Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States; urban warfare in Israel; tsunamis in Haiti and Japan; combat in Iraq and Afghanistan; peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Sinai, and Bosnia; pandemic influenza, high-seas piracy, and cyber attacks around the world. In the past 375 years, the U.S. National Guard has been an integral part of the nation’s protection and recovery efforts – both inside and outside the United States – for all types of both natural and manmade disasters. A great deal of time, money, and energy have been spent preparing for and responding to catastrophic threats and events, and yet there is one current threat that may be more destructive and more dangerous than any seen in the past – Illegal Drugs.
Although various “ripple” effects can be felt outside a disaster-struck area, only one current threat has the ability to touch every American citizen, reach every family, and adversely affect every household – including the White House. Nobody is completely immune, protected, insulated, or isolated from the effects of this scourge on society. Illegal drugs, and their second- and third-order effects, present what could arguably be described, accurately, as the most dangerous and clear existential threat to the United States and its citizens.
Building a Drug Empire
In essence, illegal drug rings represent organizations that not only possess, and manage, their own production and supply chains, and use their own specialized lines of communication, but also whose operations have profound economic and governmental implications that affect the entire nation. These organizations truly operate as illegal and illicit businesses – but with an armed component: They are equipped with and protected by their own “terroristic” law enforcement (i.e., paramilitary) forces. Moreover, although hugely profitable to their owners and operators, drug empires have an absolutely debilitating effect on society at large – not only on the end users of the drugs, but also on the millions of other innocent victims who, in a military sense, fall under the category of second- and third-order collateral damage.
In short, the proliferation and use of illegal drugs have a universal, and universally harmful, effect on the nation at large and can lead to extremely dire consequences if not strictly controlled. It must be emphasized, though, that although the drug threat and accompanying violence are not isolated to the United States, they are nonetheless a very real national security concern. Moreover, as can be seen in such nations as Mexico and Colombia, the drug threat to the United States itself has gone beyond the normal control limits the government can impose on it.
Protecting the Border Is the First & Highest Priority
The growing power of Mexican drug cartels in recent years has led, fortunately, to a compelling need for the investment of greater resources into border security. However, the resolution of current problems cannot be the sole responsibility of either Mexico, or the United States itself, but, rather, a bi-national effort between both countries. As with any other business, the “target market” must be identified based on the principles normally used to determine the geographic and/or demographic area of “greatest profit.” In this case, the greatest demand and largest profit – for the drug cartels themselves – is found, not surprisingly, on the U.S. side of the border.
It should be remembered, of course, that the drug demand in other international markets does not diminish the interest in and the impact on North America as a whole – but particularly the United States. Therefore, in order to defeat or control the flow of illicit drugs, and/or illegal drug trafficking, between the two countries most directly involved (the United States and Mexico), it will take not only a spirit of mutual cooperation but also, and much more specifically, a joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and international effort.
The U.S. obligation in this type of cooperative effort will be, to begin with, increased demands on agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as on U.S. citizens – particularly those living in border states and/or the “end states” where the cartels distribute, wholesale, and retail their drugs. In larger cities, and even some rural areas, mayors and city commissioners, local and state police departments, and federal law enforcement agencies will all have to address, head-on, the first and most important issue of illegal and illicit drug trafficking as well as the second- and third-order effects that the now national drug problem causes within their communities – e.g., violence, crime, unemployment, school dropouts, and a broad spectrum of health problems. In short, almost every facet of society can be affected. Moreover, many if not all families living anywhere in the United States have loved ones or close friends who, either directly or indirectly, have been harmed and otherwise been affected by drugs and/or various drug-related criminal/violent activities.
The growing success in recent years of the Mexican drug cartels signals the likelihood of even greater challenges in the future for U.S. border security and counterdrug efforts, both along the U.S. southwest border with Mexico and on both sides of the border. However, that threat is not isolated to a particular geographic area. After crossing the border, drugs from the Mexican cartels are distributed through supply chains to anywhere, and everywhere, within the United States – particularly, of course, to the so-called “Lower 48.”
