Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a nation lacking any armed forces whatsoever takes its neighbor to the International Court in the Hague over the dredging of a swamp and the nation doing the dredging (which backs up its border claims with a faulty interpretation of Google Maps) accuses its unarmed neighbor of being expansionistic? Does this sound more like “News of the Weird” than something that could actually happen? Well, it actually is happening, as unarmed Costa Rica, a nation that has lacked a military for 62 years, has brought its neighbor Nicaragua to court over dredging in a swamp on their contentious border that has threatened Costa Rica’s fishing industry and made Costa Rica question its commitment to diplomacy and the absence of military force.
A conflict like this makes someone put their priorities in order. Nicaragua actually feels that Costa Rica is the aggressor seeking to steal its land and claim access to Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan River . Costa Rica thinks that Nicaragua is trying to bully it and takes it land and divert its water resources for its own selfish benefit, taking advantage of a defenseless neighbor . Neither appears willing to back down. While military action appears unlikely, for now, the possibility of economic sanctions and continued instability and tension between the two nations exists.
The OAS voted on the issue and 24 nations (every nation in the organization except for Nicaragua and its ally, Venezuela) supported Costa Rica’s demand for Nicaraguan troops to withdraw from the swamp, but while Nicaragua has dug in its heels and refused to evacuate the area, it has also threatened to withdraw from the OAS over a dispute about a swamp. I have seen a lot of pointless conflicts in my life over useless and unimportant matters, but that would just about take the cake.
There are a lot of misunderstandings going on. For one, polls show that over half of Nicaraguans mistakenly believe that Costa Rica has an army, and almost 50% of them believe that Costa Rica is preparing to invade their country at any moment. Meanwhile, 73% of Costa Ricans believe that the crisis is due to an invasion of their lands by the Nicaraguan army . These statistics mean that with such a wide gulf of misunderstanding, coming to a peaceful reconciliation is going to be very difficult. Even more ominously, this crisis may threaten Costa Rica’s peaceful experiment of relying on international diplomacy to preserve its security and the absence of force, forcing Costa Rica to militarize to protect its borders, which would only make Central America a more unstable place. If that happens, there will be a lot more to fight about than a remote swamp.