The Latin American Narcotics Trade and U.S. National Security

By Donald J. Mabry | Go to book overview

6
The Role of the U.S. Military in the War on Drugs

Donald J. Mabry

Throughout 1988, the public demanded that the military increase its role in the nation's antidrug campaign and Congress responded in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1989 and in the Antidrug Act of 1988. These demands varied in scope. One demand was to give search, seizure, and arrest powers outside the United States or outside the land area of the United States to military personnel. More severe was advocacy of using the military to patrol the national borders, including ports of entry, armed with civilian police powers, In May, 1988, the House of Representatives demanded that the military "seal the borders" to drug traffic within forty-five days, an effort that would require both naval and border interdiction. Representative Arthur Ravenel, Jr. (R-SC) demanded that the military shoot down possible drug smuggling aircraft on sight. In addition to demanding that the military interdict drug smugglers, some advocated that the military participate in gang-busting and crop eradication programs inside Latin American countries. Some wanted the Department of Defense (DOD) to replace the Coast Guard as lead agency in interdiction efforts. The smallest demand, which Congress granted, required the military to provide more logistical support and intelligence data. Using the military in the antinarcotics campaign, however, raises serious issues not only of the efficacy of such a policy but also of the long-term implications for future civilian-military relations. 1


PAST MILITARY DRUG INTERDICTION EFFORTS

The military slowly and reluctantly increased its involvement in the campaign against the Latin American narcotics trade. The Joint Chiefs of Staff yielded to civilian pressure in 1985 and recommended that the U.S. military be involved in fighting the production and trafficking in drugs from Latin America. 2 The 1985 proposal, however, would not have empowered military personnel to be law enforcement officers; they would not conduct searches, seizures, and arrests. Military involvement has steadily increased

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