Security Assemblages and Spaces of Exception: The Production of (Para-) Militarized Spaces in the U.S. War on Drugs

Markus Kienscherf


[excerpt from Introduction]

In this essay I will take a closer look at how the war on drugs has para-militarized space. I wish to briefly discuss three interrelated facets. Firstly, I will highlight how the war on drugs has been framed by the ambiguous logic of security, above all the blurring of the boundaries between policing and war-fighting. In fact, George H. W. Bush was right: the war on drugs was (and is) no metaphor. But it’s not a conventional war either. The war on drugs is best understood by looking at the military doctrines that came to shape it: low-intensity conflict (LIC) and counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine. Secondly, I will show how the war on drugs has subjected space to the logic of security. I will argue that this process has entailed the design and deployment of border regimes, not just in the sense of borders between sovereign states but also in terms of complex assemblages that allow for the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate flows of people and resources. I will argue that these security assemblages serve tactically to enact a strategic sovereign decision on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of people and goods. Thirdly, I will discuss the international dimension of the war on drugs, how it has been folded into counterinsurgency operations in Latin America, most notably through Plan Colombia, and how it is now folded into the war on terror.


narcotics; anti-terrorism; Mexico; Columbia; US War on Drugs; counterinsurgency

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