Foreign policy and defense
Costa Rica is a nation in North America. Its capital city is San Jose. The Constitution states that Costa Rica is neutral and must not have any army. This makes the country an obvious exception in a region where the military has often dominated politics. The country is closely allied with the United States, but has a somewhat cautious attitude toward neighboring countries in Central America.
Since the 1990s, Costa Rica has generally supported the United States on all issues, including the disputed invasion of Iraq in 2003. In recent years, the United States has supported police training and US military vessels have been patrolling the coasts to try to prevent widespread drug smuggling. In 2013, US President Barack Obama came to visit.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Costa Rica for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
In the 1980s, however, relations with the United States were disturbed by the US involvement in neighboring countries’ conflicts. Costa Rica admittedly let the US-backed Nicaraguan right-wing guerrilla contras have bases in the country. But when Óscar Arias took office as president in 1986, he launched a Central American peace initiative that excluded the involvement of any power outside the region – which was primarily the United States. By 1987, all Central American governments and insurgents had accepted his peace plan. This led to peace in Nicaragua, and later also in El Salvador and Guatemala. Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for her efforts.
Disputes with Nicaragua
Relations with Nicaragua are strained due to large illegal immigration there (see Population and Languages). In the late 1990s, a conflict also arose around the San Juan border. The matter was eventually referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), which came to a decision in 2009. According to this, Costa Rica has the right to transport, for example, goods and tourists on the river, however not border police. Nicaragua, which has sovereignty, has the right to regulate river traffic. Despite the ICJ’s message, disagreement continued to grow. In late 2010, Costa Rica turned to the court with complaints of military intrusion in connection with Nicaragua’s dredging in the area. Costa Rica also opposed the dredging itself, for environmental reasons.
The court came in 2011 with a preliminary opinion in which both parties were ordered to withdraw police and military from the disputed area. At the same time, the dredging was not found to have caused any serious environmental damage or hindered the flow of the river. Both sides felt they had won a partial victory. But when the ICJ made a new statement in 2015, San José stood alone as the winner: the court ruled that the area belongs to Costa Rica, based on a 1858 agreement. Nicaragua agreed to accept the message. But Costa Rica later reported Nicaragua again to the ICJ, as the neighboring country did not pay damages for the infringement. This would have happened within a year of the ICJ’s decision.
Costa Rica had also asked the court to decide the boundary between the two countries in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. In February 2018, the ICJ established the border crossing off both coasts and at the same time ordered Nicaragua to pay $ 380,000 in damages for the environmental destruction.
Cooperation with other Central America is not entirely straightforward. Costa Rica is a member of the Central American Sica, but opposes the proposition of stronger political integration. The Costa Rican does not consider the other democracies to be sufficiently developed and has chosen to stand outside the Central American Parliament (Parlacén), a political sub-body of Sica. In the fall of 2015, there was a crisis in the region of Cuban migrants, which resulted in Costa Rica leaving Sica even though the country re-entered the following summer. Many Costa Ricans have also been skeptical of the region’s free trade agreement with the US, DR-Cafta (see Modern History).
Costa Rica is a member of the OAS (or OAE in Spanish), which brings together all countries in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the OAS Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal, both of which are referred to as IACHR (or CIDH in Spanish). Costa Rica is also a member of Celac, which has the same member states as the OAS minus the US and Canada.
Like neighboring countries, Costa Rica has long had diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, in 2007, the government established diplomatic relations with China, which automatically caused the ties to Taiwan to be broken. The shift was motivated by economic pragmatism and the need for foreign investment. The then President Chinchilla visited China in 2012 and her counterpart Xi Jinping visited Costa Rica the following year.
Semi-military forces are responsible for internal security and for border control together with the Coast Guard. There is also a force that monitors the country’s airspace.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: male (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 0.0 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 0.0 percent (2017)