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R.J. Godlewski’s The Independent Counterterrorist. I, Militia. June, 2009

To facilitate the incorporation of the civilian population into the war effort

against international terrorists, the International Nuclear Emergency Response

Team (INERT), R.J. Godlewski, Right Truth Blog, and affiliated parties are

developing a volunteer training program to educate interested individuals in the

fields of counterinsurgency, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and counterguerrilla

warfare operations.

Each monthly module will consist of a brief narrative by R.J. Godlewski,

appropriate federal military/civilian training manual/reports to review, and

review questions to stimulate debate. There are no fees associated with these

programs and no grades/certificates will be issued. This is strictly a volunteer

program for educational purposes.


Counterinsurgency, Operations, Che Guevara, Intelligence and Analysis, Interrogation, Explosive

Ordnance Disposal, History of Terrorism, Castro and Terrorism, Psychology of Terrorism, Urban

Warfare, Medical and Trauma Education, Survival and Evasion, Mine/Countermine Operations,

Psychological Operations, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, Shooting and Personal

Defense, Police Intelligence Operations, Special Forces Intelligence, Combat and Operational

Stress Control, Human Intelligence Collector Operations, Carlos Marighella, Urban Threats from

Guerrilla and Terrorist Organizations, Nuclear Terrorism.


Neither the author, INERT, nor any of its affiliated parties/individuals assume any

responsibility for the misuse of any information contained within this training

program. Seek competent legal advice before engaging within any personal

plan of action.

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and

defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,

foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance

to the same…”


R.J. Godlewski’s The Independent Counterterrorist. I, Militia. June, 2009

terrorists, we found ourselves in trouble.

As soon as our national leadership

decided that terrorists who maim and

murder at will could not be yelled at,

dunked in water, or held until they were

no longer a threat to our existence, we

found ourselves in trouble. We have

simply had our legs kicked out from

underneath us and, the sad part is, we

still turn to Washington to retrieve the

use of these very same limbs. Well, not


“So do not worry and say,

„What are we to eat?‟ or „What are

we to drink?‟ or „What are we to

wear?‟” (Matthew 6:31 NAB)

If we listened to Christ‟s words

and took them to heart, we could corral

our politicians in Washington who know

that we constantly worry about such

trivial things. In fact, we worry about

them so much that we had recently

elected a new president who‟s made it

his job to decide for us what we‟re

allowed to eat, what kind of car we‟re

allowed to drive, and even how we‟re

allowed to defend ourselves.

We elected him because we have

simply allowed “others” to bombard us

with such ill-conceived thoughts as

“global warming” (It‟s the end of May

and I‟m still freezing my ass off),

“torture” (compared with our enemies‟

actions, both historical and present, no

American soldier or national security

official has ever tortured another human

being since our nation‟s independence),

and “economic stimulus” (how

stimulating is it to go broke?).

It is simply a matter of “a glass

half empty”, a “glass half full”, and

George Carlin‟s memorable “a glass

twice as big as it needs to be”. In the

context of our government, I feel that

the late comedian‟s jovial approach is

closer to the truth, save that our

government is two hundred times the

size that it needs to be.

If a government truly serves its

citizens, then the president should not

care what kind of automobile that I

prefer to drive, rather what it can do to

ensure that there’s enough fuel

available for me to drive. The Obama

Administration fails on this miserably.

They do not desire to locate additional

petroleum reserves or even adequately

develop alternative fuels. They are

infatuated with saving the environment

over the existence of people deserving

of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of


Government controls us because

they simply do not fear us. All of those

“tea parties” conducted on April 15 th ?

Well, they were simply dismissed by the

same government that feels we cling too

much to our God and our guns. If they

had met either, they would be singing a

different tune altogether.

We need to corral this

government, ladies and gentlemen, if for

no other reason than they work for us.

Yet, we are confronted with:


R.J. Godlewski’s The Independent Counterterrorist. I, Militia. June, 2009

Personal Thought Envelope

How personal values are subjegated to Progessive Liberals‟ agenda and national


Your values.






Your personal morals and values swirl around within your life as you make countless

decisions based upon your particular culture, upbringing, and code of conduct.

Regardless, these beliefs are kept in check by the overriding control of others‟ agendas

and even our own laws and regulations.

To see how this affects, say, your right to self-defense, apply the above diagram

into a more proactive thought process:



R.J. Godlewski’s The Independent Counterterrorist. I, Militia. June, 2009

Protect your

family at all


Convince you

that guns are



on type or

location of





Your moral value is simply to protect your family at any cost. However, the

Progressives/Liberals try to convince you that guns are evil: “The Second Amendment is

all about hunting” or “The framers of the Constitution could not have possibly foreseen a

period where guns became so powerful”. Finally, as enough idiots fall for their ploy, they

enact restrictive gun-control legislation: no “assault weapons” no “concealed guns in

bars”, etc. Behind all of this are the criminals, terrorists, and other thugs who simply

want easy pickings for their chosen trade.

Ask yourself, however, have any of the Progressive/Liberals provided you with

why you should be permitted self-defense? I mean, in all reality, there are times in

which it is permissible to defend yourself, right? Isn‟t that what courts are all about?

What about fairplay on the sports field? Yet not a single Progressive/Liberal will come


R.J. Godlewski’s The Independent Counterterrorist. I, Militia. June, 2009

out and agree that there “might” be a time when you‟re permitted to off the guy trying to

kill you or your little daughter. They simply do not account for common sense and,

here‟s the real kicker, they cannot grant you the right to decide for yourself.

Here‟s where you stand in their eyes:










You will note that the Progressive/Liberals elevate themselves above not only you, John

Q. Public, but between you and them stand the media, our schools, and our courts, all of

which the Progressive/Liberals use to keep you down while keeping themselves at the

apex. “We the People” simply become “those who cannot possibly think for themselves”.

In short, before we are considered „equal‟ to the Progressive/Liberals, we must first

wade through the propaganda uttered by the media and entertainment industries,



The views expressed in this report are those of the author

and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the

Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S.

Government. This report is cleared for public release; distribution

is unlimited.


Comments pertaining to this report are invited and should be

forwarded to: Director, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War

College, 122 Forbes Ave, Carlisle, PA 17013-5244.


All Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) publications are available

on the SSI homepage for electronic dissemination. Hard copies

of this report also may be ordered from our homepage. SSI’s

homepage address is: www.StrategicStudiesInstitute.army.mil.


The Strategic Studies Institute publishes a monthly e-mail

newsletter to update the national security community on the

research of our analysts, recent and forthcoming publications, and

upcoming conferences sponsored by the Institute. Each newsletter

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ISBN 1-58487-344-2



The presence of drugged fighters is not unknown in

the history of warfare. Yet widespread drug use on the

battlefield is now part of protracted conflicts largely

fought by nonprofessional combatants that take place

in an international system characterized by the process

of globalization. From marijuana, khat, hallucinogenic

mushrooms, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine

to looted pharmaceuticals, irregular fighters have

found a ready supply of narcotics to consume for

a variety of combat purposes. Such consumption

has led to unpredictable fighting, the commission of

atrocities, and to the prolongation of internal violence.

The presence of intoxicated combatants will continue

to be a feature of armed conflict and requires a fuller

accounting to adequately prepare policymakers and

military planners for future conflicts.



Strategic Studies Institute



PAUL REXTON KAN is currently an Associate Professor

of National Security Studies at the U.S. Army

War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. While

finishing his Ph.D., he was the Deputy Director of the

Center for China-United States Cooperation where he

coordinated professional exchanges with Chinese officials

from the policy institutions linked to the Ministry

of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of State Security,

and the People’s Liberation Army. Dr. Kan has published

articles on the links between irregular warfare

and criminality in Small Wars and Insurgencies, International

Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Air

and Space Power Review, and Defense Intelligence Journal.

He was recently awarded the U.S. Army War College’s

General George C. Marshall Faculty Research Grant to

complete a book on the influence of the drug trade on

contemporary warfare. Dr. Kan earned his B.A. in Political

Science from Loyola Marymount University, his

M.A. in Political Science from University of California

at Santa Barbara, and his Ph.D. in International Studies

from the Graduate School of International Studies at

the University of Denver.



The complexity of many ongoing and persistent

conflicts in the post-Cold War is partially attributed to

the widespread presence of drug intoxicated irregular

fighters. Drug consumption in contemporary wars

has coincided with the use of child soldiers, has led

to increased unpredictability among irregular fighters,

provided the conditions for the breakdown of social

controls and commission of atrocities, and caused the

lessening of command and control among the ranks.

Although the nonmedical use of drugs by combatants

has a long history, recent encounters of professional

armed forces have demonstrated the need to reinvestigate

the reasons irregular combatants consume drugs,

the type of drugs they consume, how they acquire drugs,

and the consequences for professional militaries.

Intoxication among combatants continues to be a

part of today’s conflicts and occurs in minimal, acute,

and unrestrained degrees. The perceived benefits

felt by combatants consuming illegal narcotics on

the battlefield have few pressures to constrain them.

Pressures like social norms, legal controls, expense, and

availability, along with individual fears of addiction,

toxicity, and concerns about the lack of knowledge

about a drug and supervision of its use are often

mitigated by the nature of contemporary wars which

tear down each of these by focusing attacks on the

institutions and people who comprise them. However,

drug use and abuse in wartime still depend on the

law of supply and demand which is distorted due

to the type of consumer (a person engaged in armed

violence) and the areas (zones of conflict) where a drug

is available.


“Combatant demand” is comprised of four main

reasons that drugs are sought by those engaged in

armed conflict: stimulation, reward, recruitment, and

relaxation. The supply side for drugs in today’s wars

falls into at least one of four categories: traditional,

transshipped, looted, and manufactured. The result

is the use of marijuana, khat, hallucinogenic mushrooms,

cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and

looted pharmaceuticals to stoke a variety of conflicts.

Drugged fighters are a significant feature of protracted

conflicts, presenting challenges for Western militaries

to overcome since such protraction creates conditions

for drug use among their forces as well. Lengthier

times spent in the field can generate personal hardships

among troops that can be soothed by drug use. A type

of drug quagmire can develop where protraction

creates an atmosphere for the greater demand for

drugs among irregular and professional forces.

Although militaries from developed countries are

beginning to acknowledge the strategic and tactical

effects of drugged combatants, little has changed in the

way military and political leaders have conceptualized

the role of illegal narcotics in warfare. What is needed is

greater cooperation among agencies of the Department

of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of

Treasury, and Department of Homeland Security to

monitor and assess the ways drugs are being used by

irregular forces so that new strategies can be added to

the plans of conventional forces who may intervene in

such operational environments. More techniques from

law enforcement to track and trace combatant supply

and demand will prepare militaries for encounters

with drug intoxicated combatants by developing

early warning signals in order to adjust their tactics in

particular conflicts.


Additional institutional measures should be put

in place before the next intervention in environments

that include drug intoxicated irregular fighters. Such

measures could include nesting operations targeted

at reducing drug use in campaign plans from the

beginning, while including new training to consider

new military objectives like patrols along smuggling

routes and securing hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies

during an intervention. In situations where nationbuilding

and stability operations are mandated, the

main goal of governments in responding to these

conflict environments should be to reduce the level

of violence through a reduction of the use of drugs.

By lowering the demand for drug use, command and

control can be strengthened among irregular forces,

thus increasing the likelihood of adherence to the

parameters of any potential peace accord. To reduce

the potential for a drug quagmire, greater institutional

support is needed for the professional military to

monitor, treat, and provide long-term care for active

duty troops and veterans who may develop substance

abuse disorders.




Much has been written about armed irregular

groups funding their operations by turning to the drug

trade. 1 However, participation in drug trafficking is

not the only way that drugs complicate contemporary

armed conflicts. Widespread drug use by these types of

combatants also contributes to conflict environments

that challenge policymakers and military leaders. As

one psychopharmacologist has argued, the desire to

seek intoxication may be a “fourth drive” in human

beings after hunger, thirst, and sex. 2 Such a drive

appears to have an abiding link to warfare.

The nonmedical use of drugs by combatants has a

long history. In 1781, a South American Indian militia

refused to fight against the Spanish unless they were

resupplied with coca leaves. 3 Peyote was routinely used

by various Native American warriors before armed

clashes with British, French, and American colonial

armies. The Zulu warriors of Isandlwana cooked a

cannabis broth, emboldening them and making them

unpredictable to British troops in 1879. Commanders

of European forces, however, were reluctant to permit

their own troops to partake in the local drug of choice. 4

While in Egypt, Napoleon noticed the smoking of

hashish among the lower classes and forbade it by his

troops. 5

However, paralleling the trade of opium to fund

European imperial expansion, opium use flourished

particularly among the British and French officer corps.

Many American Civil War soldiers became addicted

to opium as a result of being given morphine to treat

their injuries. 6 In fact, opium and morphine became

so closely associated with the military profession


that those who became addicted were said to have

contracted the “soldier’s disease.” Western forces were

not the only forces who succumbed to the intoxicating

benefits of the poppy; opium took its toll on the forces

of the Chinese emperor during the time of the Opium

Wars. Many of the Chinese soldiers fighting to defend

the empire against opium were addicted themselves.

More than 10 years after the First Opium War, the

successes of the Taiping Rebellion (whose members

touted their sobriety as a virtue) may be explained in

part by the nearly 90 percent addiction rate among the

Chinese emperor’s army. 7

Drug use among conventional forces also has roots

in major 20th century conflicts. Cocaine use has links to

World War I. The fear of cocaine abuse among British

Imperial Forces was spread by the media of the time by

portraying it as part of a German plan to demoralize

their adversary. 8 During World War II, amphetamines

were widely used among all sides to keep the fighting

men alert and were provided in ration kits of American

troops. 9 Methamphetamine was widely used by

Imperial Japanese forces in World War II. 10 During the

Korean War, American servicemen stationed in Korea

and Japan invented the “speedball,” an injectable

mixture of amphetamine and heroin. 11 U.S. troops in

Vietnam preferred marijuana, but when subject to a

sudden marijuana ban, they turned to heroin. Discipline

problems quickly rose; as one commanding officer

lamented 2 years after the marijuana crackdown, “If

it would get them to give up the hard stuff, I would

buy all the marijuana and hashish in the Delta as a

present.” 12

While conventional forces struggled (and continue

to struggle) with drug use among the ranks, warfare

today occurs in a different context, meaning that drug


consumption by combatants has differing effects

that military leaders and policymakers must take

into account. Contemporary wars feature new actors

employing differing tactics than conventional militaries

and doing so for a variety of different goals.

Martin Van Creveld argues that war has become “transformed”

as we enter a “new era, not of peaceful competition

between trading blocks, but of warfare between

ethnic and religious groups” waged “not by armies but

by groups whom we today call terrorists, guerrillas,

bandits, and robbers.” Barbara Ehrenriech, too, points

to a “new kind of war,” one “less disciplined and more

spontaneous than the old,” and “one often fought by

ill-clad bands more resembling gangs than armies.” In

a similar vein, Mary Kaldor writes about “new wars,”

ones centrally about “identity politics,” fought in a context

of globalization by “a disparate range of different

types of groups such as paramilitary units, local warlords,

criminal gangs, police forces, mercenary groups,

and also regular armies including breakaway units of

regular armies.” 13

These are rich environments for the presence of

widespread drug use. This monograph examines the

reasons irregular fighters consume drugs, the types of

drugs they consume, how they acquire drugs, and the

effects on conflict.



Intoxication among combatants continues to be a

part of today’s conflicts and occurs in minimal, acute,

and unrestrained degrees (see Table 1). Regardless of the

degrees, however, the perceived benefits of combatants

consuming illegal narcotics on the battlefield, much like

the drug financing of violent conflicts, has few pressures


to constrain it. Taking mind altering substances may

seem like a risk for an individual fighter who must

be aware of danger and competent enough to defend

himself, his comrades, and equipment. Maintaining a

clear mind would seem to be more advantageous than

being strung out. However, much like drug use by

ordinary citizens in peace time, “gains generally loom

larger than risks [because] gains tend to be immediate”

while jeopardy, danger, and consequence are more

remote. 14 Individual fears and concerns are often

mitigated by the atmosphere of organized violence—

the gain of cheating death outweighs the possibility

of impairment, illness, or injury in the minds of many

combatants who consume drugs.

Minimal: Haiti, Iraq (Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda in Iraq).

• Leadership of irregular group ignores drug use by

individual fighters.

• Alternatively, leadership of irregular group recruits fighters

via intoxication or addiction.

Acute: Bosnia, Colombia, Congo, Peru, Philippines, Russia

(Chechen rebels), Rwanda.

• Leadership of irregular group uses the promise of drugs to

their fighters as a reward.

• Leadership of irregular group encourages drug use as a

motivation for atrocities against civilians.

• Command and control problems begin to occur among the


Unrestrained: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Uganda.

• Increasing intoxication or addiction among irregular troops

who may conduct violent operations to support their habits.

• Command and control of irregular troops are nearly

nonexistent due to widespread drug use among fighters.

Table 1. Degrees of Drug Use by Combatants.


Additionally, while there are numerous external

pressures that constrain an individual’s desire to use

drugs in peacetime, such constraints are not always

present during war. These constraints include social

norms, legal controls, expense, and availability,

along with individual fears of addiction, toxicity, and

concerns about the lack of knowledge about a drug

and supervision of its use. Social norms, legal controls,

expense, and availability are often mitigated by the

nature of contemporary wars which tears down each

of these by focusing attacks on the institutions and

people who comprise them.

In fact, some appeals that lead an individual to

abuse drugs during peacetime are heightened during

war. Peer pressure and “turning on” a friend to a drug

are more acutely felt in wartime when an individual

fighter must demonstrate his bravery and honor. Small

group cohesion occurs when individuals experience

and survive danger with their fellow comrades. Drug

use allows an individual to “prove himself” to his

comrades and eases his transition into a battlefield


Although key restraints are removed and appeals

increased, drug use and abuse in wartime still depend

on the law of supply and demand. However, supply

and demand are distorted due to the type of consumer

(a person engaged in armed violence) and the areas

(zones of conflict) a drug is available. Much as there

are distinctions in the trafficking of drugs that allow

warring groups to participate in certain key nodes,

there are distinctions in supply and demand at the

level of the individual fighter that are significant to the

ways contemporary wars are now being waged.



Drugs are used by individual fighters for four

main reasons—stimulation, reward, recruitment,

and relaxation—and comprise a type of “combatant

demand.” 15 Drugs can stimulate a person’s will to fight

and to ignore the possibilities of injury and death.

The notion of “liquid courage” is not just applicable

to the use of liquor, but to the use of other drugs in

situations of organized violence. Afghan soldiers who

worked with Soviet forces against the mujahedin were

provided hashish in their rations; “When you get high

on hashish, you become completely revolutionary and

attack the enemy—fear simply disappears.” 16 Drugs are

often used to fend off the boredom that accompanies

being a part of a group that, when not fighting, is

waiting to fight, hiding, or carrying on the mundane

duties required to keep a combatant group effective.

Drugs have been offered as rewards for conducting

hazardous or unpalatable operations against civilians.

John Mueller describes the phenomenon as “carnival,”

whereby warring groups take a territory and celebrate

by looting medical buildings for drugs and then

following up with orgies of rape, torture, and murder

of local residents. 17 Recruitment is also aided by the

use of drugs and the type of devastation that occurs

in internal conflicts. As drug profits alleviate key

problems of recruiting, training, and retaining fighters

for a combatant leader, the provision of drugs can sway

an individual’s decision to join the ranks of a warring

group. The stress of combat can also increase the desire

to seek mental escape in a fighter. Depressant drugs can

alleviate the stress felt by a combatant and help him to

avoid reflecting on his circumstances. At times, a rise in

the level of violence has altered the drug habits among


irregular fighters. The young Hmong fighters of the

Pathet Lao were forbidden by social custom to smoke

opium, but after the American bombing campaign

against their strongholds, many took up the habit to

calm their nerves. 18

Since the overwhelming number of today’s wars are

civil wars, they are largely fought by nonprofessional

armed groups like insurgent organizations, militias,

and paramilitaries. Unlike members of professional

militaries, these groups are not prescribed and

administered drugs by a centralized government

bureaucracy or monitored by medical professionals.

This has become problematic since these groups are

mainly comprised of civilians who are not trained to

handle combat stress nor equipped with sophisticated

weapons like their professional military counterparts.

Without sophisticated weaponry, individual fighters

engage in close combat encounters and often the extreme

tension of hand-to-hand combat. Drugs provide

a means to cope with the physical stress and mental

anxiety that are a part of such violent encounters. In

essence, drugs can compensate for the lack of training

and mental discipline that are part of the composition

of professional military forces and are a resource that

can increase the probability of winning for militarily

weaker groups.

The widespread presence of civilians on the

battlefield is also made worse by the reliance on the

drug trade by warring groups in some conflicts. With

the growing significance of drug crops and smuggling

routes to the financing of warring groups, civilians

who cultivate drug crops, inhabit valuable agricultural

space, or live near transportation routes come to be

seen as legitimate targets by opposing groups. Acting

against these civilians by nonprofessional and poorly


equipped troops also causes the same type of combat

stress that individual fighters seek to lessen by using


Second, the types of equipment used by irregular

forces do not require a great degree of skill. The lack of

sophisticated weaponry facilitates the ease of its use;

shooting a gun, planting a mine, or aiming a mortar

does not require a combatant to be clean and sober.

In contrast to the high tech weapons of professional

Western militaries and the integrated way they fight,

easy-to-use weapons provide very little restraint on

drug use and intoxication by irregular or untrained


In addition, the emergence of wartime drug markets

is assisted by the presence of criminals and addicts in

the ranks of irregular forces. Besieged governments

have not been averse to letting criminals “earn their

freedom” by fighting for their people. Both Slobodan

Milosevic and Saddam Hussein emptied their jails of

drug criminals and other inmates to fight in paramilitary

groups against their adversaries. Moreover, many

insurgents and terrorists, who are considered by

definition to be lawbreakers by established authorities,

have spent time in prison among drug dealers and

abusers. For the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu

Musab al Zarqawi, participation in the drug trade was

nothing new. Zarqawi even recruited drug addicts

and dealers to his cause during his time in a Jordanian

prison. 19



The demand for drugs by combatants must be

juxtaposed with the availability of drugs to combatants.


Typically, the supply for drugs in today’s wars falls into

at least one of four categories: traditional, transshipped,

looted, and manufactured. These categories are not

mutually exclusive to a single conflict since combatants

often find access to drugs from a number of differing

sources. Traditional drugs are those that are part of the

long-standing cultural practices of the societies of which

a warring group is a part and are naturally produced

in the territories where conflicts are taking place. For

example, the drug khat is part of the social landscape

of east African societies, and its use is incorporated by

combatants in Somalia and Sudan. Traditional drugs

can also be ceremonial by linking the fighter to the

traditions of the past and connecting fighters to the

mystical. Such connections are seen as ways to fight

honorably or to become impervious to injury and death

in combat. This has been commonplace in Liberia’s civil

wars when fighters fortified by marijuana and palm

wine donned dresses and wigs, believing that bullets

would be confused and misidentify their true targets.

Other drugs which are consumed are those that

are available due to the presence of a transit route

through the territory where a conflict is occurring.

Once again, globalization has been a significant factor

since it has made a variety of drugs available to new

markets where there are both conflicts and valuable

transshipment points. Coca, for example, is not grown

in Africa, yet cocaine is routinely used by combatants

who are “paid” with it by traffickers. Such bartering

for securing routes is not uncommon; Revolutionary

United Front (RUF) fighters in Sierra Leone regularly

consumed crack cocaine and “brown-brown” (heroin)

that were transshipped through their territories. 20

Drugs can also be attained by looting them from

pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals. These are prescription

drugs manufactured by pharmaceutical companies


for ailments unrelated to combat. Nonetheless, they

can alter the consciousness of a fighter for combat

(and carnival) related purposes. Drugs looted from

pharmacies were used as rewards and motivators

for those Hutus who committed atrocities against

Tutsis during the Rwanda genocide in 1994. 21 In

Iraq, numerous pharmaceutical drugs like Captagon

(stimulant), Benzhexol (relaxant), Benzodizeapines

(a stimulant when abused), and Valium looted from

clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals in the immediate

aftermath of the fall of Baghdad have been abused. 22

Manufactured drugs refers to pharmaceuticals

prescribed by physicians to treat legitimate disorders

and “home manufactured” drugs like amphetaminetype

stimulants (ATS), methamphetamine in particular.

In Iraq, evidence of methamphetamine production and

use has been found in insurgent hideouts. Numerous

returning military field commanders have substantiated

claims of drugged insurgent fighters from Zarqawi’s

group; hideouts used by Zarqawi’s fighters were

frequently found littered with drug paraphernalia like

pipes and needles. 23 A Marine in Ramadi reported that

random autopsies of insurgents discovered high levels

of narcotics use. 24



When the ways supplies of drugs are made

available are placed together with the reasons they are

in demand, the specific drugs that are consumed by

combatants can be identified (see Table 2). 25 The drugs

that are used by members of a single combatant group

can fall in a number of these categories since fighters

will often combine various drugs. For example, in


Colombia, many combatants smoke basuco which is

cocaine paste combined with marijuana and tobacco. 26

In some instances, transshipped drugs are also

adopted into the ceremonial practices of a warring

group to increase the “high” that is experienced by

individual fighters. Cocaine, transshipped via Liberia,

became regularly ingested by participants in its civil

war. 27 Several drugs like heroin, marijuana, and ATS

are used for a number of purposes and are available

in a number of different contexts. Hallucinogens like

mushrooms, while a part of traditional uses, are also

used by certain troops who do not participate in local

practices but merely take advantage of their nearby

availability for mental escape. Table 3 lists the conflicts

where combatants have been known to consume drugs,

the supply and demand for the drugs, and the specific

drugs known to be consumed by belligerents.

