The Military Versus The War On Drugs: How Much To Do?
SUBJECT AREA - Topical Issues
TITLE :The Military versus the War on Drugs: How much to do?
AUTHOR:Commander Boris LEYTON. Student,Chilean Marine Corps
THESIS:The Department of Defense is affected in several ways
by the National Drugs Control Strategy; therefore,the
Military should play a major role in the war on drugs.
BACKGROUND: In September 1989, President George Bush
declared war on drugs,and announced his first National Drugs
Control Strategy. It seems logical that if a "war" on drugs
is being waged,therefore,the military should play a major
role in that war. To ensure proper execution of the military
role in drug control,it is necessary to develop a coherent
strategy according to the current times. There are many
alternatives to solve the problem of military involvement,and
each one with more or less probabilities of success. But,the
key point is the right understanding of the nature of war on
drugs,and the proper development of a Military Drug Control
Strategy based upon a joint effort according to the current
RECOMMENDATION:Using the successful experience of the Gulf
War,to develop a joint effort at the highest level of the
Department of Defense to build a Military Drug Control
Strategy,keeping in balance the ENDS,WAYS,and MEANS,during
times of dwindling budgets and force structure.
THESIS : The DOD is affected in several ways by the National Drugs
Control Strategy; therefore, the military should play a major
role in the war on drugs.
I.- Military Advisors
II.- Central and South America today
A.-Central America production and trafficking
B.-South America production and trafficking
III.- Narcotics Trafficking in Central Asia
A.-A new Colombia?
B.-Consequences of Soviet disintegration
IV.- The Advisors'dilemma
A.-Mission without authority
A.-Develop a Military Drug Control Strategy
THE MILITARY VERSUS THE WAR ON DRUGS : HOW MUCH TO DD?
THE INTENTIONAL TRADE IN DRUGS IS A MAJOR THREAT TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY. NO THREAT DOES
MORE DAMAGE TO OUR NATIONAL VALUES AND INSTITUTIONS, AND THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE GENERATED BY THE
TRADE IN DRUGS IS ALL TOO FAMILIAR. TRAFFICKING ORGANIZATIONS UNDERMINE THE SOVEREIGN GOVERNME
NTS OF OUR FRIENDS AND WEAKEN AND DISTORT NATIONAL ECONOMIES... DEMAND REDUCTION AT HOME AND
AN AGGRESSIVE ATTACK ON THE INTERNATIONAL DRUG TRADE ARE THE MAIN ELEMENTS IN OUR STRATEGY.
THEY MUST BE PURSUED TOGETHER.(1)
President George Bush
National Security Strategy of the United States
In September 1989, President George Bush has declared war on drugs, and announced his
first National Drugs Control Strategy (NDCS). The same month, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney
designated the detection and countering of the production, trafficking, and use of illegal drugs as
a "high priority national security mission of the Department of Defense."
The President's 1989 NDCS affected the Department of Defense (DOD) in several ways. It
seem logical that if a "war" on drugs is being waged, therefore, the military should play a major
role in that war. However, before jumping to that conclusion, several key questions should be
answered. First, should the military be involved ? Second, if involved, what is the proper
military role ? And last, but not least, what are the constraints on military involvement ? To
answer this questions, it is necessary to examine the military contribution to achieving a NDCS.
Once convinced that the military should be involved, the next step is to develop a logical
Military Drug Control Strategy (MDCS) that supports the national strategy.
Since NDCS publication in September 1989, two subseqent companion volumes have been
published, with the latest dated February 1991. Furthermore, both the supply and demand sides of the
drug equation receive increased attention internationally, as well as domestically. In this
context, a well balanced drug control strategy must attack both supply and demand. However, the
military can most affect the supply side of the equation.
Military involvement is justified, when looking at drug control in the national context,
for several reasons. Drug trafficking poses a national security threat, and in its role as
protector of the national interests against such threat, the military should definitely be engaged.
Since a national strategy has been developed to address this threat, the military, as one of the
elements of national power, should likewise develop a support strategy.
To ensure proper execution of the military role in drug control, our military must
dovetail with, and support, the national strategy. The military strategy must have identifiable
objectives (ends) that protect national interests; strategic concepts (ways) that describes how the
job will get done; and resources (means) that describe what it will take to support the concept.
