The modern project of rural development has been seen as one of increasing incorporation, control and rationalization of territory by the state. Evidence from the formulation of the Colombian land reform policy of 1961 gives more nuance to this general conceptualization. Those places where the state intervened through large-scale resettlement programmes conceived within the framework of Cold War development are the same places where war and the drug economy — the most serious threats to the state itself — took root and grew. This article examines this contradiction. It interrogates the idea of modern development as a project that necessarily brings subjects and territories into the realm of state control. It also attempts to provide a counterweight to arguments about the territorialization of the war in Colombia being the outcome of state inaction and lack of development.