Privatising the "War on Drugs"

Event details

Research Update

Date & time

Monday 24 March 2014


JDB Miller Reading Room, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU
ANU Canberra


Dr Christopher Hobson (Waseda University)


Ben Day
+61 2 6125 9033

A defining feature of the 9/11 wars has been the prominent role played by private military and security companies (PMSCs). The growth of this market for military and security services has not gone unnoticed. There is an emerging body of scholarly work that surveys the industry as a whole, as well as studies that examine the various roles PMSCs have undertaken in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, a range of situations in Africa and elsewhere. In exploring these different cases, scholars have also reflected on the various ethical and practical dilemmas that arise from privatizing functions that have been closely identified with the state. In contrast to this attention, the role PMSCs have played in supporting America's 'war on the drugs' has largely gone under the radar, both literally and figuratively. The aim of this paper is to look at the activities of PMSCs in places like Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan, and to consider the specific consequences that arise from employing them in the field of counternarcotics. It is argued that the use of PMSCs further entrenches a costly and unsuccessful way of dealing with drugs. There is a need to move from a strict prohibitionist stance and consider alternatives to the "war on drugs" approach, but the use of PMSCs creates another strong vested interest in maintaining an increasingly problematic and costly status quo.

Christopher Hobson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the United Nations University. He has published articles in a range of journals including Alternatives, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Democratization, International Relations, Millennium, and Review of International Studies. He is the co-editor of two forthcoming books: Human Security and Natural Disasters (Routledge: March 2014), and Human Security and Japan's Triple Disaster (Routledge: June 2014), and a special issue of International Politics on 'The Existence and Use of Evil in International Politics'. For more information, see: and

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