These three elements of military strategy must be kept in balance. The further out of balance any
one elements becomes, the greater the risk that the strategy will fail. Another facet of military
strategy is its two-dimensional existence in time : the current strategy is here and now, while the
mid-range looks ten years ahead.
A fully supportive MDCS would enhance the likelihood of the president's achieving his
desired end state for the year 2000 (2). The MDCS would further detail the ends, ways, and means to
obtain the goals. Along with this mid-range strategy, a current strategy should be developed that
focuses on the present and one to two years in the future.
In examining the current military strategy, both the ends and the means are fairly
straight-forward to develop, while the ways are much more difficult. In progessing to the
mid-range military strategy, more time and effort will obviously be required, since the ends, ways,
and means projected to the turn of the century will be much harder to define.
There are many areas in which the military can help support the drug control effort. Some
of these involve the demand side of the drug equation such as providing correctional facilities,
rehabilitation, and training programs in the military and DOD schools. However, the military's
contribution to supply-side reduction can produce the greatest results.
The military have definitely many more things to do in the drug war. Though still evolving,
proper military role in the war can, and will, be established over time. A logical method for
determining this military role is to first develop a MDCS with the traditional elements ends, ways,
and means, and the two time components (current and mid-range). Only by optimizing both efficiency
and effectiveness can we ultimately win the drug war.
The historical role of Military Advisors has been, as part of the support of foreign
allies (3), to train host-government personnel and provide operational support activities where is
required. But, the policy of the government, has been that DOD personnel will not accompany
host-government forces on actual field operations. The Department of State coordinates the counter
narcotics initiatives with the Host Nation via the respective ambassadors. Each ambassador is
assigned a representative from participant agencies. These representatives form part of the
ambassador's country team. As military advisor team, the United States military personnel have been
training host-nation police and counter-drug military units for individual and small unit
leadership an air mobile and riverine operations.
The present role of Military Advisors has not many changes. DOD operational assistance
increased in the form of mobile training teams, deployments for training and short duration
exercises, and medical engineering and civic action support were provided along with air mobility
The DOD also augmented the country teams in some countries such as Colombia, Bolivia and
Peru by deploying intelligence personnel. The Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act reshaped
the military organization and gave broad new powers to the regional Commanders-in-Chief (CINC). For
the first time in United States history the regional CINCs had both authority and responsibility for
all military forces within their region, which includes the military advisor teams in each country,
but, this has not changed the basic role of these.
Central America has a long history of illicit drugs production, trafficking and associated
money laundering. It is an increasingly important area in the cocaine trade. The countries of
Central America had to face an increasing flow of cocaine during the last years, as trafficking
oranizations expanded and diversified their smuggling routes through the region. While the United
States government provided some assistance, several countries independently have taken initiatives
in recognition of the threat which drug poses to their own national security. All seven Central
American nations are now victims, to varying degrees, of the drug trade (4). The Central American
nations are attempting to respond, and with United States assistances such as detection and
monitoring operations, communications support, planning assistance, and intelligence gathering have
had some significant successes. Also, Mexico is a critical target in the counter cocaine campaign.
A substantial portion of all narcotics entering the United States comes through Mexico (5).
The South America production and trafficking is focused mainly in Colombia, Bolivia, and
Peru. Considerable success has been achieved in Colombia in the interdiction of cocaine products by
colombian counter drugs forces. The DOD trained a great amount of military personnel in Colombia
during the last years, mostly in tactics, equipment maintenance and the use of small arms. Several
significant colombian operations have took place during the last two years. The United States
government has continued working closely with the Colombian Ministry of Defense and Department of
Administrative Security to enhance the capabilities to interdict drugs and disrupt the trafficking
Bolivia is the world's second-largest producer of coca leaf and may also be the second
largest producer of refined cocaine. During the last years, the United States government continued
to cooperate to implement the long-term U.S. objective of reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the
production of refined cocaine products (6).
Law enforcement efforts resulting in successful operations against some organizations that
supply Colombian cartels. Law enforcement units increased their presence and control in the
Chapare, a region in central Bolivia that is the second largest coca cultivation area in the world.