Traditional Transshipped Looted Manufactured

Stimulant Marijuana, Cocaine, ATS Pharmaceuticals ATS, “basuco”

Hashish, Khat,

Mushrooms, Coca

Reward Khat Heroin, Pharmaceuticals ATS


Recruitment Marijuana, Khat Heroin, Pharmaceuticals Unknown


Relaxant Marijuana, Heroin, Pharmaceuticals Prescribed

Hashish Opium, Medications for




Table 2. Drugs Present in Conflicts.


Conflict Supply/Demand Type(s) of Drugs

Bosnia Transshipped-Reward Heroin



Colombia Manufactured-Stimulant Basuco



Haiti Transshipped-Stimulant Cocaine

Iraq Manufactured-Stimulant (AQI) Methamphetamine

Looted-Recruitment (Sunni



Liberia Transshipped-Stimulant Cocaine





Peru Traditional-Stimulant Coca, base cocaine

Philippines Traditional-Stimulant Heroin

Russia Transshipped-Reward Heroin

Rwanda Looted-Stimulant, Pharmaceuticals

Looted Reward

Sierra Leone Transshipped-Stimulant, Cocaine, Heroin


Somalia Traditional-Stimulant, Khat



Uganda Traditional-Stimulant, Khat



Table 3. Known Drug Use by Combatants

in Contemporary Conflicts.


The law of supply and demand for narcotics in

wartime also affects the way contemporary wars are

being fought. For irregular fighters who consume

drugs, the degree of effects on the battlefield has been

varied. The acute and unrestrained degrees of drug

used by irregulars on the battlefield are associated


most significantly with transshipped and looted

drugs used for recruitment and rewards. Each degree,

however, is associated with the use of child soldiers,

increased unpredictability among irregular fighters, the

breakdown of social controls, and the commission of

atrocities, as well as decreased command and control.

The Use of Child Soldiers.

Roughly 300,000 children are believed to be involved

in hostile conflicts, many of whom are drugged by

warring groups as a form of recruitment and retention. 28

While the specific number of children pressed into

combat via drug addiction is not known, there are

regular reports that child soldiers are drugged in order

to impair their judgment and lower their inhibitions.

The experience of one former child soldier from Sierra

Leone is representative: “Before battles, I was given

white powder which was mixed with rice. It made

me brave; it made me think I could do anything.” 29

Many girls who were press-ganged into becoming

members of rebel groups in Uganda and Sierra Leone

participated in drug use, terrorist mutilations, and

ritualistic murder. 30 In another example, in Iraq a girl

was abducted, taken to Baghdad, drugged with pills

against her will, dressed in a suicide belt, and sent to

bomb a cleric’s office. 31 In Uganda, some 10,000 children

have been pressed into service of the Lord’s Resistance

Army, drugged, and forced to kill their relatives so

they cannot run away and return home. 32

Increased Unpredictability among Irregular


Regardless of the type of drugs and reasons for use,

widespread drug intoxication among forces has meant


that many fighters do not act in a rational or predictable

manner. Combatant behavior is often influenced by an

individual’s state of intoxication. For example, U.S.

Marines reportedly had to change their tactics when

notified that the insurgents in Fallouja were probably

high and thus less likely to be stopped by standard

shots to the torso. 33 One Marine stated that “on the

second day of the fight, word came down to focus on

head shots, that body shots were not good enough,”

while another compared it to “‘Night of the Living

Dead’, people who should have been dead were still

alive.” 34

Battlefield courage is not the only effect of drug

use; depending on the type and regularity of the drug

ingested, drug abuse can lead to long-term behavioral

changes that complicate warfare. Several effects of

repeated hard drug use include increased confusion,

agitation, paranoia, and hallucinations. Continued

high-level use of hard narcotics like cocaine, heroin,

and ATS can alter the brain chemistry of an individual

and actually increase the sense of fear felt by a

combatant. With fear a natural state of fighting a war,

increased fear only leads to less control and episodes

of greater violence. When ex-prisoners, former drug

dealers, and junkies fill the ranks of irregular forces and

populate the battlefield, standard military operations

against strategic installations have been superseded

by criminal activities that support individual interests

and motivations.

Widespread drug abuse by irregular troops creates a

genuine dilemma for their leadership. Much as routine

drug use by an individual creates tolerance, requiring

ever greater doses to achieve intoxication or to avoid

withdrawal symptoms, leaders cannot necessarily

reduce command and control problems by restricting


drug use. To do so would invite more unpredictability

and continued coordination problems. As one Afghan

soldier, while working with the Soviets, stated: “If the

commanders refused to come up with hashish, they

would face the wrath of armed soldiers.” 35

Breakdown of Social Controls and Commission

of Atrocities.

With the lack of government authority extended

over all sections of a country in a civil war, no legal

constraints on drug use by rebel forces exist. In the

absence of formal legal controls, informal social controls

typically play a major role in regulating psychoactive

drug use. 36 However, in many of today’s wars, those

who exercise social control on drug use are often

victims themselves. For example,

Since ancient times, drugs have probably been part of

the “conditioning” of African warriors in very strict ritual

settings. Even today, although the social control exercised

through the activity by the shamans, witches, and

other initiates over the use of psychoactive substances

has, in many instances, disappeared, these substances

are still in widespread use, as was observed, for example,

during the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Like

the grigri, the power to make warriors invisible, leave

them unaffected by bullets, and so on, is attributed to

certain substances. 37

Social control can also be exercised by families and

traditional leaders, but they too are often targeted by

adversarial groups. Without these people, fighters are

freer to abuse drugs and act in unrestrained ways.

Ironically, drugs are frequently used to break these

social controls. Warring groups will generate addiction

among the vulnerable to fill their ranks and tear them

away from familiar social patterns.


Giving drugs to individuals coincides with the tactics

employed by irregular forces. A common approach

is to “tease out someone else’s latent prejudices and

inflame it [sic] with scapegoating rhetoric, mobilize

gangs of thugs and criminals and the unemployed,

arm them, stoke them with drugs and drink, and loose

them upon defenseless civilians.” 38 Carnival also has a

strategic purpose for combatant leaders because it can

induce such terror among the local population that they

will flee or submit more easily to the new authority. In

fact, the promises of carnivals are frequently used as

recruitment tools for combatant leaders; rebel leaders

linked to Charles Taylor rallied fighters for his final

offensive against supporters and troops of Liberian

President Samuel Doe by naming it “Operation Pay

Yourself.” 39 As a result, campaigns often involve

“immiseration and violent population displacement

as an essential precondition for asset realization” that

is key to maintaining a warring group’s cohesion and

viability. 40

Decreased Command and Control among the Ranks.

Commanding and controlling intoxicated forces is

extremely difficult when warring groups degenerate

into criminal gangs whose members fight among

themselves over petty drug stakes. Factions of

Sendero Luminoso in Peru routinely deserted when

drug supplies were low and would “re-enlist” when

cocaine was made available. 41 Some groups within

violent organizations will go on the prowl for not

only drugs, but booty to trade for drugs. Over time,

drug use among irregular forces generally degrades

combat effectiveness and leads to internal division and

fragmentation. Many Chechen rebels are believed to be


egular heroin users who are provided with doses in

exchange for protecting routes through their territory.

In fact, their leader, who was killed by Russian special

forces, was betrayed by an informer in exchange for a

dose of heroin. 42

When drug supplies run low, regular drug users

among fighting forces can suffer withdrawal symptoms

which can still lead to the outbreak of violence. For

example, forensic evidence shows that some of the

militants who seized over 1,000 hostages in a southern

Russian school in 2004 were long-time heroin addicts

who were in a state of withdrawal shortly before

the violent outcome which claimed more than 300

lives. 43 Withdrawal can last from a few days in the

cases of cocaine and heroin, to a few months in the

case of methamphetamine, thus varying the length

and severity of unpredictable behavior. A common

withdrawal effect experienced by long-time drug

users is anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure. 44

This lack of pleasure sensation causes a disagreeable

feeling that can last for weeks, leading many to take

up the drug habit again. The anhedonia symptoms of

methamphetamine abuse are particularly acute. Many

methamphetamine users in society try to alleviate the

effect of the methamphetamine “crash” by buffering the

effects with other drugs such as cocaine or heroin. 45



The increasing number of civilians comprising

belligerent groups, when combined with the types

and availability of drugs, means that the presence of

intoxicated combatants is likely to be an abiding feature

of war in the near term. While drug use by individuals


in war occurs for a variety of reasons and complicates

conditions on the battlefield, the effects are more

far reaching in an era of globalization. Combatants

under the influence of drugs have been known to

commit massive human rights abuses against rival

groups, creating immense human suffering that affects

regional stability. For example, carnival activities in

Yugoslavia sent waves of refugees throughout Europe

and eventually led to a Western military response to

the immense humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in

the heart of Europe. 46

More significantly, as globalization draws more

actors together for purposes that range from development

projects to security and stabilization operations,

from peacekeeping to humanitarian missions, they

are more likely to come into contact with intoxicated

combatants. While some individuals are seduced by the

availability of drugs to join a warring group, those who

are coerced to join through drugging further denigrate

human rights standards and serve to undermine the

establishment of civil society.

It is likely that Western militaries will continue

to deal with the effects of the presence of drugs on

the battlefield. Over time, this will likely pressure

defense establishments to reconsider their current

approaches. One way such reconsideration may occur

is under the new imperatives to come to grips with the

dynamics of asymmetric warfare and the nuances of

conducting counterinsurgency operations. The use of

drugged combatants by nonstate groups lends itself

to asymmetric approaches to counter the superior

technical firepower and skills of Western militaries.

With patterns of contemporary war composed of

mostly civil wars fought by nonprofessional armed

groups with less sophisticated weaponry, few potential


adversaries of the West will wage a conventional high

tech war because doing so presents enormous training

and logistical and resource requirements that few

groups can produce. 47 Drug use, with its effects on

combatant behavior, can narrow the gap by exploiting

the Western legal and ethical regimes under which

troops must operate. Enemies may consider the West’s

humanitarian sensitivity to enemy casualties as an

advantage: they “may purposely put their own people

in jeopardy, if doing so complicates or adversely affects

the West’s use of its military power.” 48 Increasingly,

opponents of Western military forces have sought to

present them with moral and ethical quandaries.

Drugged fighters may operate in unfamiliar and

seemingly irrational ways to members of professional

conventional forces, yet the standard response to

engaging any fighter whether he is sober or intoxicated

is the same—a threat on the battlefield in combat is

dealt with by lethal force. This tactic is problematic

since the battlefield and combat are no longer the only

contexts where professional militaries are deployed

and operate. In the years since the end of the Cold War,

Western militaries have engaged in peacekeeping,

stability and security missions, and nation-building

activities that were all characterized in the United States

as “military operations other than war” (MOOTW).

Such operations have lower thresholds of violence and

more restrictive rules of engagement. In the face of

more constrained uses of force by intervening forces,

militaries engaging drugged forces at different points

along the spectrum of war are still a missing piece of

any professional military’s doctrine.

The need for doctrine is especially acute when wars

include children who are recruited through addiction;

professional military leaders with forces involved


in the conflict will have to prepare their troops well

in advance for a possible confrontation. Military

operations will require more briefings to troops on

the possibility of facing not only drugged adversaries,

but drugged child soldiers. With the potential of

using lethal force against drugged children, Western

militaries are just beginning to recognize the effects on

an individual service member in the aftermath of such

a confrontation. However, formal doctrine to guide

the practices and conduct of professional soldiers who

encounter such situations is lacking. For example,

there is a lack of specialized training to teach frontline

conventional soldiers how to deal with drugged child

soldiers. This was the conclusion reached by the Center

for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, which held a

seminar for the U.S. Marine Corps and recommended

the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures

for these situations. 49 Although the problems of combatant

unpredictability and unconventional fighting are being

recognized by professional militaries, the contribution

of drugged combatants to the complexity of many

conflicts has not strongly registered with the defense

establishments of Western governments.

However, other pressing challenges are presented

by the presence of intoxicated combatants for professional

militaries that are being overlooked. Table

4 reflects the status of those conflicts that have been

influenced by drug use among combatants. Ongoing

conflicts are those where no settlement among the

warring parties has been reached, and violence

continues in various scopes and degrees. Abeyant

conflicts are those where ceasefires exist between the

belligerents or an intervening force to maintain peace

is present. These conflicts, however, may also feature

breakdowns of ceasefires that are then reestablished, or


the high likelihood of violence returning if third party

interveners depart. Settled conflicts are based upon

agreements among the belligerents to end hostilities or

exist in situations where one belligerent has defeated

an opponent on the battlefield.

Minimal Acute Unrestrained

Drug Use Drug Use Drug Use

Ongoing Iraq Colombia, Peru, Uganda


Abeyant Haiti Bosnia, Congo, Liberia, Sierra

Russia, Rwanda Leone, Somalia

Settled ------ ------ ------

Table 4. Status of Conflicts Influenced by Drug Use

among Combatants.

As Table 4 demonstrates, there are no settled

conflicts where there has been widespread use of

drugs by warring groups. This is not to suggest a direct

causal link—that drug use causes conflicts to endure.

It does suggest that it is an influential factor on a range

of issues that complicate efforts to reach ceasefires and

political settlements.

Nonetheless, if drugged combatants do not directly

contribute to the prolonging of conflict, Table 4 does

reveal that drugged fighters are a prominent feature

of protracted conflicts. This presents a significant

challenge for Western militaries to overcome since

such protraction creates conditions for drug use among

their forces as well. The longer duration of armed

conflicts contributes to drug use among members of

professional militaries when deployed far from home.

Lengthier times spent in the field can generate personal

hardships among troops that can be soothed by drug


use. A type of drug quagmire can develop where

protraction creates an atmosphere for the greater

demand for drugs among irregular and professional


Professional militaries of developed states generally

possess better resources to diagnose and address the

type of stress that individual fighters undergo and

have access to prescription medication administered

by experts. 50 However, such access to professionals

and tightly controlled prescription drugs along

with monitoring possible drug abuse do not make

professional forces immune from drug abuse. With

conflicts growing more protracted, the temptation

to turn to illegal drugs also grows among troops of

Western militaries. The rate of illicit drug use increased

among U.S. military members in 2005, to an estimated

5 percent, nearly double the rate measured in 1998. 51

Dr. Thomas R. Kosten, a psychiatrist at the Veterans

Affairs Medical Center in Houston, traces drinking and

drug use to the stress of working in a war zone. “The

treatment that they take for it is the same treatment

that they took after Vietnam,” Dr. Kosten said. “They

turn to alcohol and drugs.” 52

Protraction of a conflict can also have repercussions

in recruitment that present opportunities for drug

use to become problematic. As two simultaneous

protracted conflicts with irregulars continue for the

U.S. military and with more service members opting

out of continued service, recruitment becomes a higher

priority but is also exceptionally difficult in the face of

an ongoing unpopular war in Iraq. The reduction of

recruitment standards during protracted wars risks

bringing the drug habits of society into the ranks of the

professional military.


As the recruiting climate has grown more difficult, the

Army also has increased the number of recruits who require

moral waivers because of misdemeanor offenses.

Through April, about 15.5 percent of recruits required

some kind of waiver for a misdemeanor offense, drug,

alcohol incident, or medical problem, compared with 12

percent for 2004 and 15 percent for 2005 when the Army

missed its recruiting goal. (emphasis added) 53

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, the use

of moral waivers has increased and has led to accepting

many more recruits who have had contact with law

enforcement and the courts due to drug offenses.

When peacekeeping forces have been sent to conflicts

where drugs are available, they have not proven immune

from succumbing to drug use themselves. Much

like combatants, peacekeepers are frequently exposed

to dangerous, provoking, or humiliating situations and

have limited possibilities to express the resulting anger

and frustration due to restrictive rules of engagement

that encourage neutrality. Self-medication with alcohol

and drugs to calm down or to “take the edge off” have

not been uncommon. 54 In Cambodia, the favorite drink

among the United Nations (UN) personnel at parties

was the “Space Shuttle,” made “by distilling a pound

of marijuana over a 6-week period with increasingly

good quality spirits. It is a work of love, and the final

product is an amber-colored liquid that tastes like

cognac. We drink it with rounds of Coke.” 55

Command and control problems due to drug use

can also affect professional militaries. For example, the

British Army has confirmed one instance of a major

compromise in command and control due to drug use

among its ranks in the war in Iraq. One former soldier

claimed that 75 men from his company, 60 percent of its

strength, regularly took cocaine, ecstasy, or marijuana.


There’s guys who have to have two or three lines of

coke before they can operate,” he said. 56 British officials

arrested several soldiers for exchanging their weapons

in Germany for $4,700 worth of cocaine which was

then later sold to their comrades in Iraq. 57

Conscript armies are exceptionally vulnerable to

drug use for many of the same reasons that irregular

forces are—their members are not full-time, regularly

trained military professionals. As a result, draftees and

conscripts have sought drugs as a way to cope with

an unfamiliar atmosphere and can behave similarly

to irregular troops. Drugged conscripts have been a

danger to their own forces; a soldier stationed near

the Russian border with Georgia shot and killed eight

of his colleagues (and wounded five others) during

a hallucinogenic fit brought on by eating magic

mushrooms. 58 Widespread drug problems among

conscripts in the Red Army during the Afghanistan

campaign resulted in serious discipline problems like

desertion and the stealing of weapons, ammunition,

and gas to trade for hashish and heroin. Afghan

forces captured many Russian soldiers while they

were drugged or seeking to trade their weapons and

equipment for heroin or hashish. 59

The breakdown of command and control in

professional militaries due to drug use can lead to

committing atrocities as well. For example, U.S. troops

accused of rape and murder in Mahmoudiya, Iraq,

were reportedly abusing alcohol, cough syrup, and

painkillers as a way to cope with their dangerous

duties. 60

The addiction rate of returning troops has been of

constant concern to average citizens as well as elites.

In November 1971, New York reported nearly 10,000

heroin-addicted Vietnam veterans which, as discussed


in this monograph, was the result of the U.S. military’s

clamp down on widespread marijuana use by troops. 61

Drug use was so severe among American troops in

the later stages of the Vietnam War that more soldiers

were evacuated for drug problems than for battlefield

wounds. 62 Heroin use among Vietnam veterans

created societal fears of rising crime and disorder.

Time magazine reflected the public mood by reporting

that “the specter of weapons-trained, addicted combat

veterans joining the deadly struggle for drugs [in the

streets of America] is ominous. . . . [T]he Capone era

of the ‘20s may look like a Sunday school picnic by

comparison.” 63 The Nixon administration began to

fear that the result could precipitate a stronger call for

an American pullout from Southeast Asia. 64 The Soviet

Union also faced similar fears when draftees returned

from Afghanistan with heroin habits. 65


The far reaching effects of drug use by combatants

on human rights, governance, and regional security

have stimulated the desire by many actors in the

international arena to intervene in these conflicts to

ameliorate these effects or bring the fighting to a close.

Yet, policymakers and military officials from developed

countries have been left unprepared to face drugged

combatants due to a lack of doctrine or policy.

Leaders of professional militaries are beginning to

recognize the characteristics and effects of drugged

combatants to explain their battlefield behavior. For

example, the U.S. Pacific Command describes the Abu

Sayyaf Group in the Philippines as one that employs

“ad hoc strategies and activities that are determined

by the mood swings of individual leaders, many


with eccentric nicknames reflecting bizarre bandit

camaraderie. Discipline is haphazard, and some are

addicted to drugs. Still, about 140 hostages have been

taken during their last 2 years of violent kidnapping

sprees.” 66 While recognizing the challenges of drug

intoxicated combatants is a healthy first step, what

is needed is broader and deeper recognition of the

dimensions of combat supply and demand of drugs in

numerous conflicts.

Although militaries from developed countries are

beginning to acknowledge the strategic and tactical

effects of drugged combatants, little has changed in the

way military and political leaders have conceptualized

the role of illegal narcotics in warfare. Field Manual

(FM) 3-24, the new U.S. Army field manual for

counterinsurgency operations, does not include the

topic of drug intoxicated combatants, even though U.S.

forces continue to face them in ongoing operations.

Drug use, along with drug financed warfare, is still

considered to be more criminal than military in its

implications and effects. However, as Martin Van

Creveld described in The Transformation of War, “Often

crime will be disguised as war whereas in other cases,

war itself will be treated as if waging it were a crime.” 67

In other words, not only will the actions of combatants

resemble criminal acts, but the combatants themselves

will share more in common with criminals than with

professional armies. This is clearly the case in acts like

carnival and the inclusion of former convicts in the

ranks of some military forces.

Such an environment speaks to the need for

greater interagency cooperation among agencies of

the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of

Justice, Department of Treasury, and the Department

of Homeland Security to monitor and assess the ways


drugs are being used by irregular forces so that new

strategies can be added to the plans of conventional

forces who may intervene in such operational

environments. Joint coordination among military

and civilian agencies like the Federal Bureau of

Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration,

and Customs is not unusual. Military and civilian

cooperation routinely happens with counternarcotics

operations; an example is the Joint Interagency Task

Force-East, headquartered in Key West, Florida.

More techniques from law enforcement to track and

trace combatant supply and demand will be needed.

This will prepare militaries for encounters with drug

intoxicated combatants by developing early warning

signals in order to adjust their tactics in particular

conflicts. Empowering intelligence agencies is pivotal

to supporting long-term strategies to bring drug

trafficking under control and to build a foundation for

a sustainable peace in particular conflicts. Knowing

who among the population is involved in the drug

trade and the methods used to transport the product

can contribute to tactics designed to sap the economic

and social base of an insurgency. Practices like

community mapping, used by big city police forces like

Boston to chart who is dealing and consuming drugs,

should be integrated into military operations that

occur in environments where drugged combatants are

known to be active. Interagency cooperation among

intelligence agencies, as well as routine contact with

police forces and other agencies on the ground like the

UN and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), can

further both counternarcotics and counterinsurgency


A networked series of institutions would be needed

to fully tackle monitoring efforts. The UN has an

Office on Drugs Crime, and there are several regional


law enforcement institutions like Europol. However,

“fusion centers” are needed in each institution that

allow for the exchange of information and ideas

among different international, regional, and local

institutions and across different agencies. Such fusion

centers would focus on how drug patterns are not just

affecting law enforcement, but patterns of organized

political violence as well.

Although militaries have resisted participating in

counternarcotics operations, dealing with drugged

combatants is separate from interdiction and eradication

programs. Nesting operations targeted at reducing

drug use in campaign plans from the beginning,

while including new training to reconsider the military

objectives in these types of conflicts, will lessen

institutional apprehension of the military over time.

Smuggling routes through transshipment countries

need to be thought of by military planners as crucial

lines of support for the enemy. Such routes are not just

for weapons, but are critical to the warmaking effort of

many combatants. Hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies

should be added to campaign lists as objectives that need

to be secured in an intervention. These facilities are also

now a warmaking resource for combatant groups and

their looting has contributed to human rights abuses

and combatant unpredictability. Attaching as much

importance to these facilities as to weapons depots,

ammunition dumps, and campaign headquarters will

lead to a decrease in the overall violence in the conflict.

Additional institutional measures should be put in

place before the next intervention in environments

that include drug intoxicated irregular fighters.

When militaries are likely to encounter drugged child

soldiers, programs for counseling individual members

should be prepositioned in medical corps so that troops


can receive immediate counseling. Once again, with

accurate intelligence and monitoring undertaken with

interagency cooperation, troops may be briefed well in

advance for such encounters.

Institutions of professional military education,

like war colleges, traditionally have been places

where the free exchange of ideas and wide ranging

adaptations have been examined and discussed before

conflicts erupt. By including people from a variety of

backgrounds outside the military, today’s professional

military education can generate greater synergy for

the development of strategies and tactics to combat

drugged adversaries of the 21st century. Establishing

regular conferences and sponsoring research projects

on drugged irregulars would also add to the body of

knowledge that may be used to develop new doctrine.

Following up on the conclusions reached by the Marine

Corps’ Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities

(CETO) to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures

for confronting child soldiers should at least be

addressed since, as argued, much of the recruitment of

child soldiers is linked to providing them with drugs.

Capturing the knowledge of those fielded forces who

have encountered drug intoxicated combatants would

also be useful; more focused after-action reviews and

lessons learned activities on the actions of drugged

adversaries would be useful in building an increasing

knowledge base on the issue.

In situations where nation-building and stability

operations are mandated, the main goal of governments

in responding to conflicts where there is widespread

drug use by combatants should be to reduce the level

of violence through a reduction of the use of drugs.

By lowering the demand for drug use, command and

control can be strengthened among irregular forces,

thus increasing the likelihood of adherence to the


parameters of any possible peace accord. Reducing

drug use also limits the potential for further atrocities.

By focusing on reduced drug use, peace initiatives

have a greater chance to flourish and thereby lessen the

conditions of intense violence that led many fighters

to take up the drug habit. Therefore, detoxification

programs should be integrated into demobilization

efforts, no matter the degree or types of drugs used by

combatants. While militaries may have their medical

corps undertake such detoxification programs, merely

providing security for NGOs who do so may be enough.

These programs should not be thought of as separate

from demobilization to be run in its aftermath; they

should happen concomitantly and include members of

society who form the basis of informal social controls

on drug use. Village elders, mayors and the displaced

must be empowered again—detoxification programs

under traditional social norms offer that chance.

Outside agencies, NGOs and the UN Office of the

High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should

begin to put such considerations within their existing

activities in war torn countries. In many cases, this

is not possible, given the duration and magnitude of

the conflicts. In such instances, members of diaspora

communities may be able to assist in reconstructing the

rough outlines of these informal social controls. Once

again, these programs need to become part of existing

military doctrine on counterinsurgency, peacekeeping,

and stability operations.

The tracking of the growing use of methamphetamine

among irregular forces must be made a top priority.

