ELN militia, Colombia. Photo by Silvia Andrea Moreno via 
Flickr (Creative Commons).

In all three Drugs & (dis)order research countries – Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar – militias and paramilitaries are influential in shaping systems of rule in contested borderland regions. These militias demonstrate significant variation in terms of their size, autonomy, leadership, internal structures, financing and functions, and their relationships to the state, local populations and international actors. They are involved in counter-insurgency activities, local policing, and various (licit and illicit) economic activities. They have played important roles in strengthening the territorial reach of the state into conflict-affected spaces, and in forms of violent dispossession and securitisation that have facilitated resource extraction, attracted capital and expanded global trade.

This review provides an overview of how the current literature on militias addresses the
following two overarching research questions:

  1. How do the character and functions of paramilitaries/militias, and their relationship with the illegal economies, vary within and between countries? What accounts for these variations?
  2. What is the relationship between paramilitaries/militias and processes of state formation and economic development?