Role of the Military in the War on Drugs in the Caribbean Basin, The
by Donald J. Mabry
October 26-28, 1989
Years ago, before the cocaine trade became a major issue in
U.S.-Latin American policy, a prominent historian, commenting on Spanish efforts to
enforce the rules in its colonial mercantile system observed that:
Efforts to control contraband encountered three major difficulties: few creoles would
cooperate, officials were easily bribed to overlook violations, and the crown periodically
had to relax its ideal because of political or strategic considerations.(1)
Not much has changed in the centuries since Spain tried to control
trade in the Caribbean Basin if one changes "few creoles" to many Latin
Americans and "the crown" to the United States government. Smuggling is a
time-honored occupation in the Caribbean, for suppliers and customers have found ways to
accomodate one another regardless of laws and police forces and other anti-smuggling
efforts. Drug smuggling became an issue only after the passage of the Harrison Act in
1914, which outlawed the use of psychotropic drugs. Even so, as Bill Walker points out in
his Drug Control in the Americas, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama were
transshipment points in the 1930s. In 1932-33, Honduras imported enough morphine to meets
its scientific and medical needs for 100 years; in 1934, enough came in for another 72
years. The morphine traveled to New Orleans in spite of the expensive anti-smuggling
efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard.(2) By the 1960s, marijuana
smuggling had become the major issue; in the 1980s, cocaine became the target. Drug
production and smuggling in the Caribbean Basin region became so large that the United
States decided to convert some military personnel into policemen and spies in the hope
that the military can disrupt, if not end, this free enterprise activity, for civilian
efforts have had little impact on drug smuggling. This paper will briefly delineate the
nature of the problem, why the United States military was called in, what the military is
doing, and the potential consequences of military involvement.
The Caribbean Basin region is ideally suited for smuggling
activities. The Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea together comprise 1,664,500 square
miles, making them equal to about 46% the land area of the United States. The Basin
contains or is bordered by many sovereign nations, many of which are known smuggling
sites. These nations include Venezuela and Colombia on the northern coast of South
America, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize in Central
America, Mexico and the United States in North America, and many island nations such as
the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. For the United States, sorting out
the smugglers and the contraband is very difficult since, each year, 355 million people,
over 100 million vehicles, 220 thousand vessels, and 635 thousand aircraft enter or
reenter the country; in addition, 8 million cargo containers enter the United States.
(ONDP: 1989, 73). Only some of this traffic crosses the southern U.S. border or transits
the Caribbean Basin, but so much of it does that closely monitoring it using the
traditionally lax practices of the United States is a herculean task. Smuggling into the
United States is easy.
Flights from Colombia or the Bahamas can easily reach it, land and
refuel, and then fly at low levels into isolated areas of the U.S. Local officials,
civilian and military, in these poor nations are just as amenable to bribes or shares of
the profits as are similar officials in the much richer United States. Military officers
are often deeply involved in the trafficking. The military is the only public security
force with the capability of eradicating crops and busting smuggling rings. Panama,
because of its banking laws guaranteeing secrecy, is an ideal place through which to
launder the many millions of dollars obtained by this illicit trade.
U.S. policy interests in the region have focused on maintaining
control of the Panama Canal and alternative canal routes and prevention of regimes hostile
to the U.S. or powerful interests in the U.S., thus leaving wide latitude to thug
dictators or local militaries to do as they pleased. During the 1980s, when the U.S.
concentrated on ousting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, it made special deals with Panama
and Honduras. Panama's Manuel Noriega was an asset for the Central Intelligence Agency and
on its payroll, thus blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency from pursuing him for illicit
drug traffikcing. Elements of the Honduran military have apparently been involved in drug
trafficking but were left alone because Honduras played such an important role as a
staging base for Contra raids into Nicaragua.
Because the drug trade is illicit, data on the amounts smuggled into
the United States are scarce and unreliable. No one knows how much cocaine, marijuana, and
heroin enters the United States; there are no bills of lading open for inspection.
Reported data are guesses based on uncertain methodology. The Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) estimates that between 348 and 400 metric tons of cocaine
hydrochloride are produced annually in Latin America, that most of it is destined for the
United States market, and that over 100 tons were seized in 1988 (55 tons by U.S.
authorities) (Martsh: 1989, 22). U.S. marijuana imports total between 3,545 and 9,000
metric tons, with 53.3% emanating from Colombia, 33.3% from Mexico, and 13.3% from other
countries, principally Jamaica and Belize (Surrett: 1988, 8). Mexico produces 45-55 metric
tons of heroin, accounting for 41% of total U.S. supply (Surrett:1988, 5). Even a quick
perusal of other sources of narcotics statistics produces different figures. No matter
which guess is correct, a lot of drugs are entering the United States.