The National Guard vs. Drugs: Reduction Is Only “The First Step”
No single organization or government agency can solve this problem alone, but the National Guard plays a very important support role – in two ways: (a) promoting and enforcing drug-demand reduction measures in all U.S. states and territories; and (b) providing military support to local as well as national law enforcement agencies. The Guard is already heavily involved in school and other programs to reduce the demand for drugs by untold thousands of American citizens. Drug-demand reduction is the key to taking the profit out of drugs. Without the continuing demand from end users, there would be no drug cartels. Demand reduction is hugely important in itself, of course – but until the demand is gone entirely, there will always be a need for additional support to law-enforcement agencies.
The National Guard possesses significant military capabilities and capacities – which frequently have been extended in support of U.S. law enforcement at the state and federal levels as well as in some joint interagency task forces involved in the nation’s counterdrug programs. Members of the Guard provide significant analyst work, for example – and also operate counterdrug training centers, and share aviation assets that have been instrumental in the counterdrug successes of many civilian law enforcement agencies, at both the state and federal levels. The analysis and fusion skills provided by the National Guard have been very effective in supporting the legitimate authority of the state or federal law enforcement agency or organization that is primarily responsible for the counterdrug activities involved. The Guard is therefore already one of the more important players on the “team of teams” needed not only to defeat the drug threat as a whole but also to further, promote, and support substance-abuse prevention activities and operations.
Future Challenges – Starting with Three “Major Hurdles”
There are three major hurdles still blocking the way for protecting U.S. communities, and the nation as a whole, against drug-related disasters: (a) reducing the “power” of drugs; (b) enforcing counterdrug laws; and (c) inspiring a combined and true unity of effort. The first hurdle is the fact that the substance itself is so addictive to users and therefore so powerful in itself. The development of effective drug-reduction programs is therefore the most effective strategy for preventing, mitigating, and minimizing the still growing number of new users. Once addicted, it is very difficult even for someone who truly wants to stop using drugs to no longer demand the product. Drug addictions can also overshadow the protective and nurturing instincts of parents, and impair their judgment even in caring for their children. The end result, far too often, is that those children are not only neglected but also, far too often, highly susceptible to developing their own drug addictions – either biologically at birth, or behaviorally through association.
It is, obviously, a major challenge just to interdict illegal drugs and keep them out of the hands of current or potential users. It is a separate and considerably different challenge to enforce drug laws that can lead to the interception and elimination of supply chains and distribution channels. Moreover, counterdrug laws that realistically and effectively address the threat being faced are, to begin with, extremely difficult to enact, support, and/or enforce. Such laws also usually require drug screenings and personal-history assessments for potential hires in law-enforcement and other agencies, including all branches of the armed services – specifically including the National Guard. Here it should be noted that one obvious, and harmful, result of the increased flow of illegal drugs into American society as a whole is a correspondingly decreased pool of the “new hires” available to combat the still growing problem. In other words, any lack of “success” – however that word is defined – makes future successes even more unlikely.
Finally, the hurdle of achieving the unity of effort needed from the whole of society starts with individual citizens and their personal responsibilities. Then come families (the basic building block of society and civil governance), Then, and only then, come schools, places of worship, social gatherings, workplaces, and all levels of government (local, state, and federal) with special focus on law enforcement agencies, the medical community, healthcare and rehab facilities, etc. Of course, drug interdiction and enforcement, even when carefully balanced with influencers and educators for demand reduction, may not automatically, quickly, and easily promote the unity of effort needed to defeat and destroy this very complex and sophisticated threat. Perhaps the greatest hurdle, therefore, is developing an effective strategy that unhinges the current uneven balance without itself destroying the society being protected.
H. Steven Blum
Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum, USA (Ret.), former Deputy Commander, United States Northern Command, was the first National Guard* officer to serve as a Deputy U.S. Combatant Commander. His previous assignment was as Chief of the National Guard Bureau. In that post, he served as the principal adviser to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Army, and to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, on all National Guard issues. Prior to commanding the 29th Infantry Division (Light), General Blum served as Assistant Adjutant General for the Army, as Commanding General, Maryland Army National Guard, and as assistant Division Commander (Support), 29th Infantry Division (Light). He also previously served as the Commanding General for the Multinational Division (North) Stabilization Force 10 in Operation Joint Forge, Bosnia Herzegovina.