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.

After 9/11: Have We Come A Long Way, Baby?

In a few weeks, we will be marking the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The retrospectives have already begun, including one triumphalist piece I glanced in the Huffington Post this morning that suggested that Al-Queda is essentially collapsing. While I think the latter might be stretching things a bit, there is little question that we are on the verge of a milestone if not a point in what used to be called the Global War on Terror, and has since been renamed The Long War: the great bogeyman is dead, the U.S. is leaving Iraq, and attention is shifting back to southern Asia.

There are still unforeseen challenges and incidents ahead of us: whatever we have accomplished in the past decade, the level of discontent in what Thomas P.M. Barnett calls “the non-integrating gap” running from Northern Africa across to Eastern Indonesia remains high. Those regions are bound to produce individuals and groups who believe that their only course of action is to foment death and destruction.

For that reason, a retrospective at this point is fitting, and the RAND Corporation has crafted one in The Long Shadow of 9/11: America’s Response to Terrorism. The book probes how the U.S. as a government and as a nation responded to 9/11, and the effects that has had on the country and, to a lesser extent, the world. The essays in the book cover everything from military readiness to economic policy to health care implications of terrorism, and significantly warns against the government’s tendency to think too short-term.

They authors take especial aim at the government’s obsession with airline security, and note that the problem is not the increase in security, but the belief that better security (or even better intelligence) will stop the attacks. The aim must continue to be addressing terrorism at its roots, not at its fruits.

This is an essential read for anyone interested in U.S. domestic politics or international relations. While we are preoccupied these days by such mind-numbing sideshows as the budget crisis and the coming election, it is also time to hold up a mirror and look at what has happened to the country as a result of the attacks of September 11.

How the U.S. Military Avoids and Deals With Nuclear Contamination

Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, a major concern was operating in and around a battlefield that had been contaminated with nuclear detonations. As a result, the U.S. military has built a considerable expertise on dealing with widespread contamination that it is now beginning to apply to civilian assistance programs.

These three manuals lay out the tactics, techniques, and procedures for the avoidance of, protection from, and decontamination from nuclear and radiological (as well as chemical and biological) contamination. Three worthy reads and references as the story in Japan grows.

U.S. Army Nuclear Accident Response Manual

Continuing our Atomic Cafe theme in deference to events in Japan, the U.S. Army has published the operational procedures that it follows when providing assistance after a nuclear accident or incident. My bet would be that the Japanese Self Defense Forces are working from a playbook not too dissimilar from this one.

Pamphlet 50-5 Nuclear Accident or Incident Response and Assistance (NAIRA) Operations (Free PDF book)