Outsourcing the War on Drugs: The Emerging Role of Private Security Firms in Colombia


Brian Damron

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U.S. led counter-drug initiatives in Colombia have resulted in a war without an endgame. The practice of combating drugs through policies that aim to decrease the supply of illicit drugs is an historical failure. In part this is because little effort has been made to decrease the demand for illicit drugs. Also, the drug war in Colombia has always been tied to a multifaceted civil war that circumscribes the issue of illegal drug production and trafficking. Moreover, the militarization of the interested parties to this conflagration has elicited a desire for greater security capabilities. Over the past decade, private security firms have been hired by all of the combatants, as well as actors without direct ties to illicit drugs, because of their depoliticized and ?de-narcotized? motives, and highly specialized warfare skills. Private security firms? post-Cold War roles, as well as the number and size of firms, have increased exponentially. Unlike governments, which fight wars for political reasons, private security firms exist solely to make profits. Their legitimacy threatens to upend a basic tenet of international relations: that organized violence is the sole realm of sovereign nation-states. In Colombia, this means the state is no longer the only legal provider of security. In general, their existence implies that multinational corporations may now have a legal right to protect their interests militarily from heretofore-legitimate state actors. This change has ominously occurred without international consensus.


Kory Schaff




Ford Research Endowment

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