Since methamphetamine is so easy to manufacture

and does not require a warring group to be near a

traditional drug crop or close to a transshipment point

or smuggling route, meth is likely to be a feature in

more conflicts. In fact, many conflicts are occurring


in countries with high levels of meth production or

those that lie along trafficking routes. 68 This forms

the potential for greater supply and, as seen, war can

generate the demand. Additionally, the withdrawal

symptoms of methamphetamine are particularly

acute and prolonged, resulting in unpredictable and

potentially higher levels of violence. Regular meth

users in peacetime environments often seek out

other drugs—like cocaine—to mitigate withdrawal

symptoms. Combatant demand for other drugs may

also rise if the methamphetamine supply is interrupted

in a particular conflict where meth use was widespread,

leading to an outbreak in violence such as looting

pharmaceutical drugs.

However, other lurking challenges are presented

by drugs for professional militaries that are being

overlooked. As previously mentioned, protracted

conflicts fought by conventional forces can create the

conditions that give rise to the temptation of troops

to abuse drugs. More than directly diminishing the

combat effectiveness of troops and undermining the

overall health of an individual service member, the

result can be the erosion of domestic support for a war.

Unlike professional members of the military, draftees,

and even reservists, are drawn directly from society

and do not reside in guarded bases and insulated

barracks when they are not deployed. As previously

mentioned, citizens become especially concerned by

the drug habits of returning veterans. One reason for

this concern is that a greater proportion of the average

citizenry have direct contact with conscripts and

reservists than with full-time members of the armed

forces. When drafted veterans and reservists return

from their tours, the effects of the war on them and

on society at large are more noticeable to the average



Unlike the Vietnam era, the U.S. military currently

has an all-volunteer force which is in large measure

designed to compartmentalize protracted conflicts with

irregular forces and isolate their effects on society by

not relying on draftees. 69 Also unlike Vietnam, DoD has

ongoing programs that address combat stress, mental

trauma, drug use, and addiction. Yet, due to continuing

U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and

the increased tempo of deployments, especially among

National Guard and Reserve troops, the atmosphere

exists for the creation of personal stress that can lead

many to abuse drugs. 70 Mental health trauma is on the

rise among U.S. ground forces. U.S. Army studies show

that more than a third of combat-deployed troops seek

mental health care when they return home. 71 Another

study showed that 31 percent of all veterans returning

from Afghanistan and Iraq were diagnosed with

mental health and/or psychosocial problems, while

20 percent had “substance abuse disorders.” 72 The

trend is not encouraging. According to figures from

the Veterans Health Administration, 3,057 veterans of

the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were diagnosed with

drug dependency from 2005-07, while only a total of

277 veterans were diagnosed from 2002-04. 73

While the effects of these numbers on the wider

society have yet to be felt, of most concern is that the

support structure to handle such numbers is weak;

training for mental health professionals is inadequate.

A survey of 133 military mental health providers

conducted from 2003-05 shows that 90 percent of

the psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers

reported no formal training or supervision in four

post-traumatic stress disorder therapies recommended

by the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs. 74

Additionally, not all military installations offer in-


patient treatment for drug abuse, forcing many veterans

to go untreated. Depending on how the wars in Iraq

and Afghanistan conclude, the numbers of returning

service members will place additional stress on this

system, and without adequate institutional capacity,

illegal narcotics abuse may rise sharply among this

group and stoke concerns among the public. 75 In order

to reduce this potential, greater institutional support is

needed for the military to monitor, treat, and provide

long-term care for active duty troops and veterans.


For confronting drugged irregular fighters:

• Increase interagency contacts among federal

law enforcement, national intelligence, and

defense agencies to monitor the use of drugs by

irregular fighters.

• Promote “fusion centers” at multiple levels of

government to share information on drug use in

zones of conflict.

• Extend the use of fusion centers to international

agencies that currently monitor worldwide

and regional drug trafficking and drug use


• Encourage community mapping practices

among military forces to chart drug dealing and

consumption patterns in countries of conflict

and include them in campaign planning.

• Expand military campaign planning lists to

include pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals to

protect their supply of drugs from potential


• Increase participation of individuals in other

agencies of the federal government in institu-


tions of professional military education to raise

the awareness of the effects of drugged combatants

in ongoing conflicts.

• Develop focused research on the growing use of

methamphetamines by combatants.

• Engage NGOs that focus on the issue of child

soldiering to gauge the level of drug use in

particular conflicts.

• Include detoxification and rehabilitation programs

as part of demobilization efforts in particular


• Develop ways to contact diaspora communities

which may possess expertise in reestablishing

informal social controls on drug use in a given


For coping with potential increases in substance

abuse in the armed services:

• Increase funding for mental health training,

expertise, and institutions to cope with potential

increases in substance abuse disorders by

veterans involved in protracted conflicts.

• Ensure that all military installations offer inpatient

care services for the treatment of drug

abuse by veterans returning from Afghanistan

and Iraq or ensure that care can be given at

nearby medical facilities in the community.

• Decrease the number of moral waivers for drug

and alcohol abuse given to new recruits.

The presence of drugged fighters is not unknown

in the history of warfare. Yet widespread drug use

on the battlefield coincides with a perceptible change

in the nature and type of wars that are occurring—

protracted conflicts largely fought by nonprofessional


combatants are taking place in an international system

that facilitates bringing people and goods into closer

and quicker contact. The presence of intoxicated

combatants will continue to be a feature of armed

conflict. Coming to grips with the effects of such an

intersection will be an enduring requirement for

many conventional militaries. Preparing now for this

requirement can help give the strategies of the future

the best chance of success.


1. See, for example, Svante Cornell, “Narcotics, Radicalism

and Armed Conflict in Central Asia: The Islamic Movement of

Uzbekistan,” Terrorism and Political Violence, Winter 2005; Indra de

Soysa, “The Resource Curse: Are Civil Wars Driven by Rapacity

or Paucity,” in Mats Berdal and David Malone, eds., Greed and

Grievance: Economic Agendas in Civil Wars, Boulder, CO: Lynne

Rienner Publishers, 2000; David Keen, “The Economic Function

of Violence in Civil Wars,” Adelphi Paper 320, Oxford, MA: Oxford

University Press, 1998.

2. Ronald K. Siegel, Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind

Altering Substances, Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2005. See

also Mary Midgley, Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature,

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978; Thomas Stephen Szasz,

Ceremonial Chemistry, New York: Anchor Press, 1974.

3. Parliament of Canada, “Conflict, Drugs, and Mafia

Activities,” Contribution to the Preparatory Work for the Hague

Peace Conference, May 11-16, 1999, March 1999, available at www.



4. Alcohol was the preferred drug of choice among European

troops during the colonial era. As American and British forces

faced each other over the independence of the colonies in 1776,

both militaries included in their respective doctrines that men

could not be expected to fight without their regular rations of

rum. Presaging contemporary episodes in today’s conflicts, the


British routinely sought to destroy General Washington’s stores

of rum as a way to affect American morale. See Ian Williams, Rum:

A Social and Sociable History, New York: Nation Books, 2005.

5. The word “hashish” is apocryphally associated with the

corruption of the Arabic word for “assassin.” The assassins of the

11th century were said to have been recruited after long smoking

sessions of hashish. See Michael Pollan, Botany of Desire, New

York: Random House, 2001, pp. 172-173.

6. Matters were made worse by the fact that morphine and

opium were cheaper than alcohol and widely available in the

United States at that time. See Paul Gahlinger, Illegal Drugs: A

Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use, and Abuse, New

York: Plume, 2001, p. 26.

7. W. Travis Hanes III and Frank Sanello, The Opium Wars,

Naperville, IL: Source Books, 2002, p. 171.

8. Dominic Streatfeild, Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography,

New York: Picador, 2001, p. 155. Reflecting the change in societal

attitudes toward narcotics more generally at the beginning of

the 20th century, drug use by soldiers was viewed as harming

the war effort and disruptive of good order among the troops.

These attitudes were strengthened when some returning veterans

in Europe and America sought out cocaine as a way to “cure”

their addiction to morphine and heroin acquired after treatment

of their war wounds. In fact, drug addicted veterans in the United

States often scrounged for junk metal to pay for drugs, earning

them the nickname “junk men” and then simply “junkies.” See

Gahlinger, p. 60.

9. Bruce Eisner, Ecstasy: The MDMA Story, Berkeley, CA:

Ronin, 1994, p. 127.

10. This liquid form allowed the body to more quickly

absorb the drug than amphetamine pills, but was more highly

addictive. The addictive quality of the drug was felt particularly

acutely in Japan when returning soldiers arrived home, and

methamphetamine supplies stored for military use became

available to the public at the conclusion of the war.


11. L. A. Young, L. G. Young, M. M. Klein, and D. Beyer,

Recreational Drugs, New York: Berkeley Books, 1977.

12. Edward Brecher, Licit and Illicit Drugs, New York: Little,

Brown & Co., 1972, p. 189. In addition, with the current “zero

tolerance” of drug use and possession by the U.S. military

combined with more frequent deployment rotations, some troops

have resorted to unorthodox ways to achieve intoxication. There

have been episodes of troops using over-the-counter cough and

cold medications like Nyquil to get intoxicated.

13. John Mueller, Remnants of War, New York: Cornell

University Press, 2004, p. 86.

14. Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter, Drug War Heresies,

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 85.

15. These descriptions do not match the clinical and

pharmacological descriptions of the physiological and

psychological effects of these drugs. For example, although

marijuana is clinically classified as a “depressant” and is used

by combatants to relax, it is also used as a stimulant in terms of

motivating an individual to engage in combat. The term “relaxant”

also refers to a combatant’s desire to find an escape rather than to

the strict physiological effects.

16. “Afghan Soldiers Report Getting Hashish Rations,” St.

Louis Dispatch, May 25, 1989, p. 18A.

17. Mueller, pp. 92-93.

18. Martin Booth, Opium: A History, New York: St. Martin’s

Griffin, 1996, p. 269.

19. Jean-Charles Brissard, Zarqawi: The New Face of al-Qaeda,

New York: Other Press, 2005, p. 49.

20. Martin Boas and Anne Hatloy, “Alcohol and Drug

Consumption in Post War Sierra Leone—An Exploration,” Oslo,

Norway: Institute for Applied International Studies, pp. 43-44.

21. Mueller, pp. 89-92.


22. Addressing Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking in Iraq:

Report of the UNODC Fact Finding Mission, New York: United

Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2005, p. 13.

23. Interviews conducted with the author at the U.S. Army

War College on January 6, 2006. Interviewees wish to remain


24. Anonymous Marine, “A Marine Reports from Iraq,”

Washington Times, November 22, 2005, p. 21. The production of

methamphetamine does require certain chemicals with an essential

ingredient, pseudophedrine, which is found in commercial

decongestants like Sudafed. Obtaining the needed amounts of

pseudophedrine to create methamphetamine requires access to

pharmacies or other places where the drug is available which,

in turn, often necessitates burglary, robbery, or looting. See also

Robert Looney, “The Business of Insurgency: The Expansion of

Iraq’s Shadow Economy,” The National Interest, Fall 2005.

25. Liquor, not included in this table, is almost always added

to the mix of narcotics to intensify the desired effects.

26. Most telling about the use of basuco by Colombian

guerrillas is that no one smokes paste except those involved in

cocaine production. Coca paste is a precursor to the production of


27. Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment-West Africa, December


28. Amnesty International, Child Soldiers: A Global Issue, July

19, 2006, available at web.amnesty.org/pages/childsoldiers-backgroundeng.

29. Amnesty International, “War Children Tell Their Story,”

Amnesty Magazine, November/December 2000, p. 3.

30. Susan McKay, “Girls as ‘Weapons of Terror’ in Northern

Uganda and Sierra Leonean Rebel Fighting Forces,” Studies in

Conflict and Terrorism, April 2005, p. 386.


31. Brian Bennett, “Stolen Away,” Time, May 1, 2006, p. 38.

32. Kasaija Phillip Apuuli, “The ICC Arrest Warrants for

Lord’s Resistance Army and the Prospects for Peace in Northern

Uganda,” Journal of International Criminal Justice, 2006, p. 180.

33. Tony Perry, “Fallouja Insurgents Fought Under Influence

of Drugs, Marines Say,” Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2005, p. 1.

34. Ibid.

35. St. Louis Dispatch, 1989.

36. MacCoun and Reuter, p. 99.

37. Parliament of Canada, “Sub-Saharan Africa Facing the

Problems of Drugs,” April 2001, available at www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/


38. Bill Berkeley, The Graves Are Not Yet Full: Race, Tribe, and

Power in the Heart of Africa, New York: Basic Books, 2001, p. 140.

39. Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia

and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War, New York: New

York University Press, p. 108.

40. Mark Duffield, “Globalization, Transborder Trade, and

War Economies” in Mats Berdal and David Malone, eds., Greed

and Grievance: Economic Agendas in Civil Wars, Boulder, CO: Lynne

Rienner Publishers, 2000, p. 81.

41. Jeremy Weinstein, Inside Rebellion, New York: Cambridge

University Press, 2007, pp. 155-159.

42. Stephen Lee Meyers, “Top Chechen Rebel Dies in Russian

Raid,” International Herald Tribune, June 18, 2006, available at www.


43. Healthcare Customwire, “Beslan School Attackers Were

Drug Addicts,” October 17, 2004. In addition, one of the effects

of heroin withdrawal is insomnia which may have contributed to

stress and unpredictability of the Beslan hostage takers.


44. Little study has been done on the presence of anhedonia

among combatant forces, but it may explain why individual

fighters continue to wage war since it allows continued access

to the desired drug (or to other drugs that may offer relief), and

violence may be associated with the positive feelings that the drug

itself provides.

45. Narconon, “Methamphetamine History,” www.stopaddiction


46. Berdal and Malone.

47. Charles Dunlap, Jr., “Preliminary Observations:

Asymmetric Warfare and the Western Mindset,” Challenging

the U.S. Symmetrically and Asymmetrically, Carlisle Barracks, PA:

Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, July 1998, p.


48. Ibid., p. 8.

49. U.S. Marine Corps, Child Soldiers: Implications for U.S. Forces

Seminar Report, Quantico, VA: Center for Emerging Threats and

Opportunities, September 23, 2002, available at www.ceto.quantico.

usmc.mil. The lack of doctrine for confronting child soldiers is not

unusual among Western militaries. The British and Canadian

militaries continue to have doctrine that deal with specific rules of

engagement in contexts that may or may not include the presence

of young combatants.

50. Rick Rogers, “Some Troops Headed Back to Iraq are

Mentally Ill,” San Diego Union Tribune, March 19, 2006, p. 1.

51. Paul von Zeilbauer, “For U.S. Troops at War, Liquor is

Spur to Crime,” New York Times, March 13, 2007, p. 1.

52. Ibid.

53. Greg Jaffe, “Army’s Recruiting Push Appears to Have Met

Goals,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2006.


54. Lars Mehlum, “Alcohol and Stress in Norwegian United

Nations Peacekeepers,” Military Medicine, October 1999.

55. Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson,

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, New York: Miramax

Books, 2004, p. 77.

56. David Leppard, “Soldiers in ‘Guns for Coke’ Scandal,” The

Sunday Times, September 24, 2006, p. 1.

57. Mary Jordan, “British Soldiers Allegedly Traded Guns for

Cocaine,” Washington Post, September 25, 2005, p. 18.

58. Mark MacKinnon, “Russian Forces Jittery Even on Army

Base,” Toronto Globe and Mail, November 30, 2002, p. 14.

59. Arthur Bonner, “Afghanistan’s Other Front: The World of

Drugs,” New York Times, November 2, 1985, p. 1.

60. “Stress Sent Soldiers to Drink and Drugs, Colleague

Testifies,” CNN.com, available at www.cnn.com/2006/world/


61. Booth, p. 272.

62. Gahlinger, p. 207.

63. “The New Public Enemy No 1,” Time, June 28, 1971, p. 20.

64. Ibid.

65. Stephen Handleman, Comrade Criminal, New Haven, CT:

Yale University Press, 1995, p. 190.

66. U.S. Pacific Command, “Combating Terrorism in the

Phillipines,” available at www.pacom.mil/piupdates/abusayyafhist.


67. Martin Van Creveld, The Transformation of War, New York:

Free Press, 1991, p. 204.


68. See, for example, Richard Rawson and Beth Rutkowski,

“A Matter of Life and Meth,” Foreign Policy, November/December

2007, pp. 32-33. In addition to the potential to manufacture

methamphetamine for consumption by combatants, any excess

can be sold as a way to raise money for the group or for personal

enrichment. This may lead to further command and control

problems as individual fighters become more opportunistic rather

than dedicated to any distant political goal. See, for example, the

decline of the Hell’s Angels in America in Frank Owen, No Speed

Limit, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007, p. 19.

69. For a more thorough discussion of the differences between

volunteer forces and conscripts and their effects on society at

large, see Gil Merom, How Democracies Lose Small Wars, New York:

Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 74.

70. Scott Shane, “A Flood of Troubled Soldiers in the Offing,

Experts Predict,” New York Times, December 16, 2004, p. 1.

71. Gregg Zoroya, “Psychologist: Navy Faces Crisis,” USA

Today, January 17, 2007, p. 10.

72. Karen Seal, Daniel Berenthal, Christian Miner, Saunak Sen,

and Charles Marmar, “Bringing the War Back Home,” Archives of

Internal Medicine, Vol. 167, p. 479.

73. Robert Lewis and Kate McCarthy, “War Vets Fighting

Addiction,” Military.com, November 26, 2007, available at www.


74. Seal and Berenthal.

75. Yet fears about the potential abuse of drugs among

Canadian forces serving in Afghanistan have not materialized.

A 2003 Canadian Military Police report stated that the presence

of cheap and available narcotics in Afghanistan may risk higher

incidence of drug abuse. See Stephanie Rubec, “Drug Use

Nightmare for Cdn Forces,” Toronto Sun, November 14, 2004.

While Canadian participation has gradually intensified over the

years, a rise in drug abuse has not occurred. This could be due

to the fact that Canadian participation has not been the same

as American and British contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Canadians are not using as many reservists, while tours of duty

for their professional full-time troops have not been as long.

These two elements may mitigate much of the atmosphere that

stimulates a widespread desire to turn to drugs. On the other

hand, the intensity of fighting has recently increased for Canadian

forces in southern Afghanistan and, if recent history proves

instructive, the effects of this may yet to be felt by the Canadian

military establishment when veterans return and seek treatment

for any mental health issues.




Hal Brands

May 2009

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ISBN 1-58487-388-4



Since 2006, Mexico has rapidly climbed the list of potential

trouble spots for U.S. policymakers. Public security in that

country has deteriorated dramatically of late. Drug-fueled

violence has caused thousands of deaths, taken a severe

psychological toll on the citizenry, and, in the estimation of

some observers, brought Mexico to the edge of the failed-state


This rapidly unraveling situation has hardly gone

unnoticed in Washington. U.S. officials recently unveiled

the so-called “Merida Initiative,” a multiyear counterdrug

program designed to help the Mexican government turn the

tide in its fight against the cartels. As Hal Brands argues in this

monograph, however, the Merida Initiative may not represent

an optimal solution to the current crisis. It focuses largely on

security, enforcement, and interdiction issues, paying less

attention to the deeper problems that abet the drug trade and

its devastating consequences. These problems include official

corruption; U.S. domestic drug consumption; and a host of

economic, social, and political questions. If left unaddressed,

these ancillary issues will likely frustrate even a counterdrug

program as ambitious and well-intended as the Merida


To make U.S. counternarcotics strategy fully effective,

Brands argues, the United States must forge a more creative

and encompassing approach to the drug trade. This strategy

should combine interdiction and enforcement initiatives with

a wide array of social, economic, political, and U.S. domestic

programs, so as to create a broad, interlocking effort that attacks

the drug trade from all sides. Forging such a strategy will not

be easy, Brands warns, but is nonetheless central to addressing

successfully the growing crisis in Mexico and meeting the

broader challenges of counterdrug policy.



Strategic Studies Institute



HAL BRANDS is the author of From Berlin to Baghdad:

America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World

(2008), and has written widely on U.S. grand strategy,

Latin American politics and security, and related

issues. He is currently writing a history of the Cold

War in Latin America. Mr. Brands is a Ph.D. candidate

in the History Department at Yale University.



On June 30, 2008, President George W. Bush signed

into law the Merida Initiative, a 3-year, $1.4 billion

counterdrug assistance program for Mexico and

Central America. The bulk of this money is destined

for Mexico, where it will help fund counternarcotics

operations against the powerful cartels that have

recently turned much of that country into a war zone.

Since 2006, Mexico has suffered thousands of drugrelated

killings, a dramatic deterioration of public

security, and severe psychological and social trauma;

the Merida Initiative aims to rectify this situation by

giving the Mexican government the tools to take the

offensive in its fight against the drug traffickers. The

program is likely to be extended in some form when

its original mandate expires, and thus presages a longterm

U.S. commitment to counternarcotics in Mexico.

The Merida Initiative is representative of the supplyside

approach to the narcotics trade that has long

characterized U.S. drug control policy. It emphasizes

interdiction, enforcement, and security measures,

with domestic treatment and prevention programs,

source-country economic development projects, and

other alternative strategies assuming considerably

less importance. This strategy is broadly similar to

the approach used in Plan Colombia, the multi-billion

dollar U.S. counternarcotics and counterinsurgency

commitment to that country, and was recently

reaffirmed in the 2008 U.S. National Drug Control


Unfortunately, this approach to the drug trade

is unlikely to achieve the desired results in Mexico.

In focusing largely on security, enforcement, and

interdiction, the Merida Initiative pays comparatively


little attention to the deeper structural problems that

fuel the drug trade and drug-related violence. These

problems, ranging from official corruption in Mexico

to large-scale drug consumption in the United States,

have so far frustrated Mexican attempts to rein in the

cartels, and will likely hinder the effectiveness of the

Merida Initiative as well.

For the Merida Initiative to be fully successful, the

United States must therefore forge a more holistic,

better-integrated approach to the drug trade. This

strategy should aim not simply at strengthening the

forces of order in Mexico, but also at addressing the

root issues that the Merida Initiative comparatively

slights. It should partner enforcement and interdiction

programs with a wide range of measures: anticorruption

initiatives, social and economic development,

institution-building, and efforts to restrict U.S.

domestic demand and illicit arms trafficking into

Mexico. Implementing such a strategy will not be easy,

but it will be central to improving U.S. counternarcotics

policy and ensuring that the Merida Initiative is more

than a mere palliative for the problems associated with

the Mexican drug trade.





In April 2006, individuals linked to one of Mexico’s

powerful drug cartels left the severed heads of two

police officers in front of the municipal building in the

southern port city of Acapulco. The two officials were

apparently abducted and killed in retaliation for their

participation in a shootout with drug traffickers several

days earlier. Their bloodied heads were accompanied

by a hand-written note reading, “So that you learn some

respect,” a message meant to make clear that the cartel

would brook no interference from the authorities. 1

Such occurrences have become alarmingly common

in Mexico. A remarkably similar episode played out 2

months later in front of the same municipal building,

while drug-related murders have become so common

in Acapulco that the city is now colloquially known

as Narcopulco. 2 Such events in Acapulco are merely

part of a broader trend sweeping the country, where

the past several years, especially the period since 2006,

have seen the emergence of a multi-sided war over the

drug trade. Heavily armed cartels and their enforcers

struggle viciously for control of the drug-trafficking

routes running north into the United States, and

have recently turned their fire against a government

desperate to restrain this bloodshed. For now, the

cartels seem to be winning this battle; despite the best

efforts of Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-06) and Felipe

Calderon (2006-present), the drug trade has continued

apace and drug-related violence has reached ever-


higher levels of intensity. As a result, Mexico has been

beset by thousands of drug-related deaths over the

past 2 years, growth of narcotics-fueled corruption,

drastic deterioration of public security, and marked

erosion of government authority in various parts of the

country. The effects of this violence are not limited to

Mexico; cartel killings have already spilled over into

the United States, and the potential destabilization of

Mexico’s economy and political system presents a host

of dangers to U.S. interests.

On June 30, 2008, George W. Bush signed into law

the U.S. response to this deteriorating situation. The

Merida Initiative (colloquially referred to as “Plan

Merida” or “Plan Mexico”) is a 3-year, $1.4 billion

counternarcotics package destined for Mexico and

Central America, with Mexico to receive the vast

majority of these funds. The central aim of the Merida

Initiative is to use U.S. money, training, and equipment

to strengthen Mexico’s military and law enforcement

agencies, thereby giving them the capacity to take

and hold the initiative in the fight against the cartels.

The initiative likely presages a long-lasting U.S.

commitment to counternarcotics programs in Mexico;

U.S. and Mexican officials have referred to the program

as constituting a “new paradigm” in bilateral security

relations. 3

The Merida Initiative may represent a new

paradigm in U.S.-Mexican affairs, but it also symbolizes

an old paradigm in U.S. counternarcotics policy. In its

emphasis on interdiction and enforcement initiatives,

the Merida Initiative is the latest incarnation of a

longstanding, supply-side approach to the drug

trade. This paradigm focuses mainly on strengthening

international interdiction capacities and indigenous

security forces in order to increase the pressure on


major foreign traffickers, with domestic treatment

and prevention initiatives, source-country economic

development programs, and other alternative strategies

assuming considerably less importance. This strategy

has been manifest most recently in Plan Colombia,

the multi-billion dollar U.S. counternarcotics and

counterinsurgency commitment to that country, and

was reaffirmed in the Bush administration’s 2008

National Drug Control Strategy.

This approach is politically popular, as shown by

the bipartisan support that the Merida Initiative has

thus far received. But is it an effective method of dealing

with the inter-American drug trade, and will it work in

Mexico? Given the present design and characteristics

of the Merida Initiative, the outlook is not auspicious.

This monograph argues that the Merida Initiative—

and, by extension, U.S. counternarcotics strategy as a

whole—suffers from a basic lack of balance. The Merida

Initiative’s emphasis on internal security, enforcement,

and interdiction is understandable given the current

level of chaos and crime in Mexico, and may indeed

help redress certain of the operational deficiencies that

have hampered Mexican police and military responses

to these problems. Yet the initiative pays comparatively

little attention to the deeper-rooted factors underlying

these devastating phenomena: official corruption,

widespread poverty and inequality, weak governance,

high demand for illegal narcotics in the United States,

and the flow of illicit arms across the U.S. border into

Mexico. So far, President Calderon’s failure to resolve

these issues has hindered his aggressive efforts to

rein in the narcotics trade, and in view of the current

thrust of the Merida Initiative, there is little reason to

think that this program is better suited for such a task.

