National Guard Counterdrug program provides support to Counterdrug Operations and Drug Prevention activities. These activities take a number of different forms, including the policing of drug trafficking zones along the national borders and the provision of programs that will discourage youth from using illegal drugs. These two programs form an integral part of the drug use reduction strategy, both at the supply and demand levels. This paper will argue that the role of the National Guard in curtailing illegal drug use in the United States is a valuable and important one. Arguments will also be provided that the National Guard’s role is not strong, to provide a set of counterbalancing views on this issue.
The National Guard’s Programs
In the war on drugs, the National Guard provides support in two important ways. The first of these is the contribution that the National Guard makes to counterdrug operations. There are many tasks that the National Guard performs that are vital to these operations. These tasks include the provision of interpreters, visual reconnaissance, aerial reconnaissance, providing support in the fields of engineering, diving and communications. The primary role that the National Guard plays is that of a support partner to other agencies. By providing this technical support, the National Guard allows the other agencies involved in protecting our borders from drug smuggling to focus on the tasks that they perform the best.
The National Guard also makes similar contributions on the domestic front. The National Guard engages in domestic mail and cargo inspection, aerial support for cannabis suppression efforts, and transportation support for domestic drug suppression efforts. The National Guard also takes a lead role in the training of law enforcement agency personnel and military personnel for the roles that they will play in the war on drugs. Again, these roles are key support functions. They facilitate the effectiveness of the other agencies involved more on the frontlines of the war on drugs. Without the contributions that the National Guard makes, the counterdrug efforts of these other agencies would be less effective, and interagency coordination of counterdrug efforts would also be less effective.
In addition, the National Guard engages in demand suppression efforts. These efforts are a critical pillar in the war on drugs because if demand can be reduced, then there will be less need for the supply suppression efforts in which the National Guard engages. Some of the demand suppression activities in which the National Guard engages are the provision of programs that are aimed at youth to help steer them towards a drug-free lifestyle, lending assistance to other state and civic agencies that provide similar programs and the promotion of alternate activities to help steer at-risk youth away from drug usage. The value of the National Guard’s support in these endeavors is more than simply financial or logistical. With the support of the National Guard, these endeavors are more consistent across different parts of the country, with the net result being that the messages sent are more consistent, and are based on methods and messages that have been proven to be successful. This in turn helps to raise the standard of drug use prevention strategies across the entire country.
These contributions that the National Guard makes are critical because of the type of role that the National Guard plays in the war on drugs. By taking control of the different organizational and logistical elements of the counterdrug and demand suppression efforts, the National Guard can tie these two strategies together more effectively. By working with myriad other agencies on these objectives, the National Guard can ensure that all agencies are working towards the same end goals, using the same tools that have been proven effective.
This role, therefore, is of critical importance. Without it, agencies would engage in different levels of engagement in drug prevention. The effects, naturally, would be as diverse as the strategies. Because illegal drug use is a national problem, the effort to curtail drug use must be coordinated on the national level. Having a relatively high level of consistency in both the message and the financial resources applied to drug prevention will also deliver better results. The engagement of the National Guard in this role allows the other agencies to function better, and for the results to be more consistent across the nation.
In addition, the National Guard provides this function at both the counterdrug level and the drug demand level. The drug problem is based in part on the easy supply of illegal drugs and in part on the high demand for illegal drugs. In order to truly address the drug problem, both sides of this equation must be tackled with the same enthusiasm and the same high level of coordination among agencies. The National Guard is well-positioned to fulfill this role and has taken up this mantle.
It should also be noted that a significant portion of the National Guard’s effort is aimed at the military community. The Guard delivers courses on the causes and prevention of drug abuse to military personnel as part of its mandate in the war on drugs, and works with the other branches of the military to ensure that substance abuse among military members is reduced (Phelan, 2009). The impact of this is substantial, because not only does reducing substance abuse among military members improve the caliber of the United States military, but it improves the image of these military branches around the world. This can contribute to a strong positive impression of the U.S. military branches in geopolitical circles around the world.
There are some arguments that can be made that the National Guard is not making a strong enough contribution to the effort in the war on drugs. The first such argument is that the essential crux of the war on drugs is unsuccessfully, ergo any efforts in that direction are also unsuccessful. Drug use and import are on the rise, and this indicates that the current approach to drug prevention is generally a failure. If this is the case, then the ultimate mission of the National Guard is towards this failure, rather than towards a success. It can be argued that given the strong role that the National Guard plays in the coordination of drug prevention and drug demand suppression efforts contributes to a higher level of failure of these efforts — it spearheads efforts that ultimately fail so bears a greater responsibility for that failure much like a losing football coach or the CEO of a bankrupt company.
Another counterpoint is that that the U.S. National Guard merely performs the easier tasks involved in the effort. The more difficult tasks — arresting drug smugglers, performing undercover operations and even raising children who avoid drugs — are performed by other agencies or groups. The support function is valuable, and not without merit, but is not critical and without it the efforts would be more or less equally successful as with it. Thus, the role of the National Guard is perhaps overstated.
It is reasonable, however, to conclude that the contribution of the National Guard is generally positive. It is worth pointing out that the National Guard does not set drug prevention policy, it merely implements it. Therefore any deficiencies in the policy are not the responsibility of the National Guard — as a branch of the military it simply follows the orders that come down from the White House. It does it work faithfully and effectively. The programs that it implements are essential components of the strategy to both prevent drugs from entering the country and to reduce the domestic demand for these drugs.
Without the National Guard to play its essential support role, drug policy in the country would be implemented in a highly patchwork manner. There would be only limited opportunity for learning and for sharing information. The result of this would be that the effectiveness of current drug policy would be reduced. The National Guard, therefore, does play an essential role in improving the outcomes of the drug prevention and demand suppression programs that are in place.
NGR 500-2. National Guard Counterdrug Support. Retrieved July 13, 2011 from http://www.ngbpdc.ngb.army.mil/pubs/10/500_2_10-801.pdf
Phelan, B. (2009). Guard-sponsored substance abuse prevention course proves eye-opening. 131st Bomb Wing. Retrieved July 13, 2011 from http://www.131bw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123176857
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