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Army Lieutenant Colonel Says Department of Defense Efforts at Nation-Building, Not Interdiction, Will Control Drugs


February 1995

In a recent article for a military publication, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Richard F. Riccardelli argues that the "limited war" in Andean countries is doing little to solve the problem of illegal drug trafficking into the U.S. (Lieutenant Colonel Richard F. Riccardelli, "Waging Limited War on Drugs: New Strategy for the Nineties," Military Review, Oct. 1994, p. 25-30).

The War on Drugs, he writes, has distracted U.S. resources from problems that are more important to the interests of both countries. Efforts toward establishing stable democracies, peacefully resolving revolutions, and quelling terrorism and other domestic uprisings do more to protect U.S. interests in those nations than interdiction and eradication campaigns.

How can the U.S. expect countries like Peru and Bolivia to give full commitment to anti-drug efforts when their fragile economic systems depend on the drug trade? Riccardelli estimates that Bolivia pulls in $600 million every year from the cocaine trade, a number equal to all of the country's other exports combined.

U.S. aid can do little to make an impact on these countries' economic dependence on the drug trade. Riccardelli points out that the U.S. sent $478 million to Andean countries in 1993, more money than was provided to Central America. The annual earnings from the cocaine trade for that year, however, were estimated at $300 billion [either their typographical error or a very serious exaggeration -- EES].

The effects of drug trade on these nations' military forces is widespread  -- domestic turbulence, corruption in the highest ranks, and human rights violations. Such problems are only exacerbated by a U.S. military fundamental misunderstanding about its role in drug control:

Many confused a supporting role for the military with the role of law enforcement agencies. And like Vietnam, everyone sought quantitative measures of success. So the body count statistics of the 1960s and early 1970s became the 'bricks and tons' statistics seized in the 1980s and 1990s.

The U.S. military does have a role in international drug control, but Riccardelli argues that it is time to reevaluate our priorities for involvement.