Accordingly, while the initiative will probably produce


Cartel. 13 Since the late 1990s, these competing factions

have done battle across Mexico, contesting each other’s

control of crucial northern border cities like Nuevo

Laredo, Juarez, and Tijuana, strategic southern ports

like Acapulco, and interior transit points between.

The Federation has launched what the U.S. Drug

Enforcement Agency (DEA) calls a “violent eradication

campaign against its rivals,” seeking to dislodge them

from strongholds like Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana; the

Gulf and Tijuana cartels have responded with fierce

attacks throughout Federation territory. 14

Because these alliances tend to be tenuous and

impermanent, bloodshed occurs not simply between

them, but within them as well. Smaller cartels shift

allegiances frequently, band-wagoning with or

balancing against the dominant coalition. In early

2008, for instance, the Milenio Cartel defected from

the Federation to ally with the Gulf Cartel, touching

off a new round of bloodshed. (These shifts occur so

regularly that even Mexican government agencies

have difficulty determining who is allied with whom

at a given point.) Power struggles within a single cartel

are also common, as the arrest or assassination of a

cartel leader often fosters violent leadership disputes.

As a result, drug-related violence in Mexico occurs on

several different planes, resulting in a multi-dimensional

conflict. 15

Paramilitary Organizations.

This bloodshed has been all the more intense due

to the rise of heavily armed, well-trained paramilitary

forces as the chief combatants in the struggle for control

of the drug trade. To outmaneuver and outgun their

rivals (and also the authorities), cartel leaders have


taken to recruiting former military and police officials,

common criminals, and security guards to serve as

foot soldiers in their own private armies. The Sinaloa

Cartel formed an organization known as Los Pelones

out of military deserters and turncoat police officers;

Guzman now employs a similar group, the Fuerzas

Especiales de Arturo (FEDA), composed of former

security officials and gang members from Mexico and

the United States.

The gold standard for the paramilitaries remains

Los Zetas, an organization linked to the Gulf Cartel.

The Zetas initially consisted of 31 deserters from the

Mexican army’s Airborne Special Forces Groups—

elite counternarcotics units—that switched sides in

1997. The organization has since grown considerably,

now consisting of 100-200 men and women, and is

distinguished by its advanced training and proficiency

in violence. As elite commandos, the original Zetas

were experts in “rapid deployment, aerial assaults,

marksmanship, ambushes, intelligence collection,

counter-surveillance techniques, prisoner rescues,

sophisticated communications, and the art of

intimidation,” skills they have put to good use in their

new profession. 16 While many later recruits have come

from more pedestrian backgrounds, the Zetas have

compensated by establishing training camps for these

new members and incorporating roughly 30 Kaibiles,

or former counterinsurgency specialists from the

Guatemalan army, into the ranks. 17

The Zetas resemble less a street gang than an

efficient, highly evolved criminal organization. The

group is considered by U.S. officials to be “the most

technologically advanced, sophisticated, and violent”

private army in Mexico. 18 They have developed

an efficient organizational apparatus that involves


individuals as diverse as electronic surveillance

experts and information-gathering prostitutes. 19 The

Congressional Research Service reports that the Zetas

are now “an increasingly sophisticated, three-tiered

organization, with leaders and middlemen who

coordinate contracts with petty criminals to carry out

street work.” 20

Zeta attacks are often marked by their complex,

elaborate plans and execution. The Zetas have used the

cell-phone signatures of their opponents to coordinate

assassinations and kidnappings, and there are reports

that they have penetrated the radio frequencies used

by Mexican law enforcement. 21 The group has been

known to use the sort of swarming tactics favored by

the powerful gangs that control the Brazilian favelas,

and in other cases has put its military experience to

use in more subtle ways. 22 In 2007, Zetas disguised as

soldiers infiltrated two police stations under the guise

of a routine weapons inspection and murdered seven

government officials. 23

In carrying out these attacks, the Zetas and

their competitors employ an astounding amount

of firepower. The AK-47, long the stock tool of the

Mexican drug trade, is now accompanied by an array

of heavy weapons, including MP-5s, AR-15s, P90

submachine guns, grenade launchers, helicopters,

improvised explosive devices, and 50-caliber machine

guns. 24 “You’re looking at the same firepower here

on the border that our soldiers are facing in Iraq and

Afghanistan,” says Thomas Mangan of the U.S. Bureau

of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). 25

“It is incredible, facing these weapons,” agrees Genaro

Garcia Luna, Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security. “It

is truly astonishing, in terms of quantity, in terms of

caliber.” 26


Another calling card of these groups is their

brutality. Aiming to terrify their opponents and cow

the population, organizations like FEDA and the Zetas

use a variety of savage tactics. The Zetas are known to

strangle, decapitate, and immolate their victims, often

after torturing them for hours. Another group linked

to the Gulf Cartel recently advertised its expertise in

such practices by lobbing five severed heads onto the

floor of a crowded nightclub in Uruapan. Decapitated

heads are often found with notes warning of the

consequences of opposing the cartels. “See. Hear. Shut

up. If you want to stay alive,” read one. 27

Since 2006, these groups have increasingly turned

their fire on the authorities. The cartels have reacted

viciously to the Calderon government’s anti-drug

campaign, responding to arrests and drug seizures by

launching a sustained, bloody war against those that

seek to disrupt their activities. Ambushes of police

convoys and well-coordinated attacks against isolated

government outposts in the northern part of the country

have become frequent. 28 The cartels regularly murder

the officials in charge of designing and prosecuting

government counternarcotics operations, including

police chiefs in Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere and the

head of Mexico’s federal police. 29 The anti-government

violence has become so intense in recent months as to

cause speculation that the two warring cartel alliances

may have agreed to a truce so as to focus on fighting

the government. Argues one observer, “We’re seeing a

transition from the gangsterism of traditional hitmen

to paramilitary terrorism with guerrilla tactics.” 30

Cartel attacks are thus not meant solely to batter

the police and the military, but also to sow fear and

demonstrate that the cartels—not the government—are

dominant in Mexico. Many drug-related killings are


spectacularly violent, aimed at achieving the maximum

psychological impact. In one instance, the Zetas stuffed

four Nuevo Laredo police officers inside barrels of diesel

fuel and burned them to death. 31 Decapitations such as

those occurring in Acapulco serve the same purpose. 32

Cartel enforcers have begun to publish lists of officials

to be targeted for assassination, post execution videos

on YouTube, and coerce newspapers into providing

graphic coverage of their deeds. 33 “They are openly

defying the Mexican state,” says one analyst. “They

are showing that they can kill anybody at any time.” 34

Third-Generation Gangs and the Extent

of the Threat.

All told, the effects of this violence have been

devastating. There were more than 5,000 drug-related

murders in Mexico between January 2007 and October

2008, with 3,800 of these deaths occurring in the first

10 months of 2008 alone. 35 This bloodshed has become

more wanton as it becomes more common; in September

2008, unknown assailants threw grenades into a crowd

in Morelia during an Independence Day celebration.

Aside from inflicting a mounting toll in lives, the

violence has occasioned something approaching mass

psychological trauma. A palpable sense of fear has

spread across much of the population. Says one woman,

“We are prisoners in our own homes.” 36 In some

regions—particularly in areas of Chihuahua, Durango,

and Sinaloa—the cartels have become so powerful as to

render government authority nominal or nonexistent.

One DEA official describes the prevailing situation in

northern Mexico as “somewhere between Al Capone’s

Chicago and an outright war.” 37

This breakdown of government authority in certain

areas touches on one of the most troubling long-term


implications of the narcotics-fueled insurgency in

Mexico: the possibility that it may lead to what one

expert calls the “decomposition of the State.” 38 This

phenomenon, in which government power gives way

amid the violence and terror sown by sophisticated

criminal organizations, has become increasingly

common in Latin America over the past 2 decades.

Several countries have witnessed the rise of what are

known as “third-generation gangs.” Larger, more

complex, and more powerful than street gangs, thirdgeneration

gangs use violence and intimidation to

weaken government institutions and corrode the

authority of the state. 39 Such groups dominate the

favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the barrios of Central

America, which now constitute “no-go” zones for

law enforcement and government officials. Thirdgeneration

gangs have emerged as the chief threat

to internal stability and security in Latin America. 40

Their activities have given Latin America the highest

homicide rates in the world, dampened economic

activity, and dramatically lowered popular confidence

in government. 41

The Mexican cartels and their paramilitary organizations

fit firmly within this trend. Drug-related

violence in Mexico has contributed markedly to what

Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution

calls “the hollowing out of the state.” 42 Through their

violence, the cartels have laid bare the limits and

weaknesses of the Mexican authorities, leading to a

dramatic souring of popular views on the competence

and credibility of the central government. If current

trends continue, many observers fear, the government

may lose its status as the ultimate arbiter of internal

order, thereby crippling the Mexican state. “The danger

in Mexico,” argues Tony Payan of the University


of Texas at El Paso, “is that the drug organizations

become so powerful they can challenge the federal

government.” 43

The threat from the cartels does not end at the

border. The deteriorating situation in Mexico could

easily trigger a wave of illegal immigration to the

United States; there were more than five times as many

such migrants in 2007 as there were in 2006. 44 Rising

political instability could also imperil the $364 billion in

annual commerce that crosses the U.S.-Mexican border

and more than $84 billion in U.S. direct investment. 45

Finally, Mexico’s turmoil has already begun to spill

over into Texas, Arizona, and other southwestern

states. Cartel hit squads have carried out murders

in Phoenix and other U.S. cities, 46 and an individual

linked to the Zetas is currently wanted in the killing

of a Dallas police officer. 47 Traffickers ran down and

killed a U.S. border patrol agent during a cross-border

trafficking operation in January 2008, 48 and enforcer

groups like the Zetas are suspected of mounting

armed incursions across the frontier to protect drug

shipments. 49 As former State Department official Ray

Walser observes, “Not since the Mexican Revolution

of 1910-1917 has violence in Mexico presented such a

worrisome challenge to U.S. security.” 50

The Government Response: Why So Ineffective?

The Mexican government has hardly been inactive

in seeking to meet the cartels’ challenge. In 2005, Vicente

Fox, Mexico’s first post-PRI president, promised to

wage “the mother of all battles” on the narcotraficantes. 51

He purged corrupt police commanders (and in

some cases, entire police forces), targeted high-level

traffickers, and deployed federal troops to the northern


part of the country. Felipe Calderon, who took office

in late 2006, has been even more aggressive in his

response. “There will be no truce and no quarter to the

enemies of Mexico,” he says, sometimes donning an

army uniform to underline his resolve. 52 Calderon has

sent 12,000 federal police officials and 20,000 soldiers

to 12 states in a series of “lightning strikes” aimed at

containing drug-related violence. 53

These efforts have not been without effect. Under

Calderon, the government has detained more than

14,000 suspects (including a number of high-profile

targets) and seized large quantities of heroin, cocaine,

marijuana, and methamphetamines. Massive police

and troop deployments have temporarily tamped

down violence in certain areas, and have somewhat

weakened the cartels. Los Pelones have become less

effective, and the Zetas have seen several of their

leaders arrested or killed. 54

Unfortunately, the positive effects of the government

offensive have been transitory at best. The

recent upsurge in violence indicates that these programs

have not brought the cartels to heel. While increased

seizures and interdictions have caused increases

of up to 20 percent in the street price of cocaine

and heroin, these measures seem to have made little

more than a dent in the overall volume and value of the

drug trade. According to the U.S. Government

Accountability Office (GAO), Calderon’s offensive

“does not appear to have significantly reduced drug

trafficking in Mexico.” 55

Why this disappointing outcome? One reason

is that the Mexican government simply does not

possess the enforcement capabilities necessary to

confront the cartels. Coordination between Mexico’s

two federal and more than 1,600 local and state police


forces is weak and inconsistent, complicating efforts

to mount large-scale operations. The Mexican police

and military lack the manpower to remain in all drug

hot-spots indefinitely, and in many cases, the cartels

simply wait for the troops to depart before resuming

operations. (One DEA agent calls this the “whack-amole”

effect.) 56 When the cartels do stand and fight, the

results are often little better, as groups like the Zetas

and FEDA are frequently better-armed and bettertrained

than the authorities. “They are professionals,”

comments one analyst of the paramilitaries. “The

authorities don’t have the resources to face up to a

phenomenon like this.” 57 In such circumstances, it is

hardly surprising that a majority of Mexicans now feel

that the government is losing its war on drugs. 58

But Calderon’s difficulties are not just a matter of

firepower and numbers. An ability to blunt the antidrug

offensive is also intimately tied to several deeper

issues, ranging from widespread poverty, to the

pervasive deficiencies of Mexican governance, to the

persistent U.S. role in abetting the drug trade and the

violence that attends it.

Of these issues, official corruption looms as perhaps

the most important. Corruption has long been endemic

to Mexico, and among aspiring elites, a government

post is still often seen more as a means of personal

enrichment than as a vehicle for disinterested public

service. This mindset is well-captured in the remarks

of a PRI politician who, upon being elected to serve as

a federal deputy, told the residents of his town—his

nominal political base—to “take a good look at my face

because you are never going to see it again in this flyspecked,

chicken-shit little village.” 59

The lucrative and brutal nature of the drug trade

has compounded this perennial problem. Honest


public servants—whether local cops or prominent

politicians—who oppose the drug traffickers risk a

violent, painful death. “Why would anyone want to be

a cop,” asks one Mexican commentator, “when no one

can guarantee their safety, less so their life?” 60 Those

who collaborate with the cartels, on the other hand,

are in line for massive payoffs—up to $450,000 per

month for high-ranking officials, according to recent

reports. 61

The cartels have used this time-tested formula of

plata o plomo (“money or lead”) to co-opt large segments

of the Mexican government. Local police officers have

reportedly kidnapped the Zetas’ competitors and

delivered them to that paramilitary organization to be

tortured and killed. 62 More commonly, the local police

provide the cartels with early warning of impending

government operations. “Everyone in the world knows

we’re coming,” one federal police official complains. 63

The scope of the corruption is difficult to overstate.

In several instances, local police forces have become

so thoroughly infested with informers that the federal

government has been forced to disband them entirely.

This same problem applies to the federal police; within

the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI), an organization

that was itself created to replace Mexico’s hopelessly

corrupt Federal Judicial Police, 2,500 of 7,000 agents

were being investigated for crimes as of late 2005. 64

Since July 2008, Mexican intelligence agencies have

warned that the cartels have secured the cooperation

of members of the national legislature, officials at

the highest levels of the attorney general’s office,

and perhaps even the U.S. embassy. 65 The traffickers,

warns Guillermo Valdes, Mexico’s intelligence chief,

are “trying to take over the power of the state.” 66 Given

this level of corruption, it is not difficult to understand


why Calderon’s programs have not produced the

desired results.

The armed forces are generally thought to be far

more honest and trustworthy than the police, which

is one reason why Calderon has relied so heavily on

the military since taking office. Even this institution,

however, is highly vulnerable to the predations of the

cartels. Low pay and difficult working conditions led

to an astounding 100,000 desertions between 2000 and

2006, and nearly 50,000 more since Calderon’s ascension

to the Presidency. The Zetas and other paramilitary

organizations tempt soldiers to switch sides by offering

salaries of up to $3,000 per week (in comparison to

the $1,100 per month earned by most members of the

armed forces). 67 Banners hung by the Zetas promise “a

good salary, food, and medical care for your families,”

as well as “loans and life insurance.” 68 The undeniable

allure of these offers has led many Mexican officials

to fear that militarizing the drug conflict will simply

lead to greater corruption within the armed forces,

weakening the one relatively reliable pillar of public

order in the country. 69

Calderon’s reliance on the military has proved

problematic in other respects as well. The Mexican

army has a sorry history of human rights abuses,

symbolized by the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968. The

armed forces’ record has improved in recent decades,

but violations have increased since the military

became the essential implement of Calderon’s strategy.

According to one estimate, there have been more than

600 human rights violations since late 2006. 70 These

abuses allegedly include extrajudicial executions,

illegal detentions, and torture. Soldiers are accused of

stealing from residents during drug-related searches,

and of sexually assaulting 14 women in the state of


Coahuila in 2006. 71 These practices, troubling in their

own right, also come at a cost in terms of weakening

the effectiveness of government counternarcotics

programs. Human rights abuses destroy trust between

the armed forces and the public, making it less likely

that citizens will cooperate in the fight against the

drug traffickers. Such a backlash has already occurred

in several locations. Only 18 percent of residents in

Ciudad Juarez approve of the army’s presence in that

city, and the border town of Ojinaga recently witnessed

public protests against military brutality. 72 One Nuevo

Laredo resident concisely expresses the hostility bred

by military and police excesses: “I trust the Zetas more

than the thieving police and soldiers.” 73

The structural and institutional weaknesses

dramatized by police and military malfeasance

reach far beyond these organizations, extending into

numerous realms of Mexican governance. The judiciary

is particularly ill-suited to participate in a vigorous

attack on drug-related crime. Mexico’s legal system has

no specific anti-gang laws that could be used to target

the cartels, and the system as a whole is no less corrupt

than the law enforcement community. 74 Most Mexican

courts operate according to arcane, colonial-era rules,

and the system is so weak that only 1-2 percent of

all crimes are punished. 75 This remarkably low rate

of conviction serves as a virtual guarantee that most

criminals will escape punishment, thus constituting an

immense deterrent to citizen cooperation with ongoing


The list of institutional inadequacies goes on.

The Mexican financial system, for instance, is largely

opaque to government oversight, and the fact that the

government cannot compel the banks to report large

deposits makes investigating money laundering and


corruption all the more difficult. 76 Across these and

other examples, one thus encounters the same theme:

In their current state, Mexico’s political and government

institutions are simply not strong enough to support

a vigorous counterdrug strategy.

An equally entrenched impediment to such a

program is the poverty that afflicts much of Mexican

society. Despite relatively strong macroeconomic

growth over the past 15 years, roughly 40 percent

of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, with 18

percent living in extreme poverty. Moreover, because

Mexico’s macroeconomic successes occurred under

a model that emphasized cutting social programs,

deregulating wages, and allowing prices to rise freely,

the government has been slow to deploy meaningful

initiatives to ameliorate the adverse effects of this

deprivation on the standard of living. 77

The cartels thrive on the resentment that often

results. While the narcotraficantes use violence to silence

those who oppose them, they also use the proceeds from

the drug trade to cultivate a loyal following among the

poor and disaffected. The Gulf Cartel donates food,

bicycles, clothing, and toys to Nuevo Laredo residents,

and drug kingpins throw festivals for the residents of

their strongholds. 78 In many cases, these overtures find

a receptive audience. Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa

Cartel, is the subject of admiring narcorridos, or folk

songs, that tout his generosity and his ability to elude

the authorities. 79 In the same vein, the combination of

desperate poverty and cartel largesse provides a steady

stream of recruits for these organizations. Young boys

proclaim, “I want to be a Zeta,” and recipients of the

group’s benevolence have said, “We are all Zetas.” 80

As Adolfo Franco of the U.S. Agency for International

Development (USAID) notes, “The poverty, lack


of opportunity, and feelings of hopelessness that

characterize many lives in Latin America are often no

match for the cash flow, livelihood, and social cohesion

offered by many gangs.” 81

Finally, efforts to rein in the drug trade have

foundered on two hugely important U.S. contributions

to this industry: demand and guns. With respect to

demand, American buyers continually provide a

lucrative outlet for drugs smuggled through Mexico,

and the billions of dollars in annual profits shipped

back across the border provide the grease that lubricates

the narcotics trade. “In significant measure,” one U.S.

official acknowledges, the perpetuation of drug-related

problems in Mexico “grows out of violent people

taking advantage of the continuing strong demand in

the United States.” 82

Similarly, the United States acts as an inexhaustible

arsenal for the cartels. While Mexico has very strict gun

laws, the United States does not, and the vast majority

of weaponry (90-95 percent) used by the traffickers

originates north of the border. Cartel operatives and

middlemen acquire these arms through gun shows,

pawn shops, and dealers in the United States, or

by stealing them from U.S. military facilities. The

weapons are then taken across the border in ones and

twos, forming what Mexican officials call “the iron

river.” 83 Though, as one ATF official notes, there is

“no real way to put a metric” on the number of guns

taken into Mexico, some observers estimate as high as

several hundred per day, and there may be up to 40

million illicit weapons in Mexico. 84 Neither Mexico nor

the United States has yet fashioned a solution to this

problem; this failure ensures that U.S. guns continue to

play an integral role in Mexican violence.

In sum, the apparent intractability of the drug trade

and drug-related violence in Mexico does not testify


simply to the paramilitary strengths of the cartels and

the operational deficiencies of the police and military.

It is also inextricably linked to the broader context

of Mexican politics and society, that is, the glaring

institutional failures of Mexican governance and the

U.S. role in perpetuating the narcotics industry. In

short, Mexico’s problems are exceedingly complex and

deep-seated; any real solution to these problems will

have to be no less encompassing.



The Merida Initiative, signed into law by President

George W. Bush on June 30, 2008, represents the U.S

response to this situation. Named for the Mexican city

in which it was agreed upon at an October 2007 summit

between Presidents Bush and Calderon, the initiative

is a 3-year, $1.4 billion counternarcotics package

destined for Mexico and Central America, with the

former country set to receive the vast majority of these

funds ($400 million of the $465 million to be disbursed

in the first year, and similar proportions thereafter).

U.S. counternarcotics aid to Mexico had previously

hovered around $55-60 million annually in the 7 years

since 2000; the Merida Initiative thus represents a

roughly sevenfold expansion of this assistance. For

its part, the Calderon government has committed $7

billion in counternarcotics funding over the next 3

years. 85 Officials on both sides of the border have said

that they envision the Merida Initiative as the first step

in a long-term partnership between Washington and

Mexico City. 86

The essential thrust of the Merida Initiative is

to better enable Mexican authorities to contain and


oll back the violence that has roiled that country of

late. It is designed to complement Calderon’s recent

offensive, which U.S. officials have characterized in

highly laudatory terms. Calderon “has shown great

leadership and great strength of character,” Bush said

in 2007, “which gives me good confidence that the plan

we’ll develop will be effective.” 87 U.S. assistance will

help “increase the operational capabilities of Mexican

agencies and institutions,” explains a State Department

official, thereby allowing them “to break the power

and impunity of drug and criminal organizations that

threaten the health and public safety of their citizens

and the stability and security of the region.” 88

The funding scheme for the Merida Initiative

reflects this hope. Over the next 3 years, the United

States will provide equipment and training to

Mexican law enforcement (which will receive 59

percent of these resources) and the armed forces (41

percent). This aid is to be disbursed in three clusters.

The first is Counternarcotics, Counterterrorism, and

Border Security; the second, Public Security and Law

Enforcement; the third, Institution Building and the

Rule of Law. 89

By far the largest chunk of funding (about $327

million of the $400 million allotted for the first year,

or nearly 82 percent) is devoted to the first and second

clusters, which are very similar in their enforcementfirst

approach to the drug problem. Roughly 60

percent of this money (slightly more than $200 million)

will pay for eight transport helicopters, designed to

facilitate the rapid deployment of Mexican troops,

and two surveillance aircraft to give the government

greater awareness of cartel activities. The remainder of

these funds will be used to provide law enforcement

agencies with tools to aid detection and interdiction:

ion scanners, Gamma- and X-ray inspection equipment,


and training for the drug-sniffing dogs of Mexican

police and customs; the modernization of computer

and information systems used by several agencies;

and secure communications equipment to allow more

efficient exchange of information and intelligence.

These programs will substantially increase the antidrug

capabilities of the Mexican authorities, U.S.

officials believe, and when combined with Calderon’s

recent decision to increase military spending and

nearly double the size of the federal police, should tilt

the balance in favor of the government.

The remainder of first-year funding (about $73.5

million, or around 18 percent) will go to the third

cluster, Institution Building and the Rule of Law. This

money will be directed toward addressing certain of

the institutional failures that have so far obstructed

more effective government action. It will fund

prison and judicial reform, training in how to handle

evidence, assistance in vetting new police recruits and

commanders, and a limited expansion of Mexican drug

treatment and prevention programs. Examples of aid

to be provided under this cluster include polygraph

technology that can be used to screen police officials

and assistance in improving witness protection capabilities.


As the allocation of more than 81 percent of firstyear

funds to clusters one and two indicates, the central

priorities of the Merida Initiative are interdiction and

enforcement, with institution-building, anti-corruption,

social projects, and economic programs receiving

considerably less (if any) emphasis. Various observers

in the United States and Mexico have criticized this

apparent imbalance, but on the whole there is strong

official support for such an approach. 91 President

Calderon has called for the Merida Initiative to be


extended throughout Latin America. Within the U.S.

Government, backing for the program is bipartisan. 92

Prominent Democrats such as Bill Richardson,

Christopher Dodd, and Patrick Leahy support the

measure, and executive branch officials argue that the

program’s stress on interdiction and enforcement is

essential to a successful showdown with the cartels. 93

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: “I see no

other way than to be very tough on organized crime,

to be capable of dealing with these very violent people

who are trying to terrorize the population, who are

trying to carry out their criminal activities. I see no

other way.” 94 Scott Burns, the second-ranking U.S. antidrug

official, offered a similar assessment, predicting

that the Merida Initiative would “build the capacity of

our friends to permanently shut the door on the largest

inflow of illegal drugs into the United States.” 95

Evaluating the Supply-Side Paradigm.