Nor do U.S. authorities know exactly how the drugs are introduced
into the United States. That 45% of the cocaine seized came via private aircraft and that
something over 20% of the cocaine seized came by private vessels does not tell us how the
successfully-smuggled cocaine arrived. The confiscation of twenty tons of cocaine from a
Los Angeles warehouse in September and 5.5 tons from a vessel in the Gulf of Mexico in
October suggests that vast amounts are getting through. No doubt much of it is passing
through the Caribbean Basin, but were the twenty tons flown directly into the United
States or were they transshipped overland via Mexico? Was it one load or many loads? Only
the traffickers know for sure.
WHY THE MILITARY
Civilian agencies have combatted smuggling for centuries. For over
two hundred years, the Coast Guard has been the first line of defense against smuggling.
Coast Guard personnel, the anti-smuggling specialists, are trained in the
necessary investigative and interdiction techniques. The Customs Service has been the
second line of defense. Stationed in seaports, international airports, and land border
crossings, Customs agents have been trained to detect smugglers and contraband and either
tax or seize the latter. Along the land border of the United States, the Border Patrol has
included anti-smuggling efforts alongside its immigration control duties. Drug smuggling
overwhelmed all three, for they did not have the personnel, equipment, and budget to meet
the challenge. Instead, the Coast Guard budget was actually cut exactly at a time when
leaders in Washington were asserting that they were stepping up the national antidrug
campaign. Reality and rhetoric were not being matched. These agencies do not have the
political clout necessary to obtain the appropriations they need to do the job. Whereas
virtually all members of Congress have defense contractors or military bases in their
districts and can garner votes by supporting military appropriations, few gain much by
supporting the Coast Guard, Customs Service, and Border Patrol. Further, since the
national antidrug campaign has been termed a "war," many people expect soldiers
to be used. Many of those more sophisticated and temperate in their views envision the use
of "tough guys" rather than the traditional anti-smuggling agencies. Movies
enhance the popular image of soldiers as being tough; these civilian policemen are just as
tough but few people know that.
Several other factors also seem to influence the decision to use the
military. Many people believe that, since the Soviet Empire is crumbling, the U.S.
military does not have much to do. Never mind that crumbling empires are more likely to
engage in military adventurism than are stable ones. Instead, people want a return on the
trillion-plus dollar investment they made in the military in the 1980s. The Pentagon
continues to argue that its traditional mission of defending the nation against foreign
militaries and their weapons is still valid and that using its soldiers, sailors, and
pilots as cops would undermine this military mission (Duncan: 1989). Civilians have
demanded that the Pentagon enter the antidrug campaign. The Defense Department has been
following orders, as it should. Pentagon officials understand that such participation may
be the only way to protect and even enhance the military budget at a time of budgetary
constraints and an inclination to reap savings by slicing away at the defense budget. They
also understand that much of what they are expected to do in the antidrug campaign has
military value, even though it would not be in an anticipated theater of war.
The military can operate in some locales better than can civilians.
Military training missions operate in most Caribbean Basin countries as well as in other
Latin American source or transit countries. Through those missions, local militaries can
be influenced to cooperate in the antidrug campaign. In some countries, U.S. military
personnel accompany local security forces on routine patrols. The military has a
well-established presence in the Basin with bases on the U.S. mainland and in Puerto Rico,
Cuba, and Panama. Its ships and aircraft regularly transit the Basin while its radar
devices and intelligence satellites capture and transmit information.
Perhaps most important are the anger felt by so many Americans at
the cocaine epidemic and their willingness to use violence, if necessary, to stop it. The
anger, misdirected and misguided as it might be, is real. They blame Latin American
farmers, manufacturers, and merchants for the fact that 14.5 million of their 240 million
fellow Americans choose to use illicit drugs either casually or habitually. They ignore
the fact that the vast majority of these people are using marijuana (25% of which is grown
in the United States) and designer drugs (perhaps 90% of which are made in the U.S. by
chemists). Nor do they understand that the number of heroin addicts stabilized at half a
million people and that the increased amount of heroin being consumed reflects cocaine
users trying to soften the fall from the cocaine high. Neither government, at any level,
nor the media have been very helpful in keeping the cocaine problem in perspective, for
both tend to lump all drugs together when doing so dramatizes a story.
