Bases, Bullets, and Ballots: U.S. Military Aid and Conflict in Colombia

January 05, 2010
My guest this week is Oeindrila Dube, a postdoctoral fellow here at the Center for Global Development and an assistant professor of politics and economics at New York University. She is the author, along with Suresh Naidu, of a new paper that examines the relationships between U.S. military aid to Colombia and paramilitary violence and electoral participation in that country. Her paper reaches the unsettling conclusion that U.S. military assistance dollars may in fact be responsible for raising the levels of political violence.At the heart of Oeindrila's paper is an innovative approach that uses detailed data on paramilitary attacks and assassinations (available from 1988 to 2005) to establish quantitative evidence for a phenomenon that has long been suspected. "For decades,” says Oeindrila, “many NGOs have anecdotally been describing links between paramilitary groups and the government military that has this implication that … resources going into the country ... might be diverted to these groups. The nice thing is we are able to show that quantitatively."Oeindrila’s data show that municipalities in Colombia that house military bases show statistically significant increases in paramilitary violence following stepped-up U.S. military assistance. She explains that the extremely localized effects provide strong evidence that government forces are not only providing arms and ammunition to paramilitaries but have also conducted joint operations with them.Her quantitative approach also allowed her to answer a range of other important questions. She finds that while an increase in aid correlates with increased paramilitary activity, it has no impact on guerrilla attacks or on counternarcotics operations, calling into question whether military aid to Colombia is an effective means to either securing the country or decreasing narcotics trafficking.Oeindrila's findings carry important lessons for policymakers studying any country where relationships between the government and paramilitary groups factor into the equation. In the last several minutes of the podcast, we examine several of these cases, including Mexico, Iraq, and Afghanistan. “We have to consider the links between armed non-state actors and the state anytime we start disbursing money,” Oeindrila tells me. “Otherwise, our military aid is going to end up financing groups that we are ... trying to counter."Please do listen to the interview and read Oeindrila’s paper here. Have something to add to our discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.