The Merida Initiative was hardly fashioned

from whole cloth. Aside from building on President

Calderon’s anti-drug offensive, it also represents

the latest incarnation of the dominant paradigm in

U.S. counternarcotics policy. Over the past several

decades and especially since the 1980s, counterdrug

initiatives have steadily taken on greater importance

in U.S. diplomacy. With hundreds of tons of cocaine,

heroin, and other drugs entering the United States

annually, drug-related upheaval afflicting U.S. allies

in Latin America, and proceeds from this illicit trade

benefiting terrorist organizations such as al-Qai’da

and the Taliban, Washington has taken a variety of

steps to impede international drug smuggling. Coca

and poppy eradication programs in the Andes and


Afghanistan, an Air Bridge Denial initiative meant

to disrupt narcotics shipments from South America,

projects aimed at eroding the financial bases of the

drug trade, and numerous other initiatives all fit within

this context. The amount of money devoted to such

endeavors has increased greatly over the past several

years, rising from roughly $3 billion in FY 2002 to $5.4

billion for FY 2009. 96

The dominant feature of U.S. counternarcotics

policy is, and long has been, a supply-side approach.

This paradigm, reaffirmed in the provisions of the

Merida Initiative, was also recently restated in the Bush

administration’s 2008 National Drug Control Strategy.

This document assigns the greatest importance to

disrupting the operations of major foreign cartels

rather than restricting domestic demand, promoting

social and economic development in source countries,

or pursuing alternative strategies for combating the

drug trade. The five goals of the strategy are: "(1) reduce

the flow of drugs into the United States; (2) disrupt

and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations;

(3) focus on the nexus between the drug trade and

other potential transnational threats to the United

States, including terrorism; (4) deny drug traffickers,

narcoterrorists, and their criminal associates their

illicit profits and money laundering activities; and (5)

assist foreign countries threatened by illegal drugs in

strengthening their governance and law enforcement

institutions." Funding for counterdrug programs

reflects these priorities, as the Bush administration

increased the proportion of the narcotics control

budget devoted to interdiction and capacity-building

for foreign law enforcement and military agencies,

reduced the percentage of funds spent on domestic

demand restriction, and resisted congressional efforts


to place greater stress on promoting alternative

development programs in source countries. 97

How effective is this paradigm? There is no

shortage of debate. U.S. officials aver that American

counternarcotics programs have helped combat drugrelated

violence in South America and elsewhere, and

argue that these initiatives reduce the flow of illegal

drugs into the United States. Critics dispute these

claims, contending that the current counterdrug model

is politically popular but fundamentally misguided.

One way of assessing these arguments, and of

evaluating the efficacy of the current paradigm, is to

examine the emblematic example of that strategy: Plan


Case Study: Plan Colombia.

Between 2000 and the announcement of the Merida

Initiative in late 2007, Plan Colombia dominated U.S.

counterdrug policy. During this period, the Clinton

and Bush administrations poured more than $7 billion

in foreign and military aid into Colombia in hopes

of quelling a drug-fueled insurgency and staunching

the flow of cocaine and heroin to the United States.

U.S. contractors, civilian officials, and uniformed

military were (and continue to be) deeply involved in

counterinsurgency and counternarcotics missions in

Colombia, leading observers to refer to Plan Colombia

as America’s “number three war.” 98

Plan Colombia originated in response to a

dangerous synergy between criminal activity and

political violence. By the late 1990s, the Colombian

drug trade had become a major national security issue

for both Colombia and the United States. Colombian

exports accounted for nine-tenths of the cocaine


entering the United States, and contributed heavily to

the perhaps 20,000 drug-related deaths that occurred

in the United States per year. 99 Within Colombia, the

drug trade was fueling massive corruption that reached

as high as the office of the president, driving intense

internal violence (around 30,000 murders per year, a

sixfold increase from 2 decades prior), and feeding the

ambitions of a powerful Marxist insurgency. 100 The

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)

used the approximately $380 million it garnered from

the drug trade each year to acquire advanced weapons

and entice new recruits. By 2000, the FARC boasted

around 20,000 combatants, was able to overwhelm and

annihilate isolated army garrisons, had Bogota nearly

cut off from the rest of the country, and controlled

roughly 40 percent of Colombian territory. 101 The

group also staged hundreds of attacks on U.S. interests

in Colombia; according to one count, the FARC was

responsible for 55 percent of terrorist attacks against

American targets in 2001. 102

Plan Colombia represented a joint U.S.-Colombian

response to these interlocking threats. U.S. aid would

allow a besieged government to take strong action

against the FARC and hundreds of Colombian cartels,

as the thinking went, thereby restricting drug exports

and restoring internal order. “The ultimate test of

success,” said DEA administrator Donnie Marshall,

“will come when we bring to justice the drug lords

who control their vast empires of crime which bring

misery to so many nations.” 103 Of the roughly $7 billion

in aid granted under the initiative, nearly 80 percent

went to facilitating interdiction and strengthening

Colombia’s military and National Police, with 10-20

percent devoted to economic and social programs

meant to provide alternative sources of income for


poor farmers and thus undercut the economic basis of

the drug trade. 104

Plan Colombia has been touted by the Bush

administration as a striking success, and damned by

its critics as an utter failure. In reality, its results were

ambiguous, demonstrating both the strengths and

weaknesses of the current counternarcotics paradigm.

With respect to internal security and interdiction,

Plan Colombia has produced clear-cut gains. Since

2000, U.S. assistance has had pronounced benefits in

the fight against the FARC. The training of three elite

counternarcotics battalions (totaling around 3000

soldiers) and 30 Ranger-style strike teams has roughly

doubled the number of elite troops that the Colombian

army can put into the field, while the provision of more

than 70 Blackhawk and Huey II helicopters has greatly

increased the mobility and combat effectiveness of

these forces. U.S. intelligence support has been similarly

beneficial, allowing the Colombian military to target

high-level FARC commanders and aiding in the bold

rescue of 15 high-profile hostages in July 2008. 105

Combined with the assertive counterinsurgency

program of President Alvaro Uribe, this aid has

helped deal the FARC a series of staggering blows. The

insurgent leadership has been decimated by targeted

strikes and the deaths of top commanders. Desertions,

captures, and overall guerrilla casualties have risen

dramatically, severely reducing the guerrillas’ numerical

strength. 106 Colombian forces have largely

cleared the FARC from the departments surrounding

Bogota and substantially weakened the guerrillas

even in traditional redoubts like Putumayo, Caqueta,

and the slums of Medellin. 107 The FARC retains a hard

core of some 8,000-10,000 fighters and receives arms

and funding from Venezuela, but its overall military


effectiveness has declined sharply, and the survival of

democratic government in Colombia is no longer in

imminent peril. 108

The interdiction component of Plan Colombia

has (numerically, at least) produced similarly strong

advances. The delivery of ground radar systems,

forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR) for Colombian

intelligence aircraft, patrol boats for riverine

interdiction, and other equipment and training have

greatly increased Colombian interdiction capabilities.

109 The number of cocaine laboratories destroyed

rose from 241 in 1999 to nearly 2,200 in 2006, dozens of

drug-carrying aircraft have been captured or destroyed,

and arrests and extraditions are up. 110 Additionally,

as part of a program that is complementary to but

not explicitly a part of Plan Colombia, cooperation

among U.S., Colombian, and international assets has

allowed the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) of

U.S. Southern Command to make major strides in

disrupting narcotics shipments through the Caribbean.

The number of seizures in the transit zone (the area

between Colombia and the United States) has increased

from 90 to 260 metric tons per year, with the proportion

of shipments seized rising as well. 111

These are impressive statistics, but in many ways

they conceal the less successful reality of Plan Colombia.

With respect to an overarching goal of the program—

significantly reducing the quantities of cocaine and

heroin delivered into the United States—the picture

is one of little progress. Between 2000 and 2004, street

prices for cocaine actually decreased, indicating a

steady if not expanding supply. Prices have increased

somewhat since 2005, but on the whole supply is still

more than adequate to meet the continuing domestic

demand for the drug. The Justice Department’s


National Drug Intelligence Center acknowledges that

“there have been no sustained cocaine shortages or

indications of stretched supplies in domestic markets,”

and shipments to the United States still overwhelmingly

originate in Colombia. 112

The reason for this unsatisfying outcome is that

Plan Colombia—and the counternarcotics paradigm

it represents—has suffered from a fundamental

lack of balance. The United States has failed to join

the security and interdiction components of Plan

Colombia with sufficiently bold efforts to reduce U.S.

domestic demand or alter the economic calculus that

drives many Colombians to participate in the drug

trade. Accordingly, seized shipments are quickly

replaced, coca still dominates the rural economy, and

the Colombian-American drug trade continues to


Within the United States, the chief marker of this

imbalance is that Plan Colombia was not accompanied

by a parallel push to restrict domestic cocaine and

heroin consumption. In fact, the trend has been just the

opposite, with the percentage of the U.S. drug control

budget devoted to treatment and prevention declining

from 46 percent to 35 percent between FY 2002 and

FY 2007. 113 U.S. domestic demand for cocaine and

other drugs remains strong, and it appears that this

continuing demand has led Colombian traffickers to

compensate for the much-touted rise in seizures over

the past several years by simply increasing the quantity

of narcotics shipped. 114

Within Colombia, the chief weakness of U.S.

policy has been its failure to reduce the economic

incentives that push poor farmers to provide a steady

supply of coca to the groups that refine and ship it.

As of 2006, Colombian farmers could earn 4-12 times


more by cultivating coca than by participating in

the licit economy, roughly the same ratio as before

Plan Colombia. 115 “There is nothing as economically

profitable as coca,” concedes one U.S. official. 116

Plan Colombia did include programs meant to

redress this problem. USAID and its Colombian

counterparts ran financial and technical assistance

programs that offered cows, cash, and tools to farmers

who signed pledges to abandon coca cultivation.

These agencies also sponsored the construction of

food-processing plants, concrete factories, and other

industrial facilities designed to provide employment

alternatives and promote economic growth in the

countryside. 117

Given the pronounced slant of Plan Colombia

funding toward military and police programs,

however, these projects never received the necessary

emphasis. From 2000 to 2005, for instance, U.S. agencies

spent $1.2 billion on aerial spraying programs that

eradicated hundreds of thousands of acres of coca, but

only $213 million on the development programs meant

to lock in these gains by giving the affected farmers

another source of income. 118 As a result, economic

development projects have foundered. In 2006, USAID

withdrew from Caqueta in part because of an inability

to sustain alternative development programs, and coca

cultivation in the area has surged since. 119 Guaviare, the

second-most sprayed region in Colombia, received just

$500,000 in development assistance between 2000 and

2004, resulting in similar problems. 120 In Putumayo,

aerial spraying was devoted to roughly 400,000 acres

of farmland, but, reports the Center for International

Policy’s Adam Isaacson, nonmilitary aid was “slower

to arrive, haphazardly planned, and . . . largely failed

to improve lives and livelihoods.” Farmers regularly


complain of having signed coca eradication pacts but

never receiving the cows, tools, or money promised in

return. Accordingly, coca eradication programs brought

only temporary improvement, with cultivation having

actually risen since 2003. 121 United Nations reports

indicate that at least 70 percent of the land sprayed for

eradication purposes was later reconverted to coca,

and the overall acreage under cultivation actually

increased by 36 percent between 2000 and 2004. 122

With the economic incentives for cultivation having

stagnated, the Colombian drug trade has shown no

sign of abating.

Indeed, the void left by the weakening of the FARC

and certain of the cartels has simply been filled by new

actors. During the late 1990s, Colombian commanders

forged an alliance of convenience with an often-brutal

paramilitary group known as the United Self-Defense

Forces of Colombia (AUC) based on a common

hostility to the FARC. 123 The AUC played no small role

in the defeats subsequently inflicted on the FARC, but

given the persistent profitability of the drug trade, the

organization exploited these victories by insinuating

itself into the narcotics industry. According to one

estimate, former members of the AUC (which was

technically demobilized in 2003, though many observers

doubt the authenticity of the demobilization) are now

responsible for 40 percent of cocaine production in

Colombia. 124 The drug trade has not been defeated, but

simply made subject to new masters.

Overall, Plan Colombia thus rates as only a very

qualified success. Its security accomplishments are

undeniable, as are the upticks in seizures, arrests,

and extraditions. But U.S. policy during this period

has consistently failed to integrate these programs

into a comprehensive counternarcotics strategy that


fully exploits alternative development programs and

domestic prevention and treatment initiatives. While

Plan Colombia has therefore helped alleviate certain

adverse effects of the drug trade within Colombia, it

has done little to address the deeper factors that drive

that commerce. If Plan Colombia can fairly be said to

represent the current U.S. counternarcotics paradigm,

then that paradigm remains sadly incomplete.

The Merida Initiative: Prospects for Success.

Will the Merida Initiative be more successful than

Plan Colombia, or will it display the same lack of

balance—and therefore produce the same ambiguous

outcome—of that earlier program? In answering this

question, we should stress that the Merida Initiative

is not a carbon copy of Plan Colombia, any more than

the situation in Mexico today exactly duplicates that in

Colombia a decade ago. In 1999 Colombia was afflicted

by a relatively unified insurgency; in 2009 the Mexican

cartels are a far more disparate—and often fratricidal—

bunch. Plan Colombia involved hundreds of U.S. troops

and private contractors that were intimately involved

in Colombian military operations; Mexican officials

have made clear that no U.S. military personnel will be

allowed to operate in Mexico.

If the differences are important, however, the areas

of convergence are perhaps more significant. The basic

conceptual outlines are the same, as is the emphasis

on interdiction and capacity-building. Moreover, the

comments of U.S. officials reveal an expectation that the

Merida Initiative is, in fact, the follow-on to previous

U.S. programs in Colombia. “Just as the Medellin and

Cali cartels were destroyed when law enforcement

was provided with the equipment and intelligence


it needed to attack them,” reports Scott Burns,

ONDCP official, in testimony before a U.S. House of

Representatives Subcommittee, “the Merida Initiative

provides tools to dismantle today’s leading cartels and

leave them with little space to regroup.” 125 The Mexican

government seems to be on the same wavelength, as

groups of officials have recently visited Colombia for

consultations on counternarcotics policy. 126

There are scant indications, however, that the Merida

Initiative will provide a better-rounded approach

to counternarcotics than its antecedent. With respect to

security and interdiction issues, to be sure, it does seem

likely that the initiative will produce beneficial results.

The delivery of helicopters will enhance the mobility of

the government forces, augmenting their ability to react

quickly, while the provision of surveillance aircraft and

intelligence support will give the authorities greater

informational awareness and allow them to deploy

troops and police more intelligently. In light of the

current “whack-a-mole” dynamic in Mexico, the value

of these contributions is not to be underestimated.

U.S. equipment and training can be similarly useful

in addressing some of the operational weaknesses

that have hampered the performance of Mexican law

enforcement. Advanced inspection equipment will

force the cartels to adopt new smuggling tactics and

routines. Secure communications capabilities can

help Mexican police agencies overcome persistent

coordination gaps, facilitate intelligence sharing, and

allow them to mount a more cooperative effort. 127

The Merida Initiative is also conducive to the

expansion and institutionalization of existing bilateral

projects. Since 2006, U.S. Immigration and Customs

Enforcement (ICE) officials have conducted training

programs designed to aid their Mexican counterparts


in impeding cash smuggling and other illicit financial

flows. 128 Federal police units trained under Garcia Luna

(who has a reputation for honesty and professionalism)

have performed well when aided by intelligence

gathered by the interagency Border Enforcement and

Security Task Force (BEST) and other U.S. offices. 129

The Merida Initiative provides greater funding and a

more regularized approach to such exchanges, and thus

constitutes a way of locking in their positive effects.

Yet, as the history of Plan Colombia shows, a fully

effective approach to counternarcotics will require

going far beyond interdiction and security issues, and

in this regard the outlook for the Merida Initiative is

not particularly promising. Like Plan Colombia, the

Merida Initiative focuses primarily on the most visible

manifestations of the drug trade, rather than grappling

seriously with the deeper, more difficult issues that

drive that business.

This is certainly the case with respect to problems

like corruption, human rights abuses, and the culture

of impunity that have consistently undermined

Calderon’s counternarcotics program. The Merida

Initiative is not silent on these issues (it contains a

small amount of aid for judicial reform, several million

dollars for police vetting purposes, and restrictions to

ensure that U.S. officials do not interact with military

units implicated in human rights violations), and

Mexico is included in stand-alone U.S. human rights

and anti-corruption programs. Still, the current

American commitment to anti-corruption and the rule

of law in Mexico is insufficient. Resources devoted

to these issues pale in comparison to those spent on

helicopters and inspection equipment, despite the

fact that these tools will prove useful only if Mexico’s

institutions of internal order actually function in an


honest, professional manner. The Merida Initiative has

only $1 million per year slated to aid in the reform of

Mexico’s courts—roughly one-quarter of 1 percent of

first-year funding. Vetting programs receive similarly

minor emphasis, and there are a number of issues

central to any meaningful anti-corruption initiative—

efforts to lessen the opacity of the banking system, for

instance—that are not addressed at all. In short, while

anti-corruption and human rights issues are not absent

from U.S. policy toward Mexico under the Merida

Initiative, they are not accorded the salience necessary,

given the gravity and scope of these problems. 130

The Merida Initiative is little better equipped to

confront the other factors that have so far impeded

progress in Mexico’s drug war. As currently designed,

the plan contains no social programs aimed at

preventing youths from gravitating toward the cartels,

nor does it feature economic development or povertyalleviation

initiatives. The U.S. experience in Colombia

since 2000 demonstrates that a failure to present poor

workers with legitimate work alternatives to criminal

activity can have a debilitating impact on even the

most aggressive counterdrug programs. On this score,

the Merida Initiative leaves much to be desired.

Nor will the Merida program likely do much to

deflect or impede the iron river of guns that supports

drug-related violence in Mexico. The Merida Initiative

overlaps somewhat a preexisting program known as

Operation GUNRUNNER, which has received a recent

funding increase. GUNRUNNER is meant to combat

the illicit arms flow by tracing guns used in Mexico

back to their origin in the United States. As this project

has unfolded, however, it has been overwhelmed by

the sheer volume of weapons heading south. While the

ATF seized nearly 1,300 guns headed for Mexico last

year, that number represents only a minuscule fraction


of the weapons that crossed the border each month. 131

Speaking anonymously, U.S. officials have conceded

that, given the comparative laxity of U.S. gun laws,

the difficulty of tracing weapons acquired through

pawn shops or gun shows, and the porous nature of

America’s southern frontier, seeking to staunch the

flow of guns with a few dozen extra ATF agents is a

quixotic quest. 132 “If you can’t deal with the issue of

guns,” one U.S. congressional aide involved in the

drafting of the Merida Initiative admits, “you’re not

going to see much progress.” 133

The Merida Initiative is thus not being partnered

with any real efforts to ramp up prevention, treatment,

or other demand-side programs in the United States.

Rather, the money spent on the Merida Initiative

seems to have come at the expense of such programs.

The budget for anti-drug-use advertising in the

United States fell by more than half (from $140 million

annually to $60 million) under the Bush administration,

and the approval of the Merida Initiative occurred

concurrent with a $73 million cut in domestic treatment

programs. 134

This is a short-sighted strategy. The GAO has recently

released a study concluding that the U.S.-Mexican

border is so porous that constricting cross-border

drug flows is virtually impossible as long as a lucrative

market for these products exists. “Given the temptation,”

says Garcia Luna, “there are people who are always

going to play the game, whether by airplane or

helicopter, by land, by sea, because there is a real market.”

135 The Merida Initiative thus violates the inescapable

mandate required of effective counternarcotics

strategy: that while supply-side programs are politically

popular and produce attractive statistics, unless

they are paired with demand-side initiatives, they tend

to produce few long-lasting gains.


In congressional hearings on the Merida Initiative

prior to its passage, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY),

head of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere,

offered a pessimistic appraisal of the program:

As long as there is demand for illegal narcotics in the

United States, suppliers will sell their cocaine and

heroin and other drugs on our streets, and as long as the

narcotraffickers are armed with guns from the United

States the brutal violence of the drug gangs will continue

unabated. . . . This is my concern with the Merida

Initiative. . . . We will spend more than $1 billion on

security assistance for Mexico and Central America over

the next 2 years, but it is not clear that we are stepping

up our efforts so we can cement the gains the Merida

Initiative is designed to achieve abroad. 136

In view of the evidence adduced earlier, it is hard

to quarrel with this assessment. The Mexican drug

trade thrives on deeply embedded pathologies such

as U.S. demand, cross-border gunrunning, poverty

and corruption in Mexico, and the institutional

deficiencies of the Mexican state. So far, a combination

of these problems has frustrated President Calderon’s

offensive, ensuring that record numbers of arrests and

seizures have resulted in little lasting reduction in

either internal violence or drug exports. At present, it

is unrealistic to expect that the Merida Initiative will

contribute substantially to resolving these ills. It thus

seems improbable that the initiative will be more than

of temporary benefit in reducing the drug trade and

drug-related violence in Mexico.


A thoroughgoing revision of U.S. counterdrug policy

is therefore needed. U.S. officials must craft a more


comprehensive and coherent strategy than currently

exists, one that addresses not just the symptoms of the

disease, but its causes as well. Admiral James Stavridis,

head of U.S. Southern Command, has recently

commented that the United States and its partners

must adopt a “more holistic, integrated approach” to

security threats in the Western Hemisphere. Those

charged with making U.S. counternarcotics policy

would do well to heed his advice. 137

Such an approach should consist of five essential

elements: (1) traditional counternarcotics operations

such as security and interdiction; (2) anti-corruption

and human rights; (3) government institutional

development; (4) economic and social development;

and (5) measures to reduce America’s homegrown

contributions to the drug trade. Unlike the current

paradigm, under which several of these themes are included

but relegated to a distinctly secondary position,

each of these five elements must be an integral part

of counterdrug policy and receive adequate funding

and official attention. A useful analogy in this regard

would be a successful counterinsurgency in which

the use of force must be integrated seamlessly into a

larger scheme of political, military, social, diplomatic,

and economic programs, all of which reinforce—rather

than competing with or undermining—one another.

Security and Interdiction.

For all the liabilities of security- and interdictionfocused

efforts, they remain vital components of any

comprehensive counterdrug program. Economic

development and political reform cannot occur in

a context of violent anarchy, any more than internal

order can be sustained if these deeper problems remain


unresolved. Similarly, while interdiction has often

been treated as a panacea, if practiced successfully it

can keep the cartels off-balance by disrupting their

operations and raising the costs of doing business.

The assistance currently accorded priority under the

Merida Initiative (aid in developing rapid deployment,

surveillance, and detection capabilities, and training in

counternarcotics operations) constitutes a good start

in this regard, and should be complemented with

additional initiatives in the coming years. The United

States can provide nonlethal aid like body armor to

the Mexican police, establish institutional frameworks

for intelligence-sharing and cross-border interagency

cooperation on issues like money laundering, and

assist the Mexican police and military in conducting

psychological and information operations. The

brutality of groups like the Zetas—and their skill in

publicizing these exploits—currently permits the

cartels to dominate the information environment. The

Mexican government must confront this issue if it

hopes to redress the current sense of public insecurity.

Since 2000, U.S. advisers in Colombia have helped

that country’s military and law enforcement agencies

implement psychological operations to defeat guerrilla

propaganda and weaken insurgent morale; similar

efforts would seem to be in order under the Merida

Initiative. 138

Anti-Corruption and Human Rights.

Of course, any benefits reaped from such assistance

will be ephemeral at best if the forces of order in Mexico

continue to be penetrated by cartel informants and

perceived by the public as “brutal corrupt thugs.” 139

The current U.S. prohibition on training foreign


military units implicated in human rights violations

and the allocation of several million dollars for vetting

purposes represent a basic recognition of this issue, but

in going forward Washington must place much greater

stress on this problem than is presently the case.

Beyond augmenting the resources devoted to

Calderon’s anti-corruption campaign, the United States

can take several other steps. As they have already

begun to do in Central America, U.S. agencies should

offer regular personnel exchanges meant to promote

a culture of professionalism within Mexican law

enforcement and greater awareness of human rights

issues within the military. Similarly, the United States

should pay particular attention to helping Calderon

create the small, specially vetted units that he intends

to use for sensitive missions, and insist that any police

units receiving access to U.S. intelligence or funding

undergo rigorous, comprehensive screening. Finally,

while Mexican political and historical sensitivities

preclude direct military-to-military human rights

training within that country, the United States can

strengthen the human rights framework in Mexico

by offering financial and technical assistance to the

agencies charged with investigating and prosecuting

suspected abuses. Though it would be wildly

unrealistic to expect that these measures will end the

problems of corruption and immunity to punishment

in Mexico, they can, if sustained, begin to ameliorate

these difficulties and create a core of professionalized

security officials.

Institutional Development.

Efforts to help strengthen weak judicial institutions

so far make up a very small part of the Merida Initiative,


ut improving and expanding U.S. engagement on

these issues is critical. The United States should offer to

assist Mexico in developing specific anti-gang and anticartel

laws, and the various U.S. agencies with special

expertise in fighting organized crime can provide aid in

fashioning effective prosecution strategies. The United

States already has professional exchanges that focus on

these issues in place vis-à-vis several Central American

nations; if extended to Mexico, such programs can offer

a relatively inexpensive way of making that country’s

legal system better suited to tackling current threats.

Even more important will be greater support for

President Calderon’s new initiative to modernize

judicial procedures by permitting the use of oral evidence,

conducting open rather than secret proceedings,

and improving the transparency and efficiency of

the Mexican court system. Central American countries

working with the financial and technical assistance

of USAID have had some success in conducting such

reforms and making their legal systems more accessible

to the population. Similar cooperation will be essential

in Mexico. 140

Economic and Social Development.

Over the long term, the success of counternarcotics

in Mexico will hinge in no small part on the government’s

ability to address the economic grievances and

social alienation that often inform criminal activity.

The security threats that the United States confronts

in the Western Hemisphere, Admiral Stavridis has

recently written, “are symptoms of the deeper endemic

problems of poverty and inequality.” 141

Setting aside the herculean economic and financial

problems now facing Mexico—and indeed all the


world’s nations—as a result of the current global economic

meltdown, efforts to relieve the endemic strains

should focus on the micro level rather than the macro.