The average American sees drug violence and drug-related crime and
does what Americans have always done--blame foreigners and American ethnic minorities
(Kinder: 1989). To many, were it not for Bolivians, Peruvians, Mexicans, Colombians and
other Latin Americans abroad and for blacks and Hispanics at home, the drug problem and
its social attendant ills would not exist. Thus, they want to kill drug traffickers or
lock them up, destroy crops, and, if necessary, use combat troops in Latin America. What
they fail to understand is that 76% of illicit drug users in the United States are
non-Hispanic whites. Even crack, which, as the National Drug Control Strategy report put
it: "is responsible for the fact that vast patches of the American urban landscape
are rapidly deteriorating beyond effective control by civil authorities"
(ONDP:1989,3), is used by only 485,000 of the 198+ million people over the age of 12 in
the United States. Forty-seven percent of those users are non-hispanic whites (Harwood:
1989). When cocaine or crack are featured in the media, however, the persons typically
shown are blacks or Hispanics, not the white, middle class Americans who bear principal
responsibility for the trade.
Blaming foreigners allows them to seek a solution external to the
United States, a solution which, because of the structure of the American governing
system, requires the use of the military. If they faced the reality of the drug trade and
still wanted to use a military solution, they would have to demand that the military
occupy Dade County, Florida, Washington, DC, and every other drug trafficking center in
the United States. That, of course, is unpalatable.
THE NEW MILITARY ROLE
Frustration with the civilian government's inability to stop drug
smuggling into the United States led Washington to call in the military. The role of the
military in the national crusade against illicit drugs has been growing since 1981 (Mabry:
1989), but the Defense Authorization Act (1988) and the Omnibus Anti-drug Act (1988)
dramatically increased the military role. The National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) report
will increase it even more.
The U.S. strategy to stop the flow of illicit drugs from the
Caribbean Basin region into the United States has many aspects.
(1) detection systems, including radar screens across the southern border of the United
States and surveillance efforts within the Basin,
(2) intelligence gathering and dissemination,
(3) military aid to source and transit countries,
(4) extradition of narcotraficantes to the United States,
(5) efforts to stop drug money laundering, and
(6) economic assistance to source and transit countries.
The military plays a potential role, directly or indirectly, in
every part of this strategy except for economic assistance. Indirectly, intelligence
gathering activities may aid law enforcement agents capture narcotraficantes and provide
leads on money laundering activities. Currently, the military provides training and
equipment for crop eradication by foreign nationals. The most important roles for the U.S.
military are the creation of detection, intelligence gathering, and communications systems
and interdiction programs.
THE RADAR SCREEN
To detect aircraft, the Department of Defense (DOD) adopted a
Defense in Depth strategy to provide blanket radar coverage across the southern U.S.
border (DOD: 1989). Partial radar coverage by both civilian and military units has been in
place for years, but the new radar screen coordinates DOD, Coast Guard, Customs, and
Federal Aviation Administration personnel and equipment to detect potential drug smuggling
aircraft within 100 nautical miles of the land border and 500 nautical miles of the
coastline. In addition, the new DOD-directed plan will provide detection coverage of known
departure points and transit routes in the Caribbean, Central America, Gulf of Mexico,
Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and the northern areas of South America. Finally, both
detection systems will be connected through a comprehensive communications network. The
U.S. geographical scope is Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California. This southern
fence uses aerostat radar balloons for southern land and maritime borders, mobile seaborne
aerostat balloons for natural chokepoints between Caribbean land masses, and long-range
radar equipped aircraft. In the Gulf of Mexico, the Pentagon uses aerostats, coordinated
military and civilian radar, and fixed-wing aircraft. Under Pentagon auspices, control,
command, communications and intelligence (C3I) centers are operated across the southern
United States with facilities in such places as Richmond Heights, Florida, Biloxi,
Mississippi, Corpus Christi, Texas, El Paso, Texas, and Alameda, California. The system
will not be fully operational until 1992, however, and it might increase effective
detection by only 25%.
The military by itself can provide more immediate and effective
aerial surveillance of the southern border but only at great cost and considerable
weakening of the U.S. military posture elsewhere in the world. According to a Pentagon
estimate, round-the-clock surveillance would require twenty-five E-3 (AWACS) planes in
five continuous orbits at an annual cost of $248.2 million or forty-eight E-2 (AWACS)
planes in six continuous orbits at an annual cost of $113.5 million. In addition, another
$246.4 million would be required for the necessary refueling operations, fixed wing
planes, and helicopters.
