CRC Daily: Costa Rica doesn't have an army. Who protects it?

Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948.

Article 12 of Costa Rica’s Constitution officially abolishes a standing military. So who protects Costa Rica?

Protection against domestic threats

While Costa Rica doesn’t have an army, it does have National Police. The Fuerza Pública, part of the Public Security Ministry (MSP), is the country’s primary law-enforcement body.

Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), operating under the Judicial Branch, conduct criminal investigations, receive criminal complaints and are in charge of similar processes.

Costa Rica has other types of police, including Transit Police (who monitor roads) and Tourist Police (who focus on tourist-heavy towns).

Protection against international threats

Costa Rica works closely with international allies to address larger threats. For instance, the United States supports Costa Rican authorities in the fight against narcotrafficking and organized crime. 

The US provides “equipment, training, and technical assistance” to assist Costa Rica with these and other issues. For instance, it donates armored trucks to the National Police and has financed surveillance planes. And the two countries often participate in joint operations to stop international drug trafficking.

What if Costa Rica is under attack?

If Costa Rica were to be attacked, it would invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, which obligates regional powers — including the United States — to assist.

The so-called Rio Treaty, enforced since 1948, reads as follows:

An armed attack by any State against a State Party shall be considered an attack against all the States Parties and, consequently, each of them undertakes to assist in meeting any such attack.

Costa Rica has invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance on three separate occasions, all involving neighboring Nicaragua. (All three instances were resolved amicably.)

Finally, Costa Rica’s anthem says: Cuando alguno pretenda tu gloria manchar / verás a tu pueblo valiente y viril / la tosca herramienta en arma trocar. Quite literally, if the country is threatened, Costa Ricans will transform their tools into weapons to defend their independence.

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