Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Guillermina Seri




american, policy, colombia, drug, military


The problem of Colombian drug production and trafficking, as well as the security challenges it presents, has been a major contemporary focus of American military and strategic foreign policy. Due to its critical position in Latin America and the willingness of its heads of state to cooperate with U.S. leaders, several American administrations have worked tirelessly to arrest the problem of drug production and trafficking in this consistently conflicted nation. While the nature of the illegal drug industry of Colombia has changed vastly since the 1980s, the most recent American presidents have persistently pursued a variety of similar measures, ostensibly in the hopes of eliminating as much of this trade as possible. Plan Colombia, the first and most major milestone in this effort, was created by the Clinton administration in 2000 with the goal of hindering “enduring critical societal, national security, and economic problems that stem in large part from the drug trade and the internal conflict that it finances.”1 Consistently provided with supplemental aid to the present day, Plan Colombia—although it has since changed labels and added objectives—has remained the primary policy tenet in American foreign tactics toward its Latin American ally. Despite these extensive efforts, this policy has consistently fallen short of its stated goals, underperforming in several crucial areas such as reduction of raw coca, disruption of trafficking profits, and halting drug-funded weapons acquisitions by illegal armed groups. An apparent unwillingness to diverge from a supply-side, military mentality ensures that American policy towards Colombia will continue to fall short in its core missions of stemming cocaine flow into the U.S. and halting the Colombian violence associated with it. Beyond these original objectives, the narrow focus on military solutions and the supply side of the cocaine issue may be indicative of unstated American goals beyond eliminating drug production and trafficking, and also of the presence of unseen interests ensuring the policy’s constant renewal. A continual and currently increasing onus on American military presence in the region may be demonstrative of political motivations for deterrence of perceived threats from other Latin American actors, most notably from outspoken socialist leader Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The so-called “counter-narcoterrorism” policy utilized towards Colombia appears to be not just about narcotics, but also a form of political and military intervention aimed at maintaining dominance in the region. Further, interested private corporations receiving large military contracts to work against the drug problem in Colombia may be another force promoting the basic mistakes behind the policy’s frequent and notable failure. The continuance of the same approach in the face of a lack of results may be evidence that it is, in the words of political scholar John M. Rothgeb Jr., a “Trojan Horse model” policy, regenerating in the face of failure because it serves military, strategic and private interests not made known to the American public. By examining a variety of viewpoints, understandings and policy formations towards the Colombian illegal drug industry, I hope to explore and assess the answers to several important questions. Taking Plan Colombia and its successors at face value, what are some ways to improve its success in stemming the flow of illegal narcotics to the U.S.? What specific interests and motivations—both government and private—lie behind continuing this policy in its current manifestation, and what do they stand to gain? How is the goal of reducing supply presented to the American public as a cover for, in the words of Axel Klein, “intermediary goals?” Is there a suitable foreign policy model explaining such government choices? By answering these questions, I hope to not only examine potential solutions to the stated counterdrug goals of Plan Colombia, but also to explore what goals the American government hopes to accomplish by continuing the policy along the lines of the status quo.