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Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2000 in the Cape Cod Times
'War On Drugs': Losing A Futile Fight
by Sean Gonsalves
No doubt, we are losing the "war on drugs." That's because the "war" is un-winnable. What other conclusion can you reach after assessing it all - from a military standpoint, that is?

"Drug warriors do not wish to acknowledge that their 'war' cannot be won. Let us look at the military factors of space, time and manpower," writes Joseph Miranda, former instructor at the U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Center and editor of Strategy and Tactics magazine.

He then proceeds to explain why it is that "nowhere in prohibition advocates' literature can one find a realistic analysis of the armed forces required to successfully interdict drug trafficking. The reason such an analysis cannot be found is quite simple: the mission itself is impossible."

In 1987, Congress was presented the Review of International Narcotics Control Report - an analysis conducted by the Department of Defense outlining the military force it would require to secure U.S. borders against drug trafficking. A force made up of 96 infantry battalions, 53 helicopter companies, 210 patrol ships and 110 surveillance aircraft would be needed, the report said.

An infantry battalion ranges anywhere from 500 to 1,000 soldiers. And a functioning battalion requires several additional support groups - from intelligence to logistics units, Miranda says. A helicopter company might have anywhere from 15 to 30 aircraft and 200 personnel or so. Other "echelons of support" are also necessary.

"The end result is that (this) force would require at least 500,000 or so personnel to function in the field," Miranda continues.

There are 6,300 members in SOUTHCOM (Southern Command) - the military wing responsible for the Latin American/Caribbean drug region. They are considered to be the "front line" in the war on drugs. In 1995, within the United States, there were 8,000 active duty and reserve military personnel engaged in drug interdiction enforcement. (I don't know what the current number is, but it's probably safe to assume it hasn't declined).

Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration contribute several thousand more drug cops. But when you add it all up, the drug war force comes out to about 12 battalions - only one-eighth of the 96 battalions that the Defense Department says would be necessary.

"As we see then, to simply carry out the objective of drug interdiction, the United States would have to effectively double the size of its current armed forces. This would require a massive expenditure of public funds and a massive mobilization of manpower. To finance such a campaign, the United States would have to increase taxes or engage in deficit spending, yet the leaders of both major political parties have continually stated their goals as the reduction of taxes and balancing the budget," Miranda explains.

Besides guarding U.S. borders, the "war on drugs" attempts to destroy drug crops. This is a military exercise in futility. Take marijuana fields, for example. When they are destroyed, it "has no real effect simply because growers will move elsewhere or replant the fields when the police withdraw. At a minimum, drug enforcement personnel would have to permanently occupy all drug-producing regions, not just in America, but worldwide," Miranda says.

One thing Miranda does not examine is the relationship between U.S.-imposed economic policies in the Third World and the illicit drug market. When small local farmers are put under by giant American agricultural corporations, peasants are forced to work the only cash crops available - marijuana, coca and opium.

Miranda does, however, recognize the effects of this: "The war on drugs has engendered serious anti-American sentiment throughout much of the Third World. One of the primary causes of this guerrilla warfare has been peasant reaction to U.S.-supported drug enforcement assaults. Anti-drug operations have involved spraying herbicides, assaults on the rural populace, and assorted violations of basic human rights."

The Andean Commission of Jurists estimates that 70 percent of the political murders in Colombia are committed by the armed forces, police and paramilitary forces, while only 2 percent are committed by the drug cartels.

"In the face of this assault, the peoples of the drug-producing countries have little choice but to organize guerrilla warfare for their own survival," Miranda adds.

"Drug warriors constantly tell us that we can not afford to 'lose' the war on drugs. But the absurdity of this position can be seen in the fact that America is not really fighting the war in the first place. In many ways, the war on drugs has allowed certain sectors in American politics to have a justification for increasing repression at home and intervention abroad," he says.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist.

Copyright 2000 Cape Cod Times


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