Neither the Pentagon nor civilian government officials want the
military to assume total aerial surveillance responsibility at this time. The U.S. cannot
put all its AWACS planes in the Caribbean Basin, as the above system would require.
Besides the fact that the costs are too high, civilian agencies which currently provide
radar coverage resist the idea of losing some of their power.
By the time the drugs reach the United States border, the original
loads from Latin America have often been subdivided into many loads, making the detection
and interdiction task extraordinarily difficult. Ideally, anti-smuggling operations would
detect the presence of the cargo as it left its source country. To do that would require
effective intelligence gathering within these countries, particularly at airports and
seaports, an effective radar screen across close to those countries, and the ability to
intercept and inspect suspected sea vessels and aircraft. The military can monitor much of
the Caribbean Basin traffic from military installations in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Panama,
patrols by aircraft and naval vessels, and intelligence satellites.
INTELLIGENCE AND COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
In late 1988, the Pentagon was given overall responsibility for the
collection and dissemination of intelligence data on the aerial and maritime transit of
illicit drugs into the United States and commanded to establish a command, control,
communications, and technical intelligence (C3I) structure for that purpose (United
States: 1988b). Through an elaborate communications network, intelligence data can be
transmitted simultaneously to a number of persons throughout the Basin. This
military-generated intelligence data is to be shared with Federal, state, and local law
enforcement agencies as long as doing so does not violate U.S. laws. The goal is to have a
centralized intelligence gathering system which can transmit information in real time so
that law enforcement personnel can quickly before the opportunity for search, seizure, and
arrest disappears. The Pentagon was instructed to plan its military exercises and naval
transit routes around civilian law enforcement needs as much as possible. The military,
however, continues to be forbidden to conduct intelligence gathering inside the United
States and must respect the provisions of the Privacy Act.
The U.S. expanded its Joint Intelligence Collection Centers in the
Basin (ONDP:1989, 63), but complete cooperation with all nations does not exist. Some
nations, no doubt, are dubious about the idea of allowing their neighbors to know so much.
Whereas Washington made the military the key player in aerial and
maritime detection in the Basin, the military interdiction role, although increased,
remains restricted to giving support to civilian law enforcement efforts. The Posse
Comitatus Act (1878) forbids military personnel from engaging in civilian law enforcement
activities, which drug interdiction is. Outside the territorial limits of the United
States, the Coast Guard is the only U.S. agency with jurisdiction. The 1988 defense
appropriation act reasserted that military personnel are not to engage in search, seizure,
and arrest activities. The conference report accompanying the act explained that Congress
does not want a radical break with the tradition of keeping the military out of civilian
law enforcement (U.S. House: 1988).
Military aircraft and vessels can be used in some instances to
transport civilian law enforcement personnel and as a base of operations for law
enforcement efforts outside the United States. Because the military is forbidden by U.S.
law from acting as police, Coast Guard units are sometimes carried on naval ships to do
the actual search, seizure, and arrest functions. This program, Law Enforcement Detachment
(LEDET), was expanded in 1988 by requiring that no fewer than 500 Coast Guard personnel,
trained in law enforcement procedures and armed with arrest powers, be assigned to
appropriate navy surface ships sailing in drug interdiction areas. The captains of these
naval ships were given prior indemnification from civil or criminal liability of the
captains of these ships if they fire upon or sink a suspected vessel (United States:
1988b). That certainly borders on making them policemen, who historically have had the
privilege of shooting at feeling suspects.
Some congressmen, however, want the military to take a more direct
role in interdiction by using naval vessels to interdict maritime drug smuggling. In
response to congressional requests, the Pentagon estimated that such an effort would cost
between $184.5 million and $265.8 million, depending upon whether frigates or destroyers
were used (DOD: 1989). Although the National Drug Control Strategy report asserts that
"consistent with international law and in the interests of aviation safety, no action
may now be taken to stop or interrupt the progress of a target aircraft in flight(ONDP:
1989, 76)," Senator Mitch McConnell (R- KY) proposed an amendment to the Defense
Authorization Bill of 1989 to authorize Customs Service and other federal agencies to
shoot at suspected smuggler planes under certain conditions (Baker: 1989). After seeing a
plane drop cargo into the water, the U.S. pilot would try to contact the smuggler and make
him land by various means. If the smuggler tried to escape, the interceptor would have to
radio US for permission to fire. The amendment is now in conference committee, from which
it may never emerge. Proposing it may be a tactic to encourage the development of air
corridors to the United States, but it might also reflect growing willingness to use
violence in interdiction.