The need will be for small-scale, precisely targeted

projects that alleviate the endemic poverty that has long

afflicted much of the country and provide economic and

social alternatives to criminal activity for populations

at risk. Micro-finance and vocational training programs

provide good examples of such initiatives, which

have already been used for counternarcotics and antiorganized

crime purposes in Central America. A pilot

program in El Salvador recently reintegrated roughly

300 former gang members into society by offering

training in carpentry, screen-printing, and other such

activities, and the Inter-American Development Bank

has approved a $32 million loan to Honduras for a

micro-entrepreneurship program aimed at vulnerable

youths. 142 These programs should be replicated on

a broader scale in Mexico, along with sustained and

sufficiently funded alternative development projects

that will provide economic incentives for marijuana

farmers to switch to legal crops.

Guns and Users: U.S. Domestic Contributions.

Due to the political controversy that surrounds

issues like gun laws and U.S. domestic demand,

these questions may well prove to be the thorniest

aspects of counternarcotics policy. With respect to

demand, the debate on this issue is often framed as

a choice between legalization and enforcement. In

reality, this is false dichotomy. Studies by the RAND

Corporation have shown that, if funded properly,

prevention and treatment initiatives—running the

gamut from anti-drug-use advertising to education to


addict rehabilitation—can have a significant impact in

countering domestic drug use and thereby lowering

demand. These studies conclude, in fact, that in a

dollar-for-dollar sense, prevention and treatment are

far more efficient and economical than enforcement

and interdiction. One dollar spent on the former

category, RAND calculates, carries the same effect

as 7.3 dollars spent on the latter. 143 Accordingly, the

Merida Initiative must be married to an expansion—

rather than the present contraction—of a wide range of

treatment and prevention programs. Doing so would

hardly solve the problem of domestic drug use, but it

could have a strong positive impact on the problem

and bring Washington’s internal efforts in line with its

energetic counternarcotics programs abroad.

Regarding guns, one relatively uncontroversial

solution would be a dramatic expansion of funding

for ATF programs designed to trace weapons used

in Mexico to their sources in the United States and

impede them from being smuggled across the border.

Such an undertaking would certainly have a positive

effect on the current discouraging situation, but the

beneficial impact would likely not be sufficient. The

U.S.-Mexican border is simply too porous to prevent

determined smugglers from carrying their goods

across the frontier, and U.S. gun laws currently

impede the ATF and other federal agencies from being

aggressively proactive in their efforts to restrict sales

to potential smugglers. 144 “There are very, very strict

limits set on what [the ATF is] allowed to do,” says one

expert. 145 In short, dealing successfully with the “iron

river” may require far more controversial changes in

U.S. gun laws, such as renewing the assault weapons

ban, establishing a national registry of arms sales, and

other restrictive measures. Admittedly, whether such

proposals are politically feasible remains to be seen.



As the apparent intractability of the gun issue

demonstrates, crafting a comprehensive counternarcotics

strategy will be no easy undertaking. Doing

so will require going past the politically popular aspects

of counternarcotics, such as interdiction, and zeroing

in on more contested issues like guns and demand. In

financial terms, funding at the necessary levels all of the

programs discussed above will involve expenditures

considerably beyond those already approved for Plan

Merida. Moreover, creating such a program will entail a

determined effort by the White House Office of National

Drug Control Policy to ensure that counternarcotics

receives sustained executive-level attention and that

the myriad agencies involved—ranging from the ATF

to USAID—achieve the coordination necessary to

preclude one aspect of this strategy from countering

the efforts of the others. Finally, it bears repeating that

the inter-hemispheric drug trade is so entrenched that

even a “perfect” counternarcotics strategy will produce

meaningful progress only over the long term.

The costs of action are therefore high, but the price

of inaction would be exponentially greater. The effects

of drug use in the United States and the potential for the

economic and political destabilization of Mexico make

counternarcotics an immensely significant national

security issue. Addressing this problem effectively will

require substantial economic resources and political

capital, but, given the stakes, the investment is a

necessary one. American policymakers must seize on

the current crisis to achieve a balanced counternarcotics

policy, one that not only strengthens Mexico’s forces

of order but also addresses the underlying issues that


have long nourished the drug trade and made it so

violent. If they do so, the United States may finally

begin to make sustainable progress in curbing narcotics

smuggling and its devastating effects. It they do not,

the Merida Initiative will simply go down as one more

failed offensive in the long campaign against drugs.


1. “Es provocación cabeza arrojada en alcaldia de Acapulco”

(“Head Thrown at Acapulco Mayor’s Office is Provocation”), La

Crónica, June 30, 2006.

2. Ibid.

3. Office of the Spokesman, “Joint Statement on the

Merida Initiative: A New Paradigm for Security Cooperation,”

Washington, DC: Department of State, October 22, 2007, www.

state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/oct/93817.htm, accessed September 22,


4. John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “State of Siege: Mexico’s

Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, August 19, 2008, pp.

1-2, smallwarsjournal.com/mag/docs-temp/84-sullivan.pdf, accessed

September 12, 2008.

5. Adam Isacson, “The U.S. Military in the War on Drugs,” in

Coletta Youngers and Eileen Rosin, eds., Drugs and Democracy in

Latin America, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005, p. 45; Antonio

Nicao and Lee Lamothe, Angels, Mobsters, and Narco-Terrorists: The

Rising Menace of Global Criminal Empires, Ontario, Canada: John

Wiley and Sons, 2005, p. 196.

6. Colleen Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, Washington, DC:

Congressional Research Service, February 25, 2008, p. 4; “‘La

Barbie’ Part of New Gang Generation,” El Universal, December 5,


7. National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug

Threat Assessment 2007, October 2006, www.usdoj.gov/ndic/


pubs21/21137/21137p.pdf, accessed December 2, 2008; “Does the

Merida Initiative Represent a New Direction in U.S.-Mexico

Relations, or Does it Simply Refocus the Issue Elsewhere?”

Washington, DC: Council on Hemispheric Affairs, December 14,

2007, www.coha.org/2007/12/does-the-merida-initiative-represent-anew-direction-for-us-mexico-relations-or-does-it-simply-refocus-theissue-elsewhere/,

accessed November 2, 2008.

8. Manuel Roig-Francia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Move North,”

Washington Post, September 20, 2007.

9. Richard B. Craig, “Mexican Narcotics Traffic: Binational

Security Implications,” in Donald J. Mabry, ed., The Latin

American Narcotics Trade and U.S. National Security, Westport, CT:

Greenwood, 1989, pp. 28-30, 33-34.

10. George Grayson, “Mexico and the Drug Cartels,” Foreign

Policy Research Institute E-Note, August 2007, www.fpri.org/

enotes/200708.grayson.mexicodrugcartels.html, accessed September

14, 2008.

11. Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, “The Long War of Genaro García

Luna,” New York Times, July 13, 2008.

12. Ibid.

13. Good descriptions of the cartels and their alliances can

be found in “‘La Federación,’ el cártel mas poderoso de México”

(“‘The Federation’: Mexico’s Most Powerful Cartel”), El Universal,

January 22, 2008; U.S. Assistance Has Helped Mexican Counternarcotics

Efforts but the Flow of Illicit Drugs into the United States Remains

High, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office,

October 2007, pp. 10-11; Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels.

14. Quoted in “Alianza entre narcos forma nuevo cártel, ‘La

Federación’: DEA” (“Alliance Between Narcos Forms New Cartel,

The Federation’: DEA”), El Universal, August 18, 2006.

15. Gustavo Castillo Garcia, “Los Beltrán Leyva y el cártel

Milenio se separan de la Federación” (“The Beltran Levyas and the

Milenio Cartel Separate from the Federation”), La Jornada, January

30, 2008; “Los Beltrán se unen al cártel del Golfo y Zetas” (“The


Beltrans Join the Golf Cartel and Zetas”), Aldíatx.com, May 20,

2008, accessed November 26, 2008.

16. David Freddoso, “Mexican Deserters Cast Shadow on

Border City,” Human Events, February 9, 2004, findarticles.com/p/

articles/mi_qa3827/is_/ai_n9385997, accessed October 14, 2008;

George Grayson, “Los Zetas: The Ruthless Army Spawned by

a Mexican Drug Cartel,” www.fpri.org/enotes/200805.grayson.

loszetas.html, accessed July 17, 2008. There appears to be no truth

to the rumor that the Zetas were trained by U.S. instructors. It

is possible, however, that the group was trained by instructors

who had themselves received U.S. training. Telephone interview

conducted by the author with DEA official (#1), July 24, 2008.

17. Telephone interview conducted by the author with

DEA official (#2), July 24, 2008; Alfredo Corchado, “Drug

Cartels Operate Training Camps near Texas Border Just inside

Mexico,” Dallas Morning News, April 4, 2008; “Drug Cartels and

Regional Integration,” The New American, October 31, 2005, www.

accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-11898149_ITM, accessed

December 1, 2008; Grayson, “Los Zetas.”

18. National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat

Assessment 2008, www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs25/25921/25921p.pdf, accessed

July 24, 2008.

19. Grayson, “Los Zetas.”

20. Colleen W. Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, Washington, DC:

Congressional Research Service, October 16, 2007, p. 8.

21. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War.”

22. Sullivan and Elkus, “Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” p. 7.

23. Laurence Iliff, “Violence Erupting Throughout Mexico

Linked to Drug Cartels,” Dallas Morning News, February 6, 2007.

24. Telephone interview conducted by the author with ATF

official Ralph Jones, Houston Field Division, December 22, 2008;

Luis Acosta, “Mexico: The Cartels Adopt Improvised Incendiary

Devices,” Stratfor Today, July 16, 2008; “Mexico’s Drug War:


A Society at Risk,” Washington, DC: Council on Hemispheric

Affairs, May 22, 2007, www.coha.org/2007/05/mexicos-drug-war-asociety-at-risk-soldiers-versus-narco-soldiers/,

accessed July 28, 2008;

“Detienen a 11 narcos al catear 3 casas en el DF” (“11 Narcos

Detained in Search of 3 Houses in Federal District”), El Siglo de

Torreón, January 23, 2008.

25. John Baram, “An ‘Iron River of Guns,’ Flows South,”

Security Management, June 2008; www.securitymanagement.com/

article/iron-river-guns-flows-south, accessed November 24, 2008.

26. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War.”

27. Corchado, “Drug Cartels Operate Training Camps”; “Mexican

Government Sends 6500 Troops to State Scarred by Drug

Violence, Beheadings,” International Herald Tribune, December 11,

2006; Grayson, “Mexico and the Drug Cartels.”

28. Sean Matteson, “Commando Attack Leaves 7 Officers

Dead,” San Antonio Express-News, December 29, 2007.

29. Grayson, “Los Zetas”; Barnard Thompson, “Military

Casualties in Mexico’s Anti-Drug War,” May 7, 2007, Mexidata,

mexidata.info/id1358.html, accessed November 22, 2008; Manuel

Roig-Franzia, “Federal Police Official Killed in Mexico City,”

Washington Post, June 27, 2008.

30. Quoted in Stephanie Hansen, “Mexico’s Drug War,”

Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder, November 20, 2008,

www.cfr.org/publication/13689/#6, accessed December 4, 2008. On

recent truce talks, see Tracy Wilkinson, “Mexico Drug Bosses May

Have Set Truce,” Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2009.

31. Corchado, “Drug Cartels Operate Training Camps.”

32. Mark Stevenson, “Mexican Candidates Tough on Drug

Issue,” Washington Post, June 18, 2006.

33. Manuel Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making

Audacious Pitch for Recruits,” Washington Post, May 7, 2008; Kurtz-

Phelan, “Long War.” Opponents of the Zetas have responded in

kind; a video of a Zeta being decapitated was posted on YouTube


in 2007. “Homicidio de presunto zeta en Internet” (“Homicide of

Presumed Zeta on Internet”), Correo, April 2, 2007.

34. Grayson, “Los Zetas.”

35. Jens Erik Gould, “Mexico’s Drug War Turns into Terrorism

After Grenades,” Bloomberg, October 20, 2008, www.bloomberg.


e, accessed November 25, 2008; Adam Thomson, “Drug Cartels

‘Threaten’ Mexican Democracy,” Financial Times, July 13, 2008;

David McLemore, “U.S. Officials Praise Mexico for Anti-Drug

Efforts,” Dallas Morning News, August 12, 2008.

36. George Grayson, “Surge Two,” Center for Immigration

Studies Report, October 27, 2008, www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/


accessed November 26, 2008.

37. Interview conducted by the author with a DEA official,

July 23, 2008. On this point, see also Max G. Manwaring, A

Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty: Gangs and Other Illicit

Transnational Criminal Organizations in Central America, El Salvador,

Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute,

U.S. Army War College, 2007, pp. 27-29.

38. Grayson, “Surge Two.”

39. See, for instance, John P. Sullivan, “Transnational Gangs:

The Impact of Third-Generation Gangs in Central America,” Air

& Space Power Journal, July 2008, www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/

apjinternational/apj-s/2008/2trimes08.htm, accessed July 15, 2008;

and Sullivan, “Third Generation Street Gangs: Turf, Cartels and

Net Warriors,” Crime and International Justice, Vol. 13, November

1997, pp. 95-108.

40. See Max Manwaring, Street Gangs: The New Urban

Insurgency, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army

War College, March 2005; and Manwaring, Contemporary Challenge

to State Sovereignty.

41. United Nations Development Program, Cuanto Cuesta la

Violencia a El Salvador? New York: UNDP, 2005, esp. pp. 9, 37; “Gangs


and Crime In Latin America,” Hearing before the Subcommittee

on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on International

Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Cong., 1st Sess.,

April 20, 2005, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,

2006, p. 9; U.S. Agency for International Development, Central

America and Mexico Gang Assessment, Washington, DC: Office of

Regional Sustainable Development, April 2006, pp. 20-22.

42. Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Tackling Transnational Crime:

Adapting U.S. National Security Policy,” July 18, 2008, www.


aspx?p=1, accessed September 28, 2008.

43. Gould, “Mexico’s Drug War.”

44. Silvia Garduño, “Crece con Calderón la migración a

EU” (“Migration to the U.S. Grows with Calderon”), Reforma,

September 21, 2008.

45. Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, “Background

Note: Mexico,” Washington, DC: Department of State, April 2008,

www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35749.htm, accessed July 28, 2008; Ray

Walser, “Mexico, Drug Cartels, and the Merida Initiative: A Fight

We Cannot Afford to Lose,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No.

2163, July 23, 2008, www.heritage.org/Research/LatinAmerica/bg2163.

cfm, accessed October 31, 2008.

46. Telephone interview conducted by the author with

DEA agent, El Paso Field Office, November 25, 2008; U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Statement of Marcy

M. Forman, Director,” March 1, 2006, www.ice.gov/doclib/pi/news/

testimonies/060301homeland.pdf, accessed October 18, 2008.

47. Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, “Mexican Cartels and the

Fallout from Phoenix,” Stratfor, July 2, 2008, www.stratfor.com/

weekly/mexican_cartels_and_fallout_phoenix, accessed December 1,

2008; Corchado, “Drug Cartels Operate Training Camps.”

48. David T. Johnson, “The Merida Initiative: Examining U.S.

Efforts to Combat Transnational Criminal Organizations,” June

5, 2008, www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/rm/105695.htm, accessed November

14, 2008.


49. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Statement

of Marcy M. Forman, Director.”

50. Walser, “A Fight We Cannot Afford to Lose.”

51. “México promete luchar la ‘madre de todas las batallas’

contra el narcotráfico” (“Mexico Promises to Fight the ‘Mother

of All Battles’ against the Drug Trade”), January 22, 2005, VOA

News, www.voanews.com/spanish/archive/2005-01/a-2005-01-22-2-1.


036&CFTOKEN=37020507, accessed November 1, 2008.

52. Ioan Grillo, “Mexico’s Narco-Insurgency,” Time, June

23, 2008, www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1707070,00.html,

accessed November 14, 2008.

53. Manuel Roig-Franzia, “Mexico Launches 8th Offensive

in Its Drive Against Drug Cartels,” Washington Post, December 1,

2007; Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, p. 13.

54. White House Office of National Drug Control

Policy, “White House Drug Czar Releases Southwest Border

Counternarcotics Strategy,” October 2, 2007, whitehousedrugpolicy.

gov/news/press07/100207.html, accessed July 23, 2008; Grayson,

“Los Zetas.”

55. U.S. Assistance Has Helped Mexican Counternarcotics Efforts,

p. 11; White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, “White

House Drug Czar Releases Southwest Border Counternarcotics

Strategy,” October 2, 2007, whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/news/press07/

100207.html, accessed July 23, 2008.

56. Telephone interview conducted by the author with a DEA

official, July 23, 2008.

57. Catherine Bremer, “Once-Quiet Towns Engulfed by

Mexico Drugs War,” Reuters, July 17, 2007, uk.reuters.com/article/

worldNews/idUKN1731355220070718, accessed October 14, 2008.


58. Laurence Iliff and Alfredo Corchado, “Mexican President

Losing War on Drugs, Polls Indicate,” Dallas Morning News, June

7, 2008.

59. Quoted in Grayson, “Surge Two.”

60. Alfredo Corchado, “In Nuevo Laredo, Death Becoming a

Way of Life,” Dallas Morning News, May 23, 2006.

61. Jose de Cordoba and David Luhnow, “Mexican Officials

Allege Drug Cartel Infiltrated Attorney General’s Office,” Wall

Street Journal, October 28, 2008.

62. Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, p. 9.

63. Roig-Franzia, “Mexico Launches 8th Offensive”; Kurtz-

Phelan, “Long War.”

64. Cook, “Mexico’s Drug Cartels,” p. 9.

65. De Cordoba and Luhnow, “Mexican Officials Allege Drug

Cartel Infiltrated Attorney General’s Office.”

66. Thomson, “Drug Cartels ‘Threaten’ Mexican Democracy.”

67. Alberto Najar, “Desertaron 100 mil militares con Fox”

(“100,000 Soldiers Deserted under Fox”), Milenio, July 20, 2007;

“Mexico’s Internal Drug War,” Power and Interest News Report,

August 14, 2006, www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_

id=540&language_id=1, accessed December 1, 2008; Grayson,

“Surge Two.”

68. Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious

Pitch for Recruits.”

69. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War.”

70. Dan Keane, “Mexican Military Losing Drug War Support,”

Washington Post, July 25, 2008.


71. Sarah Miller Llana, “Military Abuses Rise in Mexican Drug

War,” Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2008; “Does the Merida

Initiative Represent a New Direction in U.S.-Mexico Relations,

or Does it Simply Refocus the Issue Elsewhere?” Council on

Hemispheric Affairs.

72. Keane, “Mexican Military Losing Drug War Support.”

73. Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious

Pitch for Recruits.”

74. USAID, Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, pp.


75. Laurence Iliff and Alfredo Corchado, “2 Mexican States

Trying Out New Justice System,” Dallas Morning News, August

18, 2008.

76. Grayson, “Mexico and the Drug Cartels.”

77. “Mexico Country Brief,” Washington, DC: World Bank,



497618~piPK:217854~theSitePK:338397,00.html, accessed February

9, 2009.

78. Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious

Pitch for Recruits.”

79. Grayson, “Mexico and the Drug Cartels.”

80. Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious

Pitch for Recruits.”

81. “Gangs and Crime in Latin America,” p. 14.

82. Kurz-Phelan, “Long War.”

83. Baram, “‘Iron River’”; Gustavo Castillo García, “Armas

Robadas en EU, en poder de narcos” (“Arms Stolen in the U.S., in

Possession of Narcos”), La Jornada, January 23, 2008; “Statement of


William Hoover, Assistant Director for Field Operations, Bureau

of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,” February 7, 2008,

foreignaffairs.house.gov/110/hoo020708.htm, accessed October 10,


84. Telephone interview conducted by the author with ATF

official Ralph Jones, Houston Field Office, December 22, 2008;

Mario Vázquez Raña, “‘No vamos a fallar,’ compromiso del

secretario de Seguridad Publica” (“‘We Are Not Going to Fail’:

Promise of the Secretary of Public Security”), El Sol del Bajío,

July 6, 2008; Peter DeShazo and Johanna Mendelson Forman,

“Making the Most of Merida,” August 2008, www.csis.org/media/

csis/press/080809_merida_op_ed__english.pdf, accessed December 3,


85. “Confirma México 7 mil mdd para ‘Iniciativa Mérida’”

(“Mexico Confirms $7 Billion for ‘Merida Initiative’”), OEM en

linea, October 23, 2007.

86. “Pide FCH extender Iniciativa Mérida en todo el continente”

(FCH Seeks to Extend Merida Initiative to the Entire Continent”),

Diario de México, October 8, 2008; “Ampliaría Obama ayuda de

Iniciativa Mérida” (“Obama Would Expand Merida Initiative

Aid”), El Universal, May 23, 2008; David T. Johnson, “Remarks

on the Merida Initiative,” March 11, 2008, www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/

rm/102111.htm, accessed November 14, 2008.

87. “The Merida Initiative: United-States-Mexico-Central

America Security Cooperation,” Department of State Fact Sheet,

October 22, 2007, www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/oct/93800.htm,

accessed August 11, 2008.

88. “Joint Statement on the Merida Initiative.”

89. U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, The Merida

Initiative: “Guns, Drugs, and Friends,” 110th Congr., 1st Sess.,

December 21, 2007, pp. 3-4.

90. Funding breakdowns can be found in “Guns, Drugs, and

Friends”; Colleen Cook, Rebecca Rush, and Clare Ribando Seelke,

Merida Initiative: Proposed U.S. Anticrime and Counterdrug Assistance


for Mexico and Central America, Washington, DC: Congressional

Research Service, June 3, 2008, pp. 1-6.

91. See, for instance, Antonio Aguilera, “La Iniciativa Mérida

vendría a incrementar las violaciones a las garantías individuales”

(“The Merida Initiative Would Come to Increase Violations of

Individual Guarantees”), La Jornada, June 26, 2008; Laura Carlsen,

“Hemispheric Conference Against Militarization Says No to

Merida Initiative, U.S. Military Bases,” October 17, 2008, americas.

irc-online.org/am/5605, accessed December 3, 2008.

92. Vázquez Raña, “‘No vamos a fallar’”; “Pide FCH extender

Iniciativa Mérida en todo el continente.”

93. USAID, Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, pp.


94. “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Is Interviewed by

Televisa,” Political Transcript Wire, October 24, 2008, Proquest

Newspaper Database, www.proquest.com, accessed December 1,


95. U.S. House of Representative, Committee on Foreign

Affairs, Subcomittee on the Western Hemisphere, U.S. Obligations

under the Merida Initiative, 110th Congr., 2nd Sess., February 7,

2008, p. 20.

96. Liana Sun Wyler, International Drug Control Policy,

Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, June 23, 2008,

p. 3.

97. Ibid., pp. 2-3, 12.

98. Thomas Marks, “A Model Counterinsurgency: Uribe’s

Colombia (2002-2006) vs. FARC,” Military Review, March-April

2007, p. 41.

99. Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk, Colombian Labyrinth: The

Synergy of Drugs and Insurgency and Its Implications for Regional

Stability, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2001, p. 11;

“Pentagon Official Testifies Before House Committee on Plan

Colombia,” September 21, 2000, www.fas.org/irp/news/2000/09/irp-

000921-colombia.htm, accessed August 28, 2008.


100. Rabasa and Chalk, Colombian Labyrinth, pp. 6, 17.

101. Francisco E. Thoumi, Illegal Drugs, Economy, and Society

in the Andes, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003,

p. 105; Rabasa and Chalk, Colombian Labyrinth, pp. 17, 24, 35-42;

Peter DeShazo, Tanya Primiani, and Phillip McLean, Back from the

Brink: Evaluating Progress in Colombia, 1999-2007, Washington, DC:

Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 2007, p.


102. Stephen P. Weiler, Colombia: Gateway to Defeating

Transnational Hell in the Western Hemisphere, Carlisle, PA: U.S.

Army War College, May 2004, pp. 3-4.

103. Donnie Marshall, “Plan Colombia: An Initial Assessment,”

February 28, 2001, drugcaucus.senate.gov/colombia01marshall.html,

accessed November 22, 2008; see also General Peter Pace, “Plan

Colombia: An Initial Assessment,” February 28, 2001, drugcaucus.

senate.gov/colombia01pace.html, accessed November 22, 2008.

104. Virginia Bouvier, “Evaluating U.S. Policy in Colombia: A

Policy Report from the IRC Americas Program,” May 11, 2005, pp.

6-7, americas.irc-online.org/pdf/reports/0505colombia.pdf, accessed

November 3, 2008; Drug Control: U.S. Nonmilitary Assistance

to Colombia Is Beginning to Show Intended Results, but Programs

Are Not Readily Sustainable, Washington, DC: U.S. Government

Accountability Office, July 2004, pp. 1-8; Steven Dudley, “U.S.

Pulls Out of Colombian Coca Region,” Miami Herald, November

20, 2006.

105. “Written Statement of General James T. Hill before the

Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” October 29, 2003, www.


htm, accessed August 26, 2008; “Civilian Contractors and U.S.

Military Personnel Supporting Plan Colombia,” May 15, 2001,

www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/fs/2001/3509.htm, accessed August 26,

2008; “Link between the Manta Air Base and Bombing Raid by

Colombia on a FARC Guerrilla,” Noticias Financieras, March 24,



106. Gabriel Marcella, The United States and Colombia: The

Journey from Ambiguity to Strategic Clarity, Carlisle, PA: Strategic

Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2003, p. 44; Michael

Easterbrook, “Colombia Enticing Tired Guerrillas to Give up

Arms,” Boston Globe, July 20, 2003.

107. Marks, “A Model Counterinsurgency,” pp. 46-48; Connie

Veillette, Plan Colombia: A Progress Report, Washington, DC:

Congressional Research Service, June 22, 2005, pp. 10-11.

