finally declaring independence from the United Provinces of Central America.
However, after all of that, the country still had more conflict to come. In the 1850s’, an American lawyer named William Walker tried hard to annex in the countries of Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the name of the United States. This resulted in the country fighting to drive away Walker’s forces until 1856 when Walker’s fort was burned to the ground by the Costa Rican hero, Juan Santamaria.
In 1948, after yet another civil war in Costa Rica, one that only lasted 40 days. It resulted in the deaths of over 2,000 people and was one of the country’s bloodiest conflicts since gaining independence. It was after this conflict that the decision to abolish the military was drafted into the constitution and changed the course of Costa Rica’s history for years to come.
Why Did Costa Rica Abolish Their Military?
After the 40-day conflict, the then-president, Jose Figueres Ferrer, declared the end of the military spirit of Costa Rica. While the rest of the world at the time still feeling the effects of the World War, Costa Rica decided to take steps forward.
The idea to abolish the military and instead put more funds into education and healthcare was first proposed by the Defense Minister at the time, Edgar Cardona who passed it on to the then-Interior Minister Alvaro Ramos.
The proposal was then taken by Jose Figueres Ferrer to the constitutional assembly, who approved it and drafted it into the constitution in 1949. Since then, Costa Rica has not had a military, and instead, they have had a special police force (but more on that later).
The Benefits Of Having No Military
The first and most obvious benefit is the savings. There are a lot of countries in the world that spend the majority of their funding on the military, and this can be costly. By abolishing the military, Costa Rica saved a lot of money which they could use to invest in other sectors of society. And that’s exactly what they did.
The money saved from removing the military was then used for the education, social security, and healthcare of the country’s citizens. The result of this is political, economical, and social stability that is largely unseen in that region of Central America.
The standard of living in Costa Rica has been steadily on the rise as a direct result of the abolition. In the 50s and 60s, the country saw a lot of large hospitals and schools that did the country a lot of good. In fact, they now have the second-lowest infant mortality rate in the region and a literacy rate of 98%.
Because the “military-spirit” of the country was removed, they have seen more peace than any of their neighbors, and Costa Ricans take pride in that. In fact, the country has not seen another civil war since 1948 while the country’s neighbors have been in various civil conflicts throughout the same time period.
Disadvantages of Having No Military
The most prominent issue or question most people have with the abolition of a country’s military is a lack of defense.
While it is true that Costa Rica has no army, they are not without defenses. Firstly, the country’s police force has been serving as their main defense unit for decades now, monitoring the borders, and taking control of drug trafficking issues, and help enforce the law. The country also has a civilian guard that maintains order and peace, which is what makes Costa Rica a very safe country.
There’s no lie that abolishing the military reduces some of a country’s defense capabilities, but Costa Rica has found solutions for that. Aside from the local police force, the country also maintains alliances with countries such as the United States who will assist when the need arises or if a war ensues within Costa Rica.
All in all, Costa Rica remains one of the safest countries in Central America for citizens and tourists alike. That is why it is a very visited country and a favorite amongst travelers. The absence of a military spirit made way for the presence of a peaceful spirit that is felt throughout the whole country and is visualized in the white color in their flag, which stands for peace.