The National Guard, however, as long as it stays in the status of
state militia, is not subject to the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act, so Congress
decided in 1988 to use this military organization in the antidrug campaign. The Pentagon
was ordered to provide state and territorial Guard units with $40 million for drug
interdiction and law enforcement efforts in addition to annual training. Army and Air
National Guard units were also given $40 million for surveillance efforts. By mid-1989,
Guard units were active in anti-smuggling operations. In Operation Border Ranger II in
June, 1989, the California National Guard conducted a joint 30-day effort with Customs,
the Border Patrol, local sheriff's departments, the California Department of Correction,
and the Marine Corps (Duncan: 1989, 6). Guard units engage not only in surveillance
actions but also in cargo inspection.
AID TO SOURCE AND TRANSIT COUNTRIES
The 1988 drug bill also expanded the role of the military in the
Caribbean Basin (United States: 1988a). One million dollars was authorized to arm foreign
aircraft for defensive purposes in narcotics interdiction and eradication campaigns. Two
million dollars was authorized for education and training in the operation and maintenance
of antinarcotics equipment in Latin America and the Caribbean and to pay for DOD mobile
training teams to teach tactical operational skills for narcotics interdiction. Another
$3.5 million was authorized for military assistance to more general antinarcotics efforts
in Latin America. Because of its unique role in the cocaine business, Colombia was to be
sent a special appropriation of $15 million to support its military's efforts against
illicit narcotics production and trafficking, but the Bush administration had not sent all
the money by early September, 1989. The National Drug Control Strategy almost a year later
proposed to increase the U.S. military role. Less than a month before it was issued in
September, 1989, the Bush administration sent $65 million in mostly military aid to
Colombia to support President Barco's crackdown on local narcotraficantes. The Bush
administration plans "to the greatest extent possible,...[to] disrupt the
transportation and trafficking of drugs within [emphasis added] their source
countries, since the interdiction of drugs and traffickers en route to the United States
is an immeasurably more complicated, expensive, and less effective means of reducing the
drug supply to this country" (ONDCP: 1989). Specifically, the cocaine trade from the
Andean countries of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru is the target. In this Andean Initiative,
about $141 million of the aid destined for Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia will be military
equipment--such as helicopters, patrol boats, and ammunition --and $13.5 million in
"intelligence aid"--radar, electronic sensors, secure communications equipment,
and computers. Put another way, interdiction yields paltry but too costly results so the
United States will use its power to alter conditions in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.
Will interdiction work; will it significantly reduce the supply of
illicit drugs in the United States? The Pentagon and the General Accounting Office do not
think so (DOD: 1989, v; GAO: 1989). Peter Reuter, the principal economist studying the
issue, argues that even if non-land smuggling routes became high risk, the retail price of
cocaine would only increase three percent and smuggling traffic would shift even more
across the Mexican land border (Reuter: 1989, 12-13). Given the economics of the cocaine
business, one could reasonably expect smugglers, if necessary, to shift their routes out
of the Caribbean Basin altogether. Cocaine could be flown through other Latin American
nations and then around the radar screen to land further north on the Atlantic and Pacific
coasts of the United States. Since cocaine smuggling routes to Europe currently exist, one
might well expect transshipment to the United States from London or Madrid or some other
Interdiction success is problematical, even with enhanced resources.
This is certainly one meaning of the National Drug Control Strategy report when it says
"indeed, our recent experiences with drug interdiction have persuasively demonstrated
that interdiction alone cannot prevent the entry of drugs, or fully deter traffickers and
their organizations (ONDP: 1989)." Since interdiction and eradication efforts will
scarcely make a dent in U.S. illicit drug supplies, the role of the U.S. military in the
national antidrug campaign will grow. The upward budgetary trajectory is established. In
1988, Congress authorized $300 million solely for DOD's antidrug efforts in addition to
what the Pentagon was already spending on its previous antidrug efforts. The FY90 defense
authorization bill will include $470 million for antidrug efforts (Grier: 1989). If the
currently-planned surveillance system does not work, or does not work quickly enough to
satisfy American impatience, it is quite possible that Washington would actually fund the
24-hour plan detailed above, and fund other Pentagon antidrug efforts. If military
advisors get killed in sufficient numbers in Basin countries as they work on crop
eradication and internal law enforcement, the public might demand even more extensive and
dramatic military action. Too many people see the domestic U.S. drug problem as
foreign-induced. Too many people see the Medellín and Cali drug criminal organizations as
an "Evil Empire" and want to engage in patriotic violence against them. Those
who believe that the United States is being a "wimp" in the face of these
villains are feeling testosterone surges. Under such conditions, the demand to unleash the
military will surely grow.