108. G. Guillen, “Venezuela ya entregó armas a las FARC”

(“Venezuela Already Turned Over Arms to the FARC”), El Nuevo

Herald, May 19, 2008.

109. “Pentagon Official Testifies Before House Committee on

Plan Colombia,” September 21, 2000, www.fas.org/irp/news/2000/09/

irp-000921-colombia.htm, accessed August 28, 2008.

110. Robert Charles, “Foreign Policy and Colombia,”

Washington Times, April 23, 2007; Veillette, Plan Colombia, p. 5.

111. “General Discusses U.S. Strategic Objectives for

Hemisphere,” UNINFO Webchat Transcript, June 12, 2007, www.


0.6757013.html, accessed August 28, 2008; Office of National Drug

Control Policy, “Transit Zone Interdiction Operations,” undated,


transit_zone_interdic_op.html, accessed September 22, 2008.

112. Michelle L. Farrell, Sequencing: Targeting Insurgents and

Drugs in Colombia, Newport, RI: Naval Postgraduate School,

Master’s Thesis, 2007, p. 14; Department of Justice, National

Drug Threat Assessment 2007, Washington, DC: U.S. Government

Printing Office, 2007, p. 3.

113. Sun Wyler, “International Drug Control Policy,” p. 27.

114. The GAO estimates that in 2002, total estimated cocaine

flow to the United States was between 460 and 760 metric tons,

with 21-35 percent of those shipments either seized or disrupted. In

2006, total estimated cocaine flow was between 460 and 1010 metric


tons, with 22-47 percent seized or disrupted. According to these

estimates, the amount of cocaine satisfying U.S. domestic demand

was thus between 299 and 600 metric tons in 2002, and between

244 and 787 metric tons in 2006. At best, then, U.S. consumption

declined by 55 metric tons, while at worst it may have increased

by more than 187 metric tons. For these figures, see Drug Control:

Cooperation with Many Major Drug Transit Countries Has Improved,

but Better Performance Reporting and Sustainability Plans Are Needed,

Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office, July

2008, p. 24.

115. Steven Dudley, “An Imperfect Plan,” Miami Herald, April

9, 2006; Ted Galen Carpenter, Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington’s

Futile War on Drugs in Latin America, New York: Palgrave, 2003, p.


116. Michael Deal, “USAID Official Testifies on Andean

Regional Initiative,” July 11, 2001, bogota.usembassy.gov/topics_of_

interest/alternative-development/toiad071101.html, accessed August

28, 2008.

117. USAID Data Sheets, www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/cbj2005/

lac/pdf/514-009.pdf, accessed August 26, 2008; Alan Borque,

Changing U.S. Strategy in South America: Adjusting and Exporting

Plan Colombia, U.S. Army War College, Master’s Thesis, 2004, p.


118. Danna Harman, “Rethinking Plan Colombia: Some Ways

to Fix It,” Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2006.

119. Dudley, “U.S. Pulls Out of Colombian Coca Region.”


120. Farrell, Targeting Insurgents and Drugs in Colombia, pp. 46-

121. Adam Isacson, “Plan Colombia—Six Years Later: Report

of a CIP Staff Visit to Putumayo and Medellín, Colombia,”

International Policy Report, November 2006, pp. 3-7.

122. Bouvier, “Evaluating U.S. Policy in Colombia”; Harman,

“Rethinking Plan Colombia.”


123. “Visit to Cucuta, on Colombian-Venezuelan Border,”

November 15, 1999, Electronic Briefing Book 166, National

Security Archive, www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB166/

index.htm, accessed August 26, 2008.

124. Colombia: Issues for Congress, Washington, DC: Congressional

Research Service, November 9, 2007, p. 10.

125. Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, U.S.

Obligations under the Merida Initiative, p. 20.

126. “Mexico/USA Politics: Anti-Drug Aid on the Way,”

Stratfor Today, Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire, July 2, 2008,

Proquest Newspaper Database, www.proquest.com, accessed

November 26, 2008.

127. “Mexico: The Long Road to Security Reform,” Stratfor

Today October 1, 2008, www.stratfor.com/analysis/20081001_mexico_

long_road_security_reform, accessed December 4, 2008.

128. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Statement

of Marcy M. Forman, Director”; U.S. Assistance Has Helped

Mexican Counter-Narcotics Efforts, but Tons of Illicit Drugs Continue

to Flow into the United States, Washington, DC: U.S. Government

Accountability Office, August 2007, pp. 22-23.

129. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War”; U.S. Immigration and

Customs Enforcement, “Statement of Marcy M. Forman.”

130. Iliff and Corchado, “2 Mexican States Trying Out New

Justice System.”

131. Baram, “‘Iron River of Guns.’”

132. Telephone interview conducted by the author with an

ATF official, December 22, 2008.

133. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War.”

134. Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, U.S.

Obligations under the Merida Initiative, p. 43; Marcela Sanchez,

“U.S. Antes Up to Fight Drugs in Mexico, As It Cuts Funding for

Programs Here,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 15, 2008.


135. U.S. Assistance Has Helped Mexican Counternarcotics

Efforts, but the Flow of Illicit Drugs into the United States Remains

High, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office,

October 2007, pp. 5-6; Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War.”

136. Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, U.S.

Obligations under the Merida Initiative, p. 2.

137. Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy, “We’re All in This

Together,” Americas Quarterly, Fall 2007, p. 36.

138. Michael Hirsh, “A Smarter Way to Fight,” Newsweek, July

21, 2008, pp. 40-41.

139. Felbab-Brown, “Tackling Transnational Crime.”

140. USAID, Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, pp.


141. Stavridis, “We’re All in This Together,” p. 38; see also

Jorge Castaneda and Patricio Navia, “Of Democracy and Dinero,”

National Interest Online, July 2, 2008, www.nationalinterest.org/

Article.aspx?id=18702, accessed July 10, 2008.

142. USAID, Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, 30.

143. C. Peter Rydell and Susan Everingham, Controlling

Cocaine: Supply Versus Demand Programs, Santa Monica, CA: RAND

Corporation, 1994, www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/2006/

RAND_MR331.sum.pdf, accessed August 20, 2008.

144. Telephone interview conducted by the author with ATF

official, December 22, 2008.

145. Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Does the Merida

Initiative Represent a New Direction in U.S.-Mexico Relations, or

Does it Simply Refocus the Issue Elsewhere?”






Phil Williams

June 2008

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Government. This report is cleared for public release; distribution

is unlimited.


The author would like to express his deep appreciation to

Professor Douglas Lovelace and Dr. Steven Metz for their helpful

and incisive comments on an earlier draft of this monograph.

He would also like to thank Dr. Paul Kan, Dr. Max Manwaring,

Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Freier, and Dr. Alex Crowther for

many helpful discussions and ideas which are reflected in the

analysis. Other colleagues at the Strategic Studies Institute

provided a wonderfully welcoming, congenial, and stimulating

environment within which to research and write this monograph,

and the author has benefited from their individual and collective

wisdom and insight. Special thanks also to Ms. Marianne Cowling

and Ms. Rita Rummel for their invaluable editorial assistance.

Errors of any kind are solely the responsibility of the author.


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ISBN 1-58487-358-2



National security policymakers are continuously

challenged to ensure that the judgments and assumptions

underlying policy, force posture, and provision

are congruent with the international environment and

the role the United States is playing within it. This

has become problematic in the 21st century security

environment characterized by complexity, connectivity,

and rapid change. This analysis offers key insights

into what is a shifting security environment and considers

how the United States can best respond to it. Dr.

Phil Williams argues that we have passed the zenith

of the Westphalian state, which is now in long-term

decline, and are already in what several observers

have termed the New Middle Ages, characterized by

disorder but not chaos. Dr. Williams suggests that both

the relative and absolute decline in state power will

not only continue but will accelerate, taking us into a

New Dark Age where the forces of chaos could prove

overwhelming. He argues that failed states are not an

aberration but an indication of intensifying disorder,

and suggests that the intersection of problems such

as transnational organized crime, terrorism, and

pandemics could intersect and easily create a tipping

point from disorder into chaos.

Dr. Williams suggests that analysts and policymakers

are reluctant to acknowledge the pace and

scope of state decline. He argues that continued

assumptions about the central role and vitality of

states—a phenomenon he terms “stateocentrism”—

blinds us to emerging challenges. The exception is the

Joint Operational Environment, which offers critically

important insights into emerging challenges. Yet

even this, Dr. Williams argues, focuses on defeating

enemies rather than managing conditions of chaos


and restoring order, and remains overly optimistic. He

suggests that many of the problems which are proving

particularly intractable in Iraq exemplify—albeit on a

small scale—the kind of challenges associated with a

New Dark Age. Against this background, Dr. Williams

outlines the strengths and weaknesses of three major

choices: preventive interventionism, disengagement

and mitigation, and triage or selective interventionism.

He suggests that for both a continuation of the

current approach and for selective intervention,

U.S. policymakers have to design a far more holistic

approach to the exercise of power. In the future, for

any substantial U.S. military intervention (by the

United States acting alone or with allies) to have any

chance of success will require what is termed in this

monograph a transagency organizational structure. A

whole of government approach cannot simply replicate

in the field the institutional rivalries and divergences

prevalent in Washington. Military forces, diplomats,

reconstruction specialists, and legal experts must be

integrated into one organization designed to assist a

target state in reestablishing its authority, legitimacy,

and effectiveness. Whether or not one agrees with the

gloomy prognosis of this analysis, the author identifies

trends and potential challenges that will have an impact

on U.S. strategy and military posture in the next few

decades and offers some suggestions about possible




Strategic Studies Institute



PHIL WILLIAMS is currently Visiting Research

Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War

College, and Professor of International Security in the

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at

the University of Pittsburgh. From 1992 to 2001, Dr.

Williams was the Director of the University’s Matthew

B. Ridgeway Center for International Security Studies.

His research has focused primarily on transnational

organized crime, and he was founding editor of the

journal, Transnational Organized Crime (now Global

Crime). He has published on alliances among criminal

organizations, global and national efforts to combat

money laundering, and trends in cyber crime. Dr.

Williams has been a consultant to both the United

Nations and various U.S. Government agencies.

He has edited or co-authored books on the Carter,

Reagan, and Bush Presidencies, Russian Organized

Crime, Illegal Immigration and Commercial Sex: The New

Slave Trade, and Combating Transnational Crime. He

recently published book chapters on the financing of

terrorism, the relationship between organized crime

and terrorism, trafficking in women, complexity theory

and intelligence analysis, and intelligence and nuclear

proliferation. He has also conducted research on how

to attack terrorist networks. At the Strategic Studies

Institute, Dr. Williams is working on monographs on

organized crime in Iraq and the Madrid bombings. Dr

Williams is a National Intelligence Council Associate

and works closely with the Office for Warning.



Security and stability in the 21st century have little

to do with traditional power politics, military conflict

between states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead,

they revolve around governance, public safety,

inequality, urbanization, violent nonstate actors, and

the disruptive consequences of globalization. This

monograph seeks to explore the implications of these

issues for the future U.S. role in the world, as well as

for its military posture and strategy.

Underlying the change from traditional geopolitics

to security as a governance issue is the long-term decline

of the state. Despite state resilience, this trend could

prove unstoppable. If so, it will be essential to replace

dominant state-centric perceptions and assessments

(what the author terms “stateocentrism”) with alternative

judgments acknowledging the reduced role

and diminished effectiveness of states. This alternative

assessment has been articulated most effectively in the

notion of the New Middle Ages in which the state is

only one of many actors, and the forces of disorder

loom large. The concept of the New Middle Ages is

discussed in Section II, which suggests that global

politics are now characterized by fragmented political

authority, overlapping jurisdictions, no-go zones,

identity politics, and contested property rights.

Failure to manage the forces of global disorder,

however, could lead to something even more forbidding—a

New Dark Age. Accordingly, Section III

identifies and elucidates key developments that are not

only feeding into the long-term decline of the state but

seem likely to create a major crisis of governance that

could tip into the chaos of a New Dark Age. Particular

attention is given to the inability of states to meet the


needs of their citizens, the persistence of alternative

loyalties, the rise of transnational actors, urbanization

and the emergence of alternatively governed spaces,

and porous borders. These factors are likely to interact

in ways that could lead to an abrupt, nonlinear shift

from the New Middle Ages to the New Dark Age. This

will be characterized by the spread of disorder from the

zone of weak states and feral cities in the developing

world to the countries of the developed world. When

one adds the strains coming from global warming and

environmental degradation, the diminution of cheaply

available natural resources, and the proliferation of

weapons of mass destruction, the challenges will be

formidable and perhaps overwhelming.

These challenges will also have profound implications

for U.S. security policy and military strategy. Reflecting

this, Section IV considers the extent to which

these trends and challenges have been incorporated

into official thinking about U.S. national security

policy, military posture, and strategy. Although there

is considerable sensitivity to the need to adapt to a more

complex, dynamic, and unpredictable environment,

the continued focus on defeating enemies rather than

managing conditions of complexity and even chaos is

overly narrow. At best, the official assessments remain

linear in terms of projections about states—and even

when the focus is on state weakness, the emphasis

remains on adversaries rather than the environment


Consequently, Section V considers how—in the

event the prognosis of state decline and emerging

chaos is correct—the United States might seek to

adapt its policies and strategies. Several different

options are explored. These range from the adoption of

vigorous preventive measures at one extreme to global


disengagement at the other. The first option seeks

to quarantine and contain disorder and chaos as far

from the United States as possible. The second option

seeks to quarantine the United States itself, thereby

protecting it from the most serious consequences of

an inexorable trend. A third option, lying somewhere

between these extremes, offers a more selective and

differentiated strategy. For both the first and the third

options, the United States would need a far more

holistic approach to the exercise of power and a far

more coherent organizational structure than currently

exist. In responding to security challenges, the United

States develops several strands of distinct and often

independent activities rather than a sustained strategic

approach that integrates multiple activities and directs

them towards a common purpose.

In a world where the United States seeks to

combat extensive disorder and restore stability,

military, economic, and diplomatic power have to

be targeted in ways that create synergies rather than

seams, that reinforce rather than undercut, and that

provide maximum efficiency and effectiveness. U.S.

interventions would have to be smarter, not harder.

The problem is that effective strategies of intervention

and reconstruction require more than the coordination

of disparate elements. Strategy cannot be patched

together. At the very least, it requires going beyond

interagency collaboration to develop what might be

termed transagency organizational structures. Based

on but extending the task force concept, a transagency

structure would be a central core of U.S. interventionist

capabilities. It would include military forces, diplomats,

reconstruction specialists, and legal experts

integrated into one organization designed to assist a

target state in reestablishing its authority, legitimacy,


and effectiveness. Notions of joint operations would be

extended beyond the military to civilian institutions,

replace departmental loyalties with a sense of loyalty

to the mission, and focus on synergistic effects.

Without both organizational innovation and a shift of

organizational cultures and loyalties, tactical success

is unlikely—even if there is selective and limited


The caution is that tactical success might not

translate into strategic success. After all, the state does

not necessarily represent the optimum set of political

arrangements for meeting people’s needs or for ensuring

peace and stability. More organic, bottom-up

forms of governance, for all their shortcomings, might

be the best available in a world of increasingly hollow

and failing states. The fixation with the centralized state

needs to confront realities that point towards serious

consideration of alternatives. The problem is that the

stateocentric mode of thinking is so highly normative

that consideration of alternative forms of governance,

which does more than treat them as threats, is typically

regarded as heretical, irrelevant, or misguided. Yet if

we fail to see the decline of the state and to recognize

the underlying realities, the prospect of a cascade of

strategic surprises and a series of strategic disasters is








In the 21st century in most parts of the world,

issues of security and stability have little to do with

traditional power politics, military conflict between

states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead they revolve

around the disruptive consequences of globalization,

governance, public safety, inequality, urbanization,

violent nonstate actors and the like. This monograph

seeks to explore the implications of these disruptions

for the future of the U.S. role in the world, as well as for

its military posture and strategy.

Underlying the change from traditional geopolitics

to security as a governance issue is the long-term decline

of the state. Despite state resilience, this trend could

prove unstoppable. If so, it will be essential to replace

dominant state-centric perceptions and assessments

with alternative judgments acknowledging the

reduced role and diminished effectiveness of states.

This alternative assessment has been most effectively

articulated in the notion of the New Middle Ages in

which the state is only one of many actors, and the

forces of disorder loom large. Consequently, the New

Middle Ages is discussed in Section II. Failure to

manage the forces of global disorder, however, could

lead to something even more forbidding—a New Dark

Age. Accordingly, Section III identifies and elucidates

key developments that are not only feeding into the

long-term decline of the state, but seem likely to create

a major crisis of governance that could tip into the


chaos of a New Dark Age. At the very least, such a

crisis will have profound implications for U.S. security

policy and military strategy.

Reflecting this, Section IV considers the extent

to which these trends and challenges have been

incorporated into official thinking about U.S. national

security policy, military posture, and strategy.

Although there is considerable sensitivity to the need to

adapt to a more complex, dynamic, and unpredictable

environment, the continued focus on defeating enemies

rather than managing conditions of complexity and

even chaos is overly narrow. At best, the official

assessments remain linear in terms of projections about

states—and even when the focus is on state weakness,

the emphasis remains on adversaries rather than the

environment itself.

Consequently, Section V considers how—in the

event the prognosis of state decline and emerging

chaos is correct—the United States might seek to

adapt its policies and strategies. Several different

options are explored. These range from the adoption of

vigorous preventive measures at one extreme to global

disengagement at the other. The first option seeks

to quarantine and contain disorder and chaos as far

from the United States as possible. The second option

seeks to quarantine the United States itself, thereby

protecting it from the most serious consequences of

an inexorable trend. A third option, lying somewhere

between these extremes, offers a more selective and

differentiated strategy. Whatever strategic choices are

made, however, the consequences for the U.S. military

and its roles and missions will be far-reaching. Before

examining the menu of choices, it is necessary to explore

more fully why the state is in long-term decline.


Observers who see the dominance of states in

world politics as immutable reject the decline thesis.

They dismiss the weakness of many states with the

argument that most of these were never more than

“quasi-states” in the first place. 1 Moreover, the contrast

between states in Africa, for example, and the advanced

post-industrial states of the developed world is so stark

that assessments of the former seem to have little or

no applicability to the latter. Consequently, arguments

about the decline of the state tend to be dismissed—

like reports of Mark Twain’s death—as somewhat

premature. Certainly, it is “too early to schedule a wake

for the sovereign-state system.” 2 The state remains the

main construct for political allegiance and affiliation,

the ostensible provider of security to its citizens, and

the key organizing device for world politics.

None of this is inconsistent with the notion that

the Westphalian state system is in a long recession.

States, having reached the zenith of their power in the

totalitarian systems of the 20th century, are in a period

of absolute decline. The challenges from contemporary

globalization and other pressures are neither novel nor

unique, but are more formidable than in the past—

while the ability of states to respond effectively to

these challenges is not what it was. In a sense, states are

being overwhelmed by complexity, fragmentation, and

demands that they are simply unable to meet. They are

experiencing an unsettling diminution in their capacity

to manage political, social, and economic problems

that are increasingly interconnected, intractable,

and volatile. States are also undergoing a relative

decline, challenged in both overt and subtle ways by

the emergence of alternative centers of power and

authority. 3 Sometimes decline is dramatic and overt,

but much of it is subtle and gradual. At some point,


however, changes in degree can become a change in

kind. A multitude of incremental shifts, especially if

combined with powerful trigger events, can create a

major tipping point, where the Westphalian state moves

from stability to instability, from high to low levels of

performance and legitimacy, and from untrammeled

dominance to a loss of centrality.

Scholars and policymakers who remain staunchly

state-centric dismiss this notion of a fundamental

long-term transformation. In effect, they suffer from

“stateocentrism”—a term having the same kind of

pejorative connotations as ethnocentrism. To argue this

is not to ignore the power of the ingrained assumptions

and attitudes underlying the “stateocentric” mindset.

After all, for the most part, states follow certain norms

and rules, are predictable in their behavior, and exhibit

high levels of rationality. Stateocentrism is very

comfortable—it is parsimonious, reflects powerful if

partial realities, and has the great virtue of familiarity.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001

(9/11), for example, there were arguments from

many quarters—including former Central Intelligence

Agency (CIA) Director James Woolsey—suggesting

that a transnational network was incapable of carrying

out such an operation without state sponsorship or

at the very least state support. 4 Such an assessment

underestimated the capacity of violent nonstate actors

to develop plans that were simultaneously simple and

sophisticated, exploited U.S. infrastructure as a delivery

system, and had effects grossly disproportionate to

their capabilities.

Similarly, failed states are seen as aberrations

or anomalies rather than as indications of a longterm

structural decline of the Westphalian state.

More specifically, in Iraq the idea of a viable central


government has dominated U.S. planning and policy

even though the political and sectarian divisions seem

to preclude the central government from developing

the level of legitimacy and effectiveness that is

necessary for the restoration of an effective Iraqi state. 5

Moreover, Iraq is a powerful example of how violent

nonstate actors such as militias can become proxies for

the state in the provision of security to portions of the

population. Stateocentrism tends to blind its adherents

to the democratization and diffusion of coercive power

to these nonstate actors. This has more recently been

evident, for example, in a growing tendency to dismiss

9/11 as simply a blip rather than an indicator of a

major change in world politics. 6 Skepticism of this kind

about the terrorist threat is unlikely to be dispelled by

anything less than another major attack on the U.S.

homeland. Yet, even without such an attack, these

stateocentric perspectives are increasingly tenuous.

Transnational networks and forces of disorder are

seriously redrawing the maps of the world—and

the lines that demarcate nation-states are becoming

increasingly notional, if not wholly fictional. At the

same time power and authority are moving away

from states to other actors. These trends must now be



Many of the characteristics of the state system that

have long been taken for granted are now in question—

and will become increasingly so in the future. Robert

Kaplan forcefully articulated this view in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, the hyperbole inherent in his vision

of the coming anarchy enabled critics to dismiss the

alarming trends and developments he identified. 7


Ironically, most of these trends and developments

have subsequently intensified rather than abated.

Had Kaplan argued not that the future of the world

was Sierra Leone, but simply that the future of large

swaths of the world was Sierra Leone, then his thesis

would have been compelling. The kind of future he

discussed has been captured systematically in the

notion variously characterized as the New Middle

Ages, new medievalism, or neo-medievalism.

Initially developed and dismissed by both Arnold

Wolfers and Hedley Bull, the concept of the New Middle

Ages has been best articulated in a doctoral thesis at

the University of Pittsburgh by Gregory O’Hayon and

in articles by Philip Cerny and Jorg Friedrichs. 8 Mark

Duffield, in a succinct summary of Cerny’s analysis,

suggests that global politics is characterized by several

mutually interlocking and reinforcing conditions

which give it a neo-medieval quality. These include:

• “Competing institutions with overlapping

jurisdictions” between states and other actors. 9

As societies and economies have become more

complex, states no longer have a monopoly on

functions or responsibilities. Even strong and rich

states choose to privatize certain functions or coopt

nongovernmental organizations. For weak

states, however, the sharing of responsibilities

and indeed authority is not so much a choice as

a result of their own shortcomings. The irony,

as discussed more fully below, is that when the

state is already weak, the sharing of governance

tends to undermine rather than strengthen state

authority and legitimacy.

• “More fluid territorial boundaries (both within

and across states).” 10 Borders have never been

fully impermeable. Nevertheless, in what has


ecome regarded as a global “space of flows,”

control over borders is increasingly problematic.

11 This, too, is discussed more fully below.

Suffice it to suggest here, however, that borders

are not lines on maps but organic spaces which

develop their own character and dynamism—

often in ways that are inconsistent with the

objectives and values of central governments.

• “Inequality and marginalization of various

groups.” 12 These groups exist to one degree

or another within all societies, although the

proportion of a country’s population they

represent varies enormously from developed to

developing countries. In many African and Latin

American countries, marginalized individuals

and groups make up the large majority of

the population. Their deprivation is starkly

underlined by its juxtaposition with the wealth

of the political and business elites, wealth that is

often displayed in very ostentatious ways.

• “Multiple or fragmented loyalties and identities.”

13 Largely obscured by the Cold War,

issues of identity, ethnicity, and loyalty have

come back to the forefront. In the Balkans during

the 1990s, they resulted in ethnic cleansing and

large-scale atrocities; in some African countries,

the result was genocide. In other parts of the

world, identity politics has resulted in the rise

of militant Islamic groups with a propensity for


• “Contested property rights, legal statutes, and

conventions.” 14 In some parts of the world,

especially urban slums in many developing

countries—which are discussed more fully

below—the contest is between formal property


ights and the de facto property rights of

slum dwellers who often live off the informal

economy and are typically outside the orbit of

state largesse, if not state control.

• “The spread of geographical and social ‘no go

areas’ where the rule of law no longer extends.” 15

Notions of ungoverned spaces or lawless areas

increasingly have been seen as a dangerous

phenomenon, especially because they provide

safe havens for terrorists. In fact, many of them

are not so much ungoverned as alternatively

governed by groups which act as surrogates for

the state. The “dons” in the slums of Kingston,

Jamaica, for example, are not merely the heads

of drug trafficking organizations; they are also

the social and economic patrons of marginalized

people who have little or no assistance from

the state. As John Rapley has noted, the dons

provide “a rudimentary welfare safety net by

helping locals with school fees, lunch money,

and employment—a function that the Jamaican

government used to perform. But over the last

couple of decades, keen to reduce spending,

it has scaled back many of its operations,

leaving a vacuum. As one kind of authority has

withdrawn, another has advanced.” 16 While

particularly stark in Jamaica, this phenomenon

is also present in many other countries.

