The Air Force and the War on Drugs

Panamanian motor vessel Gatun during the large...

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The conflicts elsewhere in the world have cast the War on Drugs into something of a popular eclipse: it is just not something you hear about much, until the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, or a local police force captures a healthy-sized cache of drugs from someplace. The matter remains at the forefront of many minds, however, not least among those in the Pentagon, where the inter-agency effort to stem the flow of narcotics into North America remains an important, albeit not focal, raison d’etre.

In The Latin American Drug Trade: Scope, Dimensions, Impact and Response, homeland security expert Peter Chalk does offers a detailed update on how the drug trade operates in a day of Mexican cartels and mini-submarines. While the purpose of the study is to examine the role the U.S. Air Force might play in the War on Drugs, most of the book delves into the gritty detail of how drugs move from Latin American fields into American cities.

Smugglers have taken some innovative steps in the drug trade in response to more sophisticated U.S. efforts to stop it, but at its heart the interdiction battle is still a cat-and-mouse game that will get worse until either the entire supply – or most of the demand – dries up. There is no sense in making it easy for criminals, however, and ten years into The Long War, there have been technical and tactical innovations that can be readily applied in the War on Drugs specifically, and in homeland security more broadly.

Chalk’s work is a superb primer for those interested in the narcotics trade, in transnational crime, and in the role the armed forces should be playing in that effort.

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