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U.S. Military and Drugs

U.S. Military and Drugs


Since the bombing of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre in the U.S. by terrorists, security has become a very sensitive matter in the country and thus the military has been used to pursue terrorists in their hide outs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same forces have been deployed along the borders of the U.S. as well as vital installations such as nuclear plants, airports, and ports. The intensified military activities both in and out of the country have raised many questions, and thus it remains a critical issue. This research seeks to establish the origin and the history of the U.S. military dating back to the colonial era, as well as how it is currently organized. The extent of the involvement of the forces in protection of the borders and sea ports against aggression, drugs and weapons trade among others is discussed in various approaches such as the formation of the border patrol unit, the joint national guards of the South-West states, the influence of the 2001 bombing on military activities, the law that authorized deployment of the forces on borders, as well as the relations of the country with Mexico and its impact on the border security. The paper also seeks to trace the origin and the changes that have been made on the U.S. drugs policy, especially on the imprisonment periods and the measures of prevalence of the drug use, as well as the areas that need to be improved.

Key words: drug policy, military, security, terrorism.


The research seeks to establish the extent of the involvement of the U.S. military in protection of the borders and sea ports against aggression, drugs and weapons trade, etc. The paper also highlights the improvements in the U.S. drugs policy as well as the areas that need to be improved. The United States has a military history tracing back to several centuries ago when the country was fighting for its independence from Great Britain in 1775-1783, the consequent American Civil War in 1861-1865 and finally to the late 20th century and the early 21 century when it was the sole super power in the world (Chambers, 1999). The Continental Army formed by the Congress of the Continent and put under the command of General George Washington fought in conjunction with the French Army, navy, and the militia forces from different states against Great Britain in 1781, and the latter was defeated. By 1789, the new constitution had been adopted. It gave the President the authority to be Commander in Chief, and the Congress was bestowed the powers to tax, make laws, and declare war (Black, 2002). The earlier prospects of militarization of the country trace back to the era of 1620-1774, when the frontier settlers armed themselves for hunting as well as for security in the wilderness. The people organized themselves into gangs/militia for attacking the Native Americans as well as the raiders from the forces of other European colonies in the neighborhood. The members of these groups joined the British army as volunteers during operations outside their place (Titus, 1991). The military actions in the American colonies/modern states resulted from conflicts between the Native American tribes and the frontier settlers. Since 1689, the colonies started fighting on the side of Great Britain against France over the control of the North America. The former consequently defeated the latter hence giving the colonies relevant experience in warfare (Anderson, 2006). It is the same experience that the colonies used to fight for their independence gained in July, 1776 (Higginbotham, 1983).

The contemporary U.S. military is made of five categories of forces, four of which include the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and are issued with commands from the Department of Defense. Coast Guard, in its turn, is given commands from the Department of Homeland Security. The President is, however, the overall boss who executes orders via the Defense Secretary as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are the overseers of combatant activities. The governors of each state have limited authority over the respective States Army and the National Guard, but the overall authority comes from the President (Chambers, 2000).

Since the U.S.-Mexican war of 1848, the American soldiers have been largely stationed along the Mexican borders and the ports to prevent external attacks as well as the illegal entry of migrants, sneaking of arms, drugs, etc. Heavy deployment has elicited debates in both countries and thus remains a contentious issue. Below is the assessment of the presence of the military along the border points and ports.

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The Presence and Military Activities on Border Points and Ports

The Border Patrol Unit

The unit was formed in May, 1924 to monitor the boundaries and the vicinities in order to deal with the problems of illegal immigrants (Turbiville & Graham, 1999). The Army cooperates with the local, state, as well as the federal law enforcement agencies, though the former’s involvement has been widely criticized both in the United States and Mexico. The forces patrol about 6000 miles of Canadian and Mexican borders and about 2000 miles of coastal line, the Island of Puerto Rico, and the Florida Peninsular. The army man road checks near borders and operates on all terrains by use of sophisticated equipment such as motion detectors, cameras, and night vision lenses, vehicles, boats, motorbikes, and snow carriages.

The Joint National Guard of the South West Border States

In the early 1990s, the states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas provided their national guards for full time duties for the purpose of enforcing anti-narcotic laws along the Mexican border (Turbiville & Graham, 1999). The troops have observation and listening team, camera and radio room, x-ray scanners, vehicle and cargo inspection, air craft surveillance, as well as the ground patrol team, all of which constitute a very tough troop. There are fears and concerns about the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border as a result of increased military operations that at times lead to shooting of civilians.

The aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attack. After bombing of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre, the issue of Homeland Security gained importance and, consequently, the military was heavily deployed in facilities such as airports, nuclear plants, national border points, and ports to increase security. Prior to the attack, the military was stationed at the U.S.-Mexican borders to deal with drug and arm trade, but the presence was not as much as it is to date. The forces constitute intelligence analysts, aviation crew, and ground sensor operators, engineering teams for construction of walls and roads, cargo inspectors, as well as investigators.

The Public Law 100-46

The legislation was enacted under the regime of George W. Bush and authorized the Department of Defense to lead other agencies in the fight against the transport of illegal drugs through air or sea routes (Shaffer, 2000). The mandate was given to the Secretary of Defense to avail manpower, machinery, and funds. This has led to the combination of the Army and the Marine Corps in the war against drugs. This law increased the military role in the ports as opposed to the situation when the ports were under the Coast Guard branch only.

Hostilities between the U.S. and Mexico

The U.S. has had hostile relationships with Mexico, and the U.S.-Mexican war of 1848 is a good example of this issue. The war led to crossing of borders by the forces, and its end resulted in the demarcation of boundaries. Since then, the U.S. military heavily guarded the Mexican boundary against aggression by the latter’s forces, as well as the penetration of arms into the U.S. territory.

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The Drug Policy

The drug policy can be traced back to the 19th century whereby tobacco and alcohol were the main target although cocaine and heroin were also incorporated in the policy towards the end of the century. The laws were mainly local and state measures, but since the middle of the 20th century, the failure of the laws has been noticed hence prompting enactment of similar laws by the federal governments (Reuters, 2013). Since the 1960s the policy has gradually changed, and much more is still needed so as the policy can increase its effectiveness. Below is a discussion of the gradual changes as well as the improvements of these lacks.

Increased Severity of Sentences

The U.S. as well as the federal courts has increased the severity of sentences of the drug related offences. This measure towards harsh punishments is taken to discourage the would-be offenders from engaging in the trade. Statistics shows that from the 1980s to 2010, the number of convicts detained for drug offences rose from 50000 to 500000 in all jails (Reuters, 2013), and thus the policy seems to be getting more severe as compared to the past.

A Shift of Focus from the Prevalence of Drug Use to the Harm/Damage Caused

In the past, the drug policy concentrated much on the number of people using the illegal drugs. The trend has now changed and turned the focus to the programs aimed at reducing the harm caused by the drugs (Reuters 2013). This shows some improvements in the perception of drugs in the American society as opposed to the past.

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The Contentious Issue of Legalization of Drugs

A group of American elites has been pushing for the legalization of drugs such as heroin and cocaine as well as their provision to the users in a controlled manner. However, no steps have been taken to address this issue and the continued prohibition of the drugs has shown no empirical benefit (Reuters, 2013). However, there has not been found any concrete reason as to why the drugs should be allowed and thus this issue remains controversial.

Enforcement of laws as well as deterrence has not been effective, as the drug use still continues. A good policy is desirable for the reduction of violence and drug related illnesses as well as racial disparities in imprisonment of drug users. The prevalence of drug use has never captured the key problem of drugs in the United States and thus much needs to be done.

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The heavy involvement of the United States military has been significantly noted especially at the Mexican border. This has been criticized by nationals of both countries as it depicts excessive use of the military in interaction with civilians. Following the increased terror attacks such as the bombing of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in 2001, as well as the potential threats, the U.S. may have a strong reason to deploy the army on the borders, but the option has not been totally effective, especially on the issues connected with drugs, as people still use them at the U.S. territory. For an effective war against drugs, the country should consider revising the drug policy in order to address important issues such as the appropriate measures of drug use and better response mechanisms as opposed to increased sentences and imprisonment of drug users. Rehabilitation of the victims could be better as compared to imprisonment as it will address the root cause and thus promoting self-restraint as opposed to deterring drug users from using the substances. The country should also consider using diplomatic tactics to maintain border security by signing pacts and treaties with Mexico, or the formation of a joint boundary security team as opposed to heavy deployment of military personnel.