War or Pseudo-War?

By Miranda, Joseph | Social Justice, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

War or Pseudo-War?


Miranda, Joseph, Social Justice


The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.

- George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1960)

Since at least the middle of the Reagan Administration, The United States has had a "war on drugs."(1) The official objective of this "war" has been the creation of a "drug-free" America. It seems like a real war, with televised reports of heavily armed police attacking the drug trade throughout the United States and the armed forces engaged in counterdrug missions both at home and abroad. Yet despite the fact that this "war" has lasted over a decade, the resources allocated have been woefully inadequate and there is no realistic strategy for victory. What precisely is the United States fighting for?

To understand the "war on drugs," it is important to remember the definition of war. Carl von Clausewitz (1981: 101-109), the 19th-century military theoretician, defines war as "an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will." When seen in this light, it becomes apparent that America's "war on drugs" is not really fought against drugs. Drugs, after all, are inanimate objects and cannot be compelled to do anything. The "war" is actually fought against the people who traffic in and consume drugs and, as will be seen, against society in general.

A War Without Winning

The United States has implemented a national drug control strategy based on the following four objectives (House of Representatives, 1988: 23):

* Eradication of drug-producing crops at home and abroad;

* Interdiction of drug smuggling;

* Investigation and prosecution of drag traffickers;

* Penalization of drug users.

Despite much rhetoric on the part of politicians and drug enforcement agencies, the amount of resources being devoted to the "war on drugs" is completely inadequate. The United States has deployed abroad several hundred U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and several thousand military personnel to fight drugs in one capacity or another. This is simply not sufficient to police the vast areas of the underdeveloped world where drugs are produced and the vast expanses through which they are smuggled. It is not even a fraction of the total number of troops required.

According to a Department of Defense analysis, a successful interdiction of U.S. borders against drug traffic would require 96 infantry battalions, 53 helicopter companies, 210 patrol ships, and 110 surveillance aircraft (House of Representatives, 1987: 339). This is a greater number of maneuver units and support equipment than are currently deployed by U.S. forces in North America. The total U.S. active armed forces strength after projected cutbacks will be approximately 150 maneuver battalions (organized into 10 Army and three Marine divisions, with approximately 10 maneuver battalions each; there are also several brigade-level units with three or four maneuver battalions each). Yet the majority of these units are armored and mechanized infantry, which are generally unsuitable for police-type operations. For them to be used in a war on drugs, they would have to be converted to infantry and retrained.

This analysis does not take into account the amount of personnel it would require to control the hinterlands of Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, where most of the world's cocoa, opium, and cannabis are grown. Two of the world's largest opium-growing areas, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle, are remote locations with long histories of resistance to foreign military occupation. If the full might of the Soviet Union proved unable to subdue Afghanistan in the 1980s, it is beyond absurdity to think that drug enforcement personnel could occupy these areas in the face of guerrilla resistance.

Aside from the foreign areas, there are the massive amounts of drugs that are produced within the United States itself, from cannabis (a major cash crop) to home laboratories. …

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