Peru remains the world's leading producer of coca with an estimated 121,300 hectares of
licit and illicit cultivation (7). Because Peru elected in August 1990 not to sign the grant-aid
agreement, the United States provided no equipment or training support to that country during
1991-92. DOD did provide training to 180 peruvian police, under the auspices and in support of the
State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics Matters. Peruvian narcotics-control law
appears to be adequate, although the judicial system functions poorly and the law is rarely enforced
in a consistent manner. A third U.S. Special Force Mobile Training Team (MTT) began training
peruvian police in jungle operations in January 1991(8).
The drug war has expanded its battlefield since the collapse of the former Soviet Empire.
Countries that were formerly isolated to a degree from the West have now gained access to the drug
markets. The states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ttajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan-which less
than a year ago constituted those Union Soviet Socialist Republics collectively termed Soviet
Central Asia-incorporate rugged and remote areas that have long been associated with narcotics use
and smuggling activities of various types. During most of the Soviet period, these traditional
activities were seldom visible to western and, in any event, were confined largely to the republics
themselves and more or less limited interactions with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. For many
specialists in the former Soviet republics and neighboring states who had studied Central Asia's
growth and potential as a narcotics trafficking center, a striking metaphor increasingly suggested
itself-Central Asia as another Colombia.
The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, the East European "revolutions"
and virtual collapse of the socialist bloc that same year, followed by the eventual disintegration
of the Soviet Union and its centrally controlled security structures amidst acute and continuing
interethnic conflict, profoundly changed the status and future of the region at the start of the new
New and reorganizing security organizations in the now independents republics are faced
with a host of problems, and the priority given to counternarcotics activities is a complex issue
(9). Finally, potential involvement of foreign drug trafficking groups appears greater now. This
may particularly be the case in regard to Southwest Asian traffickers, who could use ethnic and
religious affiliations to develop new staging, processing or cultivation areas for drugs ultimately
intented for rich european and north american markets.
In the drugs world described, the Advisor's dilemma seems to be the same : Mission without
authority, and the questionable results. In fact, since the Advisor's task began, their
responsibilities have been limited to security assistance, counter drugs training, intelligence,
communications, nations assistance and operational support. The Federal Government has embarked,
over the years, on a wide variety of drug interdiction programs to counter this problem, with a lot
of agencies participating without coordination or, at least, consideration for other ongoing
programs. The regional Commanders-in-Chief (CINC) have authority over the military forces, however,
neither the CINCs nor the ambassadors have directive authority or budgetary responsibility for the
other government agencies required to implement a given counternarcotics strategy (10).
Without an effective command and control structure in place, and without an effective
authority in the host countries, the advisor's results has been questionable, and the main concern
is related to the lack of cultural sensivity and understanding of the host countries. This includes
the relative priority given to the country history, art, religion, myth, technology and language.
To ensure proper execution of the military role in drug control, our military must develop
a coherent strategy according to the current times. The development of this strategy has progressed
somewhat slowly. Possibly, this is attributable to a reluctance among the Services to take another
mission during times of dwindling bugets and force structure.
There are many areas in which the military can help support the drug control effort. Some
of these involve the demand side of the drug equation; however, the military contribution to supply
side reduction can produce the greatest results.
The military has definitely many more things to do in the drug war, and the solution
should be incorporated into a Joint Doctrine in order to have standard application for all, and to
provide a proper understanding of the doctrine during joint/combined operations. Three alternative
solutions would solve this problem
1.- To continue with the current policy
2.- To develop a strategy based upon one Service
3.- To develop a joint strategy based upon the capabilities of each Service
The first alternative is to continue implementing solutions throughout the NDCS, prepared
within the Executive Office of the White House by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and
leaving to DOD the support throughout the different Services in single operations according to the
current requirements in each specific place. This current alternative has had some good results,
employing the single capabilities of each Service according with the goals of each operation. Many
of these operations are large scale efforts involving interagency planning and civil-military
cooperation in the execution of complex concepts of operation. Operations such as GREEN SWEEP,
GREEN MERCHANT, GHOST DANCER, GHOST ZONE, etc., have become highly visible to citizens of the United
States and South America, creating some curiosity as well as outright anger at military involvement.
