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Arrangements of Convenience in Colombia's Borderlands: An Invisible Threat to Citizen Security?

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Abstract:

This article aims to enhance our understanding of how the interactions of violent nonstate actors (VNSAs) in borderlands affect citizen security. Colombia's borderlands are conditioned by weak state governance systems, a high-risk/high-opportunity environment, a proneness to impunity, and constitute major links in the cocaine business. These elements have produced a status quo in which numerous groups of VNSAs are present. Given violent confrontations between different VNSA groups and state forces, policy makers have pointed to the risk to national security these groups pose. Furthermore, in line with neighbourhood effect theories, analysts have raised the issue of a potential “spill-over” of the Colombian conflict to neighbouring states. Finally, large-scale violence against civilians has fuelled concerns regarding the borderlanders' (residents of the borderlands) physical security. These concerns seem to overlook the fact that Colombia's borderlands are propitious for illegal crossborder activity. This has implications for VNSA-interactions, and their impact on security dynamics. Firstly, sharing the objective of maximizing economic benefits, VNSA-groups engage in “arrangements of convenience.” Consequently, by drawing on Phil Williams' business-network theory, this article goes beyond simplistic dichotomies of conflict and co-operation, and unpacks different forms of interaction. Secondly, analysts tend only to consider indicators of violence when analyzing local security dynamics. Less visible elements of security are often ignored. Using the concept of citizen security that comprises both the absence of physical violence and a mutually fertilizing state-society-relationship, the article reveals how various types of arrangements of convenience affect not only the borderlanders' physical security, but also other, less visible elements of citizen security. Drawing on the case of the Colombian-Ecuadorian borderlands and, particularly, of the Colombian border department of NariƱo, the analysis is complemented by taking into consideration the specific geography of borderlands so as to account for the “border effect” which influences VNSA-interactions and their impact on security dynamics.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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