Book Review: ‘A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence’

Reviewed By:  Kate Dinnison

D. Davis, D. Kilcullen, G. Mills and D. Spencer, A Great Perhaps? Colombia: Conflict and Convergence, (London, UK: Hurst&Co. Publishing), 2016; ISBN-13: 978-1849046282

Colombia Book

Since its liberation from Spain by Simon Bolivar in 1819, la Republica de Colombia has been perpetually at war, almost 150 of its 195 years.  Colombia, for a long time, was synonymous with weak institutions, crime, terrorism, and, above all, the cocaine that perpetuated the conflict. This country, however, is now one of the greatest success stories of countering insurgency in the 21st century, and A Great Perhaps sets out to investigate both the efforts made by the Colombian government and the international community, as well as analyse the adaptive nature of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas.

The authors, Dickie Davis, David Kilcullen Greg Mills and David Spencer, have crafted a comprehensive and holistic account of the long effort by the government to beat back the guerrillas, reduce the dependency on the illicit economy, and improve perennial issues like social exclusion. More than this, A Great Perhaps is a book that asks one of the most fundamental and puzzling questions in the study of conflict and counterinsurgency (COIN): What, in effect, is victory?

The historical background in Chapter 1 divides the conflict into six phases, from La Violencia in 1949 to the official establishment of FARC, then following the ebbs and flows of insurgency through the latter half of the 20th century, up to the groundwork for today’s bilateral ceasefire. Each author then delves into different components of Colombia’s protracted struggle – guerrilla warfare, the security-economy nexus, FARC’s transformation, concluding by putting the conflict up against other modern day insurgencies and outlining Colombia’s ‘prospects for peace.’[1] While there are small noticeable differences in writing style between the four authors, there is a consistent organisation throughout that allows for readers to take away a laundry list of issues as well as remedies.

The efforts in previous and ongoing COIN operations such as Malaya and Afghanistan, while helpful in contrasting to the more civil situation in Colombia, provide limited insight into defining victory for the Colombian government and for their people. As the authors establish, the interplay of narcotics and insurgency, international and domestic actors, and civilians and the military are entirely unique to Colombia but can be useful for drawing parallels to those African nations undergoing similar security challenges, which they address in the final chapter.[2]

This incredibly detailed account of Colombia’s ‘long war’ goes far beyond much of journalism about the conflict, providing insight into the grievances that gave birth to the insurgency, the influence of ‘conflict entrepreneurs,’ the complex role of narcotics in the economy, and how war serves as a means for a higher end – credible peace.[3] Even without any background knowledge on this often side-lined current affairs topic, any reader will come out with a clear understanding of the military campaign on the wider political and strategic levels, down to the tactical and operational details from both the government and guerrilla perspectives.

Since the publication of this book, Colombia is one step closer to a peace agreement with FARC with the signing of a ‘A Bilateral and Definitive Ceasefire, Cessation of Hostilities, and Laying Aside of Weapons.’ This is an important step defined as victory, toward ending the violence and criminality that has plagued Colombia for decades. Like any country enduring civil conflict, Colombia is skating on thin ice – the successes made since the turn of the century could easily be derailed by a round of failed peace talks, lack of popular support, a crippling economic recession, or budget cuts in defense, as the authors remind us.[4] Davis, Kilcullen, Mills and Spencer dissect the roots of Colombia’s protracted war in order to celebrate the successes of the campaign since 2002.


Kate Dinnison is an American undergraduate student of International Relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. You can follow her on Twitter: @katedinns





[1] Davis, Dickie, David Kilcullen, Greg Mills, and David E. Spencer. A Great Perhaps?: Colombia: Conflict and Convergence. London: Hurst, 2016. pp. 179.

[2] Ibid., pp. 68.

[3] Ibid., pp. 2.

[4] Ibid., pp. 80

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