Drugs now take the most elaborate routes to get from the countries where they are produced to the consumers. Increasingly the war against drugs is fought in the countries through which they pass on the way to the customer. But many of the countries of destination for drugs which transit developing nations fail to coordinate their counter-narcotic work with their development (or indeed other security) interests. So whilst it is possible to acknowledge, for example, that poor people require security and access to justice in much the same way that they require access to other basic services, few donor countries seek to ensure that their counter-narcotic work does not in some way harm wider development.

Although security sector reform is increasingly understood to be a key development activity, the kinds of short term, capability building that is normally employed by northern states facing a drugs threat works directly counter to the security and justice interests of poor people. Most wealthy states seek to interdict drug flows before they reach their national borders. To do this, they will invest significant sums in building only those security functions of the transit state which serve their purpose. This leads to a two speed security sector – a well resourced set of capabilities which essentially serve the immediate interests of the destination states; and a (normally) less well resourced rump which deals with the more routine, domestic issues. One of the consequences of this is to make the security sector increasingly remote from the people they are supposed to be serving – ordinary citizens. More conceptually, it leaves one asking whose security interests donor countries’ security investments are really serving?

Whilst there will always be a need to be able to take immediate action to counter a proximate threat (such a drugs shipment; or indeed a terrorist threat) the trick is to help build national security capacities which can FIRST serve the interests of the ordinary citizen; and which SECOND serve external interests. In doing so, there is more chance that a sustainable security sector can be built in the medium and long term – one which ordinary citizens recognise as being of direct value to them and which therefore will earn the legitimacy to also carry out operations in partnership with the wider international community.

Interestingly, this goes to the heart of the wider security and development debate in the UK. Is it possible for UK International Development investments to also serve UK National Security interests? Broadly speaking, the answer is yes – with caveats. What is required is a narrative which clearly explains how development can also serve security. The answer is not to divert development resources towards hard security ends. But to recognise that the UK is safer in a more stable world where social, economic and political exclusion is sustainably tackled, thereby also reducing the opportunity for trans-national threats to the UK to flourish.

Investing in poverty reduction and promoting stability more widely are global public goods and properly planned, integrated and executed can serve everyone.