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Danish Center for Welfare Studies

The Human Costs of the War on Drugs. Attitudes towards Militarization of Security in Mexico

Authors: Masullo, Juan, and Davide Morisi. 
Published: Comparative Political Studies (2023)

Citizens in multiple crime-ridden countries strongly support the militarization of security—that is, placing the military in charge of traditional policing duties. Yet, we know little about the determinants of such support. Do people approve of militarization even in the face of human fatalities? We explore this question in the context of Mexico’s “war on drugs.” In three experimental studies, we manipulate the presence of human costs in a military operation against a drug lord and present arguments either justifying or condemning these costs. We consistently find that, even in successful operations, support for militarization decreases when military operations cause civilian casualties, but not when the victims are members of drug cartels. This finding holds for both respondents who have been victims of cartel-related violence and those who have not. Arguments that justify these costs as helping to achieve the end goal of eradicating organized crime increase support. These findings shed light on the public opinion side of the militarization of security debate, and have important implications for security policy reform and democratic politics.

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