Even though all these operations have had a certain degree of success, they remain within
the area of immediate response strategy, and do not have the necessary two-time components : current
and mid-range. This fact, makes it necessary to answer the following questions:
1.- Have they had any real impact in the drug threat?
2.- Do they fit our objectives?
3.- Are they backed with the requisite resources and long-term commitments needed to make
their concepts work?
The second option, using the current capabilities of the Services, is to develop a
counter-drugs strategy based upon one of them, such as the Marine Corps which is uniquely suited for
some aspects of the United States national counterncotics effort. This solution implies the fact
that the DOD have to choose the Service that will be responsible for the military side in the war on
drugs, working jointly with other Agencies to develop and execute the proper strategy that fulfills
the goals of the NDCS.
This alternative could be a good solution to centralize the efforts and to economy forces,
in order to develop a proper Military Drugs Control Strategy based upon the most adequate Service
capabilities, but it is also a potential source of conflicts among the Services because of the
selection represents resources and means to be the axis of the MDCS.
The third option, using the successful experience of the Gulf War, is to develop a joint
effort at the highest level of the DOD to build an MDCS that has identifiable objectives (ENDS) that
protects national interests; strategic concepts (WAYS) that describe how the job will get done in
its two-dimensional existence in time (current and mid-range); and resources (MEANS) that describe
what it will take to support the concept. These three elements of military strategy must be kept in
balance . The DOD must employ the proper capabilities of each Service to maximize both efficiency
and effectiveness to win the drug war. Throughout this joint effort, and using the best of each
Service in this arena, attacking the drug at its source, in transit, and at the distribution stage
in the continental United States, the results could be definitive.
Although each of the three alternatives would solve this problem with more or less
probabilities of success, the third solution is clearly superior. Using an adequate MDCS based upon
a joint effort according to the current doctrine, and using the best capabilities of each Service
according to the particular situation, it is clearly superior because it represents the best use of
the lessons learned, economy of effort, and joint thought during times of dwindling budgets and
Finally, it is necessary to keep always in mind, that the war on drugs it is not a problem
between nations, or religions, or ideologies. It is a social problem with no easy solution. The end
of the Cold War and the consequently reduced national-security threat provides the U.S. military
with unprecedented opportunities to play non traditional roles. But, military action is not the
only answer, the right MDCS must dovetail with the economical policies to support the Host-Nation if
we are seriously determined to "win" the drug war.
(1) The White House, NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY OF THE UNITED
STATES, (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office,1991),
(2) Ibid. p.15.
(3) The White House, National Drug Control Strategy,(Washington,
DC: Government Printing Office,1991),p.90.
(4) U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics
Matters, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
March 1991,(Washington DC : Department of State Publication
(9) Military Review December 1992, Narcotics Trafficking in
Central Asia : A New Colombia ?,(Headquarters,Department of
(10) Kellner William Major USMC, The War on Drugs GET CONTROL OR
GET OUT!, Military Issue Paper Command and Staff College
1.- Dale Scott,Peter and Jonathan Marshall. Cocaine Politics.
University of California Press,1984.
2.- Kellner,Major USMC.The war on Drugs:Get in or Get Out!.
Military Issue Paper,non published,Command and Staff
3.- Mabry,Donald J. .The latin American Narcotics Trade and U.S.
National Security.Greenwood Press,1989.
4.- US Army Command and General Staff College.Military Review,
June-92,December-92,March-93.Headquarters,Department of the
5.- Morales,Edmundo. Cocaine,White Gold Rush in Peru. The
University of Arizona Press,1989.
6.- Scott Palmer,David. Shining Path of Peru.Boston University,
7.- Sollis,LCol. John,USMC. The March of Folly:A Brief
Assessment of the Military Proper Place in the Andean Drug
War. Marine Corps War College,non published,1992.
8.- The White House. National Drug Control Strategy.Government
9.- United States General Accounting Office. The Drug War,Extent
of Problems in Brazil,Ecuador and Venezuela. June 1992.
10.- U.S. Department of Justice. Worldwide Cocaine Situation
1992. Drug Enforcement Administration.
11.- U.S. Department of State. 1990 International Narcotics
Control. Bureau of Public Affairs.
12.- U.S. Department of State. International Narcotics Control
Strategy Report,March 1991. Bureau of International
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