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July 2000

photos from Still Pulling Strings
Photos from the AFSC report
Still Pulling Strings

Militarizing the "War On Drugs"
by Shannon McManimon 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

At a Glance: US Militarism in Colombia

  • The US military has become increasingly involved in the "War on Drugs."
  • Colombia is the current focus of the drug war. Hundreds of millions of US dollars are going to the Colombian military and police.
  • Growing evidence suggests that this aid is an excuse for US involvement in Colombia’s civil war.
  • Military aid is likely to increase already-widespread human rights violations in Colombia.
  • Other types of aid, for drug treatment and crop substitution programs, would be more effective.

During the Cold War the rationale for a "bigger and better" military was the danger of communism. But the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s removed the biggest "communist threat." Since then, how has the military continued justifying its huge expenditures?

One of the growing trends has been a focus on fighting the "war on drugs." No one denies that drugs are a problem in US society. Government estimates of the total cost of drug abuse and drug-related violence in US communities run as high as $110 billion per year. But is the militarization of the struggle against drugs the best way to address this problem?


The last decade – coinciding with the end of the Cold War – has seen a marked increase in the military’s role in the drug war. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1989 designated the Pentagon as the "single lead agency" for detecting and monitoring illicit drug shipments into the US. A provision of the 1991 defense bill allows the Pentagon to use its own funds to train foreign militaries and police, as well as transfer some equipment, for counternarcotics purposes. Under this law Congress does not have to be notified how much aid another country gets in the name of the drug war.

Each year more money has gone to fighting the "drug war." For instance, in September 1998, Congress approved an additional $2.3 billion for drug interdiction, including helicopters and hardware for Latin American security forces. Since US military forces left Panama in the late 1990s, drug control efforts have been run from islands in the Caribbean, Ecuador, and increasingly, Colombia. The US-Mexico border has also been heavily targeted.

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