Even if the military role is limited to current levels, there are
some inherent dangers. The easiest, and thus most probable, technique to collect
intelligence data is to collect as much as possible and sort it out later. All kinds of
data on the movement of people, goods, and transportation craft will be fed into gigantic
computer banks and shared by military and civilian officials. Such databanks are insecure;
although it is illegal to do so, policemen currently use the national crime databanks to
obtain information for friends about third parties. Since most of the illicit drugs are
headed for the U.S., some the data collected and disseminated will inevitably be about
honest people. Providing such knowledge is dangerous to civil liberties. Increasing
military power in civilian affairs is politically dangerous both in the United States and
in Latin America. The very fact that militaries are being used for civilian law
enforcement is an admission of the failure of civilian government. This is particularly
true for the United States with it historic tradition of keeping the military out of
civilian affairs. Civilian law enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard did not fail;
they were never given the resources to do the job. Civilian government officials failed to
resist the seductiveness of the popular image of the military and the personal political
gains which come from supporting the military establishment. Dazzled by the glitter,
glory, and gold of a putative military solution, these leaders fail to see that illicit
drug use is a domestic, civilian problem, one wherein free enterprise capitalists are
servicing the American consumer market.
Circumstances are somewhat different in the Caribbean Basin, where
militaries often serve as internal security forces. Yet, here too, civilian government is
threatened by the emphasis on a military solution to drug production and trafficking.
Meeting at American University in June, 1988, fifty Latin American military officers,
including the ministers of defense of Guatemala and Honduras, agreed that the military
should not get involved in anti-drug campaigns because military involvement would
strengthen the military vis-a-vis civilian government and make the military more
autonomous (Goodman and Mendelson: 1988). Colombia has enjoyed civilian government for
three decades but U.S. enhancement of its military threatens the power equation there.
In real wars, the military is unleashed like a pit bull and then
rechained once the conflict is over, but the "drug war" is not a war and will
not end quickly. The evolving antidrug strategy calls for a greatly enhanced military
establishment performing a civilian function indefinitely. The anti-smuggling screens and
the maritime-aerial patrols would have to be sustained else drug smuggling would resume if
demand for foreign drugs continued or could be regenerated. If true military emergencies
occur, then even more resources would have to be devoted to the Pentagon, for the military
anti-smuggling effort could not be curtailed. Moreover, the smuggling problem is not just
a drug smuggling problem. The nation has little control over its borders (Dillin: 1989).
American enterprise is being undercut by smuggled goods. Terrorists and weapons can easily
enter the country. Should the military be given so much potential authority over civilian
One solution is for Washington to strengthen the appropriate
civilian agencies so that they can better accomplish their missions. If the drug problem
is ever solved, the general smuggling problem will still exist. Building a civilian an
anti-smuggling system for the longterm makes more sense than institutionalizing border
control as a military task. Granted that civilians still control the border, but the
Pentagon has its nose under the tent.
Similarly, the use of U.S. military advisors in Caribbean Basin
countries to help local militaries arrest criminals and destroy crops and factories
displaces civilian government there and further institutionalizes militaries as the
authority within those states. No one seriously thinks drug criminals can be beaten in a
few years. The U.S. will have to pour resources into these antidrug campaigns for the
foreseeable future. Since the U.S. military knows its counterparts in these countries but
precious few civilians, using the U.S. military inevitably strengthens Caribbean Basin
militaries as the expense of civilian government. This is not to say that militarism is
being foisted on these nations; it has a long, independent history there. What is being
suggested is that the United States may be unintentionally encouraging militarism.
Finally, the role of the U.S. military in the Caribbean Basin raises
a very fundamental question. Should the personal habits of five percent of the population
(or a much smaller percentage of the population if one only counts cocaine use) be allowed
to change the traditional relationship between the military and civilians? Using the
military in what promises to be a decades-long antidrug campaign shifts, even if
moderately, the balance of power away from civilians. If those who believe that the
illicit drug trade will only end when consumer demand ends are correct, then the use of
the military presents no gains but, instead, many losses.
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