• “A growing disarticulation between the

dynamic and technologically innovative north

and the south.” 17 At one level, this observation

is very compelling—and is hard to disagree

with. Yet, within the south, there are varying

degrees of growth and deprivation. Paul Collier,

for example, has noted that there is “a group of


countries at the bottom that are falling behind,

and often falling apart.” 18 Encompassing what

Collier terms the “bottom billion” people, these

countries “coexist with the 20th century, but

their reality is the 14th century: civil war, plague,

ignorance.” 19 Emphasizing this, however, makes

Cerny’s argument even more compelling.

Cerny himself, having fully elucidated each of these

characteristics of neo-medievalism, concludes with the

suggestion that these elements constitute a long-term

“durable disorder” in which the system as a whole

stumbles along with problems managed and contained

rather than solved. 20

Friedrichs, while identifying many of the same

characteristics, adds that the “Middle Ages in Western

Christendom between the 11th and the 14th centuries”

was nevertheless held together by the dual yet competitive

universalistic claims of the Empire and the

Church. 21 In his view, the notion of the Middle Ages

as a disorderly system ignores the forces which gave it

coherence. He then argues that a similar dualism exists

today with regard to the state on the one side and the

globalized market economy on the other. 22 There are

several difficulties with this, however. First, Friedrichs’

discussion of the Middle Ages is highly selective,

both geographically and temporally. Second, even if

we accept that the universalistic claims he identifies

provided a critical degree of order, it is not clear that

either the state or the transnational market economy

can do the same in the 21st century. On the contrary—

as suggested below—globalization, far from helping

to impose a degree of order, actually compounds the



Clearly, Cerny’s encapsulation of the new

medievalism is far more compelling than Friedrichs’,

especially in terms of its emphasis on disorder.

Unlike Friedrichs, Cerny sees contemporary forces

such as globalization and connectivity as having

profoundly negative as well as positive effects. When

combined with technology that has become more

diffused and easily acquired, the result is not only an

empowerment of what James Rosenau almost 20 years

ago termed “sovereignty-free actors,” but also a turbocharging

of global politics. 23 The speed of travel and

communications, the ease and low cost of business

transactions, the volume and velocity of financial flows,

the pervasiveness of television, and the growing reach

of the Internet have created a world that would be

unintelligible not only to citizens in the Middle Ages,

but also to many of those who lived in the first half of

the 20th century. We live in a somewhat paradoxical

era when political conditions and the dispersion of

authority increasingly resemble the Middle Ages, but

the forces of modernity, technology, and globalization

add a whole new set of challenges to the viability and

integrity of the state system and make the provision

of security—at the national, public, and individual

levels—increasingly problematic. Cerny, of course,

recognizes all this and sums it up in his notion of the

“security deficit.” 24 This is based on the contention that

traditional state approaches to the provision of security

such as the maintenance of a global or regional balance

of power are increasingly irrelevant to contemporary

and future challenges.

At the same time, Cerny contends that “such

turbulence does not necessarily mean chaos.” 25


The medieval order was a highly flexible one that created

a wide range of spaces that could accommodate quite

extensive social, economic, and political innovations—

eventually laying the groundwork for the emergence of

the post-feudal, nation-state-based international order.

The 21st-century globalizing world order similarly provides

manifold opportunities as well as constraints. 26

In effect, he suggests that what is essentially a dark

prognosis has a silver lining. Yet, this might not be

the case. The problem with even this limited degree

of optimism is that disorder itself could prove highly

unpredictable rather than “durable.” It does not

require much imagination to see disorder spread,

intensify, or tip into chaos. The danger is that the New

Middle Ages, rather than being a stopping point, will

be simply an interim stage on the road to a New Dark

Age. The world is already facing not only a “security

deficit” but also, as Cerny acknowledges, a governance

deficit. 27 Both will accelerate rather than diminish

in the next few decades. Moreover, the security

deficit and the governance deficit will reinforce one

another in pernicious, unpredictable, and potentially

unmanageable ways.



There are many reasons why the state is in decline,

and why this decline is likely both to accelerate

and to intensify. The difficulty is not so much with

identifying the underlying structural conditions

contributing to what appears to be a long-term secular

trend, but with understanding the cumulative impact

of drivers which are not only interdependent but also

mutually reinforcing. Interdependence, combined with


persistent and reinforcing feedback loops, ensures that

the impact of these factors is much more than the sum

of their parts. Indeed, decline can easily become selfperpetuating:

as states go into decline, other forms of

governance become more important, simultaneously

acting as proxies for states while further reducing

state legitimacy. Keeping this in mind, several

considerations clearly feed into the continued erosion

of state dominance.

The Inability of Most States to Meet the Needs

of Their Citizens.

Many states are increasingly unable to meet the

needs of their citizens. In part this reflects the rise of

complex or “wicked” problems that resist short-term

or readily salable solutions as well as what might be

termed the long-term demography of unemployment. 28

Job creation in most countries of the developing world

is already inadequate and will fail to meet the needs of

growing populations, while even in developed countries

large segments of immigrant populations—especially

youths—remain unemployed, underemployed,

or employed only for the most menial of tasks. For countries

such as Nigeria, even if they succeed in overcoming

the mix of corruption and incompetence that pervades

governance structures, it is unlikely that they will

create sufficient job opportunities for a rapidly growing

population. The result is that the disenfranchised and

alienated segments of society will grow as will disputes

over resources—such as the oil in the Niger Delta. This

is also likely in other African societies where the state,

rather than being above politics, is simply the prize of

politics. 29 In these circumstances, politics becomes a

zero-sum game, and the distribution of spoils is heavily


skewed in the direction of the ethnic group, tribe, clan,

or sectarian faction that is in power. Inevitably this

leads to instability of the kind that erupted in Kenya

in late December 2007 and early 2008, even though the

country was long regarded as one of Africa’s success

stories. Dynamics of this kind have also been evident in

Iraq since the U.S. invasion and have complicated both

reconstruction and the reestablishment of a legitimate

and effective government. The conflict in Basra among

competing Shiite factions and militias, for example, has

little to do with sectarianism and revolves primarily

around the control of oil and oil smuggling. 30

Even where this zero-sum dynamic is absent,

weaknesses of the state are debilitating. These

weaknesses can be understood in terms of capacity

gaps and functional holes. 31 Gaps in state capacity

lead to an inability to carry out the “normal” and

“expected” functions of the modern Westphalian

state and to make adequate levels of public goods or

collective provision for large parts of the citizenry.

In Latin America, this has resulted in what Gabriel

Marcella described as “inadequate public security

forces, dysfunctional judicial systems, inadequate

jails which become training schools for criminals, and

deficiencies in other dimensions of state structure such

as maintenance of infrastructure.” 32 Indeed, Marcella

goes on to argue that “at the turn of the 21st century,

Latin American countries have essentially two states

within their boundaries: the formal and the informal.

They are separate entities often walled off from each

other, though they interact with the informal state

supporting the other.” 33 Similar observations have been

made by John Rapley who has argued not only that the

state “lacks the largesse needed to buy the loyalty of an

ever-increasing number of players,” but also that other


informal forms and structures of governance move in

to replace the state. 34

Where the State can no longer provide employment,

build houses, pave roads or police the streets, or where

the police are so woefully underpaid that they supplement

their incomes from corruption, sometimes turning

on the very citizens they are meant to protect, in such

cases, private armies and mini-states might fill the vacuum

left behind by a retreating state. 35

One reason for the resurgence of Sendero Luminoso

in Peru, for example, has been that in most respects,

the state does not exist outside Lima. Over the next

several decades, the state is likely to retreat from more

and more sectors and more and more geographical

areas. Although Marcella and Rapley focus primarily

on Latin America and the Caribbean, their comments

apply equally in many other parts of the world, most

particularly Africa and Central Asia.

The Persistence of Alternative Loyalties.

A second problem for states is what might be

described as alternative loyalties of significant portions

of the population. This can have several reasons, the

most obvious of which is the lack of congruence between

state and nation. For the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, for

example, national citizenship is less important than

ethnic identity. It could be argued, of course, that this

is simply because the Kurds want their own state—so

it is the particular state arrangement in question rather

than the state itself. Even if this is accepted in the

Kurdish case, a broader trend is apparent in which lack

of primary affiliation with the state and the resurgence

of primordial loyalties—to family, clan, tribe, ethnic


group, religion, or sect—has created a crisis of loyalty

among significant and often growing segments of

“national” populations. Indeed, David Ronfeldt has

described tribes as “the first and forever form” of social

organization. 36 As he has noted: “even for modern

societies that have advanced far beyond a tribal stage,

the tribe remains not only the founding form but also

the forever form and the ultimate fallback form.” 37 It

is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that “many of the

world’s current trouble spots—in the Middle East,

South Asia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Africa—

are in societies so riven by embedded tribal and clan

dynamics that the outlook remains terribly uncertain

for them to build professional states and competitive

businesses that are unencumbered by tribal and clan

dynamics.” 38 In Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in

particular, clans and tribes have complicated efforts to

engage in state making. Nowhere have the fractured

and diffused loyalties been more obvious than in the

Facilities Protection Service, a force set up to guard

ministries and other government installations and

infrastructure in Iraq. Although it is nominally under

the control of the Ministry of Interior, the “allegiance of

many Facilities Protection service personnel has been

to individual ministries, parties, tribes, and clans rather

than to the central government, and such division of

loyalties undermines their ability to provide security.” 39

Even the much-vaunted U.S. alliance with Sunni tribes

against al-Qaeda in Iraq has been based on an important

if belated recognition of the significance of tribes and

has led to some short-term success. The danger is that

the long-term construction of a centralized and viable

Iraqi state becomes even more difficult.

Tribes, clans, and the warlords who sometimes

lead them typically define their interests and identities


in ways that implicitly or explicitly challenge notions

of public interest and collective identity as symbolized

in state structures and institutions. 40 This is both

possible and persuasive because, in some respects, the

nonstate actors have more legitimacy then the state. As

Zonabend noted: “The lineage or clan is more than a

group of relatives united by privileged ties; it is also

a corporate group, whose members support each

other, act together in all circumstances, whether ritual

or everyday, jointly own and exploit assets and carry

out, from generation to generation, the same political,

religious, or military functions.” 41 Few states have

this kind of unity—except under conditions of total


Significantly, criminal organizations also exhibit

some of the same features as tribes and clans. Many

criminal organizations—although certainly not all—

have an ethnic, family, tribal, or even geographical

basis. Even when this is not the case, bonding mechanisms—which

can include time spent together in prison

or simply working together in risky conditions—

play an important role. 42 Although an increasing number

of criminal organizations appear to be cosmopolitan in

membership, the more important ones are still based

on family ties or common ethnicity. Strong internal

affiliation is often accompanied by hostility towards

outsiders. It is not surprising, therefore, that warfare

between competing criminal organizations is often

based on family or clan rivalries in which revenge

and vendettas are the contemporary forms of blood

feuds. The clash between the Mexican drug trafficking

organizations led by the Arellano Felix family and

the Gulf drug trafficking organization on the one

side and by Chapo Guzman of the Sinaloa and Juarez

organizations on the other have been partly about the


control of drug trafficking routes and markets, but they

have also been fuelled and intensified by the killing of

family members and the desire for revenge. Inherent

in both the sense of identity and the willingness to use

force is a challenge to state dominance. This has even

been true in the United States where the Mafia which

arose from medieval conditions in Sicily . . . succeeded

precisely as a medieval anachronism in counterpoint to

modern culture, each provoking and irritating the other.

Modernity broke society down into atoms of mobile,

free-floating unaffiliated individuals with ultimate loyalties

only to the state and its laws. The Mafia insisted on

the enduring primacy of family, geography, ethnicity,

and ultimate loyalties to persons and the Mafia itself—

the group over the individual. Instead of contractual,

legalistic, or economic ties, the Mafia bound its men

with personalized relations of reciprocal obligation. 43

For the members, the organization was more important

than the state or its laws. A similar dynamic is evident

in Islamic terrorist organizations.

Perhaps nowhere have identities, loyalties,

and obligations surpassing and transcending the

relationship with the state been more evident than

in the rise of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups. The

real genius of bin Laden and Zawahiri, as well as of

jihadi theorists such as Setmariam Nasr, has been in

the use of “grievance narratives” to create a sense of

Moslem identity. 44 This sense of identity, loyalty, and

obligation, encouraged through radical mosques,

personal affiliations, and the Internet, not only

transcends and trumps citizenship but also encourages

citizens’ hostility towards the states in which they live.

The vision of the new Islamic Caliphate—even though

merely a long-term aspiration—is at one level a frontal

challenge to the nation-state, especially as the loyalties


it creates are most evident in radicalization and have

as their ultimate expression the suicide bomber. It

also suggests that although Huntington’s clash of

civilizations is not necessarily the defining framework

for understanding global politics in the 21st century, it

does feed into the new medievalism. 45 Religious wars

were an important feature of the Middle Ages and

have resurfaced today.

In sum, the sense of affiliation with other groups,

while often coexisting easily with loyalty to the state,

can also work against the state. Moreover, as the state

increasingly fails to provide adequately for its citizens,

it is likely that these alternative loyalties and the

organizational forms that accompany them will become

increasingly important. From a state perspective, this

can be understood as negative synergy.

The Rise of “Sovereignty Free” Transnational


The relative decline of the state is also linked very

closely to the rise of empowered nonstate actors in

the form of “dark networks.” 46 In part, this reflects the

fact that many states have inadequate social control

mechanisms, and weak law enforcement and criminal

justice systems. Yet other considerations have also fed

into the rise of transnational criminal organizations.

When states are failing or inadequate in terms of

economic management and the provision of social

welfare, the resulting functional hole creates pressures

and incentives for citizens to engage in criminal

activities. Amid conditions of economic hardship,

extra-legal means of obtaining basic needs often become

critical to survival. For countries in which there is no

social safety net, resort to the informal economy and


to illicit activities is a natural response to the economic

and social gaps created by the weakness or failure of the

state. From this perspective, the growth of organized

crime and drug trafficking, along with the expansion

of prostitution, can be understood as rational responses

to dire economic conditions and circumstances. Such

activities are, in part, coping mechanisms in countries

characterized by poverty, poor governance, and

ineffective markets. Furthermore, organized crime is a

highly effective form of entrepreneurship, providing

economic opportunities and multiplier benefits that

would otherwise be absent in feeble or dysfunctional

economies. Illicit means of advancement offer

opportunities that are simply not available in the licit

economy. The difficulty, of course, is that the filling of

functional spaces by organized crime perpetuates the

weakness of the state.

In contrast, the power of criminal organizations

(along with that of clans, warlords, and ethnic factions)

is increased by connections outside the state. According

to Shultz and Dew, “one of the more disturbing trends

of nonstate armed groups is the extent to which

such groups, including these clan-based groups,

are cooperating and collaborating with each other

in networks that span national borders and include

fellow tribal groups, criminal groups, and corrupt

political elements.” 47 Similarly, many transnational

criminal organizations have recognized the benefits

of cooperation with their counterparts elsewhere.

Russian criminals and Colombian drug trafficking

organizations, Italian mafias, and Albanian clans, and

even Japanese and Chinese criminals have worked

together when it has been mutually advantageous.

Criminals also seek to co-opt representatives of the

state, in some cases creating what Roy Godson termed


the “political–criminal nexus.” 48 In the past, the political

elites such as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)

in Mexico and the Communist Party in the Soviet Union

were often the dominant partner in this relationship;

increasingly though, criminal organizations appear

to be in the stronger position. This, in turn, further

erodes state authority. In yet other cases, there is also

cooperation between criminals and terrorists. Although

this should not be exaggerated—and it typically occurs

when terrorist organizations are engaged in criminal

activities to fund themselves—it cannot be ignored.

Even where such collaboration does not occur, many

criminal networks operate in a transnational manner,

engaging in jurisdictional arbitrage to both maximize

profits (selling illicit and trafficked commodities where

the price is high) and minimize risk. In effect, therefore,

state authority is subject to challenge both from within

by nonstate armed groups and from without by

transnational movements, organizations, and forces.

In this connection, it bears emphasis that it was

a network based organization, al-Qaeda, which, at

least symbolically, challenged U.S. hegemony when

there was no peer state competitor. The more modest,

but highly disconcerting, ability of nonstate actors to

become spoilers has been evident in Iraq. The United

States, in turn, has rediscovered the challenge of

transforming its overwhelming military and economic

power into an effective strategy for rebuilding a viable

Iraqi state. The old notion that power is relative to the

contingencies for which it is used has been underlined

by the contrast between the rapid U.S. victory on the

battlefield and the protracted difficulties it has faced

in developing adequate responses to the challenges

of security, stability, and reconstruction. Indeed,

in looking at Iraq what emerges most clearly is the


ability of the various nonstate actors such as the

Shiite militias—especially the Badr Organization and

Jaish al Mahdi—as well as the Sunni tribes to hinder,

complicate, and undermine the efforts to establish an

effective and legitimate Iraqi state.

The Rise of Cities and the Emergence

of Alternatively Governed Spaces.

One area in which the New Middle Ages resembles

the Middle Ages of the past is in the importance of cities.

In the medieval world, towns and cities, although much

smaller than those of today, became centers of social

activity and hubs of commerce as well as incubators

of disease. In the last 50 years or so, the rise of cities

has become an enduring and significant trend and has

reached a point at which more than half the world’s

population lives in cities. A possible implication of this

is that cities will increasingly become an alternative

focus to the state as an organizing device for economic,

political, and social activities. Many cities are also

becoming increasingly ungovernable—a trend that can

only feed into what appears to be an impending crisis

of governance at national, regional, and global levels.

The latter half of the 20th century was characterized

by the large-scale migration of population from rural

to urban areas. This movement—and the resulting

transformation of urban spaces—was particularly

pronounced in the developing world. In 1950, New

York was the only city in the world with more than

10 million inhabitants. By 1995, there were 14 such

cities—mostly in the developing world. 49 By 2015,

there will be 23—with 19 in the developing world. 50

In addition, by 2015, “the number of urban areas with

populations between five and ten million will shoot

from 7 to 37.” 51


According to UN-Habitat, almost one billion

people (one out of every six people in the world)

live in slums which typically lack adequate shelter

and basic services. 52 The problems in these spaces

include widespread poverty, overcrowding, disease,

environmental degradation, and pervasive crime and

violence. Many have areas which are so violent that

even law enforcement agencies regard them as no-go

zones. Furthermore, conditions are unlikely to improve

in the near future as slums continue to expand. The UN-

Habitat Report on the State of the World’s Cities, 2006/7

described slums as the “emerging human settlements

of the 21st century.” 53 It also noted that “urbanization

has become virtually synonymous with slum growth,

especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and

Southern Asia.” 54 According to one analysis, “there are

probably more than 200,000 slums on earth. The five

great metropolises of South Asia (Karachi, Mumbai,

Delhi, Kolkota and Dhaka) alone contain about 15,000

distinct slum communities whose total population

exceeds 20 million.” 55 Characterized by inadequate

housing, over-crowding, limited access to water and

sanitation, and lack of property rights, slums are areas

where “the idea of an interventionist state strongly

committed to social housing and job development

seems either a hallucination or a bad joke, because

governments long ago abdicated any serious effort to

combat slums and redress urban marginality.” 56 What

makes this all the more serious is that by 2030 the

number of people living in slums worldwide is expected

to reach two billion people. 57 To put this in perspective,

the population of China today is somewhere around

1.3 billion people.

Against this background, Richard Norton developed

the concept of “feral cities” to describe concentra-


ted urban spaces that are no longer under the rule of

law. 58 In effect, these cities are failed or failing. Using a

term typically applied to domestic animals which have

gone wild, Norton argues that the problems besetting

mega-cities could also become evident in many smaller

cities. These problems, of course, are not the result of

urban growth per se, but its interaction with other factors

such as economic crises, high levels of unemployment,

and weak and inadequate governance—at both the

state and city levels. 59 The result is that mega-cities

and even many smaller cities are being transformed

into disorderly spaces where aspirations are rarely

fulfilled and most new urban dwellers find that they

have merely traded a life of rural destitution for one

of urban destitution. For unemployed young men

suffering from what Castells describes as a process of

social exclusion, crime, random or organized, is one of

the few available career options. 60

The growth of violent and organized crime is

particularly evident where slum conditions and poverty

are juxtaposed with the secure gated communities

of the wealthy. The contrast is particularly stark in

Brazil. In São Paulo, for example, “the rich are often

unfathomably rich, and the poor are disastrously poor.

Crime and violence flourish any place where jobs are

few, youth are many, and the chasm between rich

and poor becomes too deep and too obvious.” 61 For

the poor in the favelas, the drug economy is a crucial

safety net. Furthermore, in both Rio de Janeiro and São

Paulo, drug traffickers who operate in, through, and

out of the favelas have developed alternative forms of

governance based on rudimentary but effective forms

of paternalism, the provision of welfare services,

a degree of protection against violence, and career

opportunities for young men who would otherwise


e unemployed. Governance of this kind is not

altruistic; it is designed primarily to maintain a safe

haven for the trafficking networks. Those helped by

the traffickers become sources of information and

support, thereby enhancing the intelligence capabilities

of the criminal network. In this sense, a degree of

reciprocity is expected. Nevertheless, the paternalism

of the trafficking networks can also be understood

as an organic form of governance which is at least

partially attuned to the needs of the people deprived

of economic opportunity. After all, these people have

been neglected or ignored by the state and left to fend

for themselves. In these circumstances, to suggest that

the governance provided by the trafficking networks is

an inferior form of governance is beside the point; it is

the only form of governance—albeit one that inherently

challenges the legitimacy of the state.

Not surprisingly, therefore, favelas in both São

Paulo and Rio de Janeiro suffer from regular outbreaks

of violence as both rival trafficking organizations and

police and traffickers vie for control. In effect, the

organic or bottom-up governance is contested—at least

intermittently—by the state. 62 Although the favelas

have governance, therefore, they also have considerable

violence, which sometimes spills over to other parts

of the cities. In May 2006, for example, in response to

a plan to move major drug traffickers to a different

prison, the leaders of the First Capital Command in São

Paulo orchestrated a wave of violence in which “more

than 160 people, including at least 75 police and prison

guards” were killed, police posts, bars, and banks were

attacked, riots occurred in 80 prisons, and at least 59

buses were burned. 63 In effect, the city was brought to

a standstill.


Although it might appear contrived to compare the

problems in some of Iraq’s major cities with those in

Rio and São Paulo, the parallels are, in many respects,

very striking. In Sadr City, which is simultaneously a

Shiite ghetto, one of Baghdad’s most deprived areas,

and one of its most obvious concentrations of urban

dwellers, governance, so far as it exists, is provided

by Jaish al Mahdi (JAM). The Mahdi Army has been

both protector and predator. 64 It controls black market

activities, demands protection payments, and some

of its factions are very violent even in their treatment

of Shiites. At the same time, black market prices of

some commodities are sometimes lower in Sadr City

than elsewhere in Iraq, which suggests that there

is an important paternalistic component to JAM’s

activities. 65 Indeed, in early 2008 there were signs that

JAM was taking steps to curb excessive predation and

violence and was killing some of its own members who

overstepped the boundaries of permissible behavior too

often or too overtly. 66 When Iraqi government forces

(which had incorporated many members of the Badr

organization, a rival militia which has often clashed

with Mahdi members) and U.S. forces did the same,

however, Mahdi forces reacted violently, resulting in

major fighting in both Basra and Baghdad in late March


So long as there is a continued juxtaposition

between concentrations of people and the absence

of services and opportunities, the trends towards

urban disorder and the rise of alternative forms of

governance are likely to continue and even intensify.

Disorder in cities takes many forms: riots in Paris,

contract killings in Yekaterinburg, kidnappings in

Metro Manila, and child prostitution in Mumbai. All of

these problems reflect the failure or abdication of the


state and the rise of alternative forms of governance

that are paternalistic, but are also both predatory and

parasitic. Since it is in cities that the inability of states

to meet the needs of their citizens is most pronounced,

these agents and structures of alternative governance

are essential. As suggested above, they are often the

only form of governance that exists. Yet, even though

they are organic, bottom up, and attuned to the needs

of the population, they are far from ideal. They are

exploitative and often violent in nature. Moreover,

as alternative forms of governance, they are a major

challenge to the dominance of the state.

Another and more surprising challenge to the state

has arisen in prisons. Paradoxically, prisons are both

a monument to the coercive power of the state and

an expression of the limits of that power. Although

the ability to incarcerate (and in many cases execute)

people starkly reflects the coercive power of the state,

prisons are increasingly uncontrollable. At times, it

appears that the prisoners run the prison. Although

the formal structure of incarceration imposes outer

controls, within limits prisoners have a great deal of

freedom—especially where they have the resources

to bribe some of the prison authorities. And prison no

longer isolates inmates from the society in the way it

once did. The widespread availability of “cell” phones

has enabled some prisoners to continue running their

criminal enterprises from prison. Osiel Cardenas,

for example, continued to run his drug trafficking

organization, the “Gulf Cartel” from La Palma prison in

Mexico until, in January 2007, he was extradited to the

United States. Moreover, major criminals can mobilize

resources in the outside world in the event that the

state adopts policies or initiates regulatory measures

they oppose. This has certainly been the case in Brazil


where the riots discussed above were orchestrated, at

least in part, from prison.

It has long been recognized that prison also acts as

a training ground and finishing school for criminals.

Not only do criminals develop their professional

expertise in prison, but they also build up social capital

that can be very important when they are released. In

this sense, prisons inadvertently help to facilitate the

emergence and expansion of criminal networks. They

also provide an ideal environment in which terrorists

can recruit members of criminal organizations who

bring with them a skill set that can act as a multiplier for

the terrorist organization. Indeed, prisons, especially

in Western Europe and to a degree in the United

States, have become a petri dish for radicalization of

Moslems. 67 In other words, many prisons have become

places where criminals conduct business, where they

swell the ranks of terrorist organizations, and where

the authority of the state is systematically undermined

by the corruption of prison officers.

Porous Borders.

One of the most important aspects of sovereignty

is the notion of territorial control—a notion which

extends to determining who and what is allowed to

enter the territory and under what conditions. Not

surprisingly, therefore, the authority of the state is

deeply and obviously embedded in