Counterinsurgency in Colombia: A United States national security perspective, 1958--1966

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

Bruce Michael Bagley - Committee Chair


This dissertation analyzes the key role played by the United States in the development of Colombia's internal security structures during the latter phase of the Violencia era, 1958--1966. It utilizes Realism as the primary framework of analysis to understand US security strategies designed to neutralize radical actors and promote stability, democratization, and institutional reform in Colombia.The first chapter sets the international context, focusing on the development of US internal security strategies during the Cold War, detailing the response of US policymakers to the threat of communist subversion and revolutionary warfare in the Third World. Chapter two concentrates on the internal dynamics of Colombian society during the Violencia period, providing the domestic political context in which US-Colombian security relations evolved.Chapter three details the origin of US internal security policy in Colombia, examining the critical role of a CIA-fielded counterinsurgency team in reorienting Colombia's security forces towards an internal security mission. The last chapter examines efficacy of US-Colombian collaborative counterinsurgency efforts during the early National Front period.This historical analysis draws several conclusions. National security interests led US policymakers to privilege stability over democratization and social reform in Latin America. In Colombia this translated into short-term success in containing that nation's extensive violence problem through effective counterinsurgency operations. Unfortunately this was not matched with a long-term commitment to reforming Colombia's social, political, economic, and institutional infrastructure.Failure to resolve the violence problem during this earlier period has important implications for US decision-makers today. Overly concentrated on a militarized approach to the 'war on drugs,' policymakers must broaden their focus to support state stability and strengthen democratization in order to achieve widespread human security in Colombia.


History, United States; Political Science, General; Political Science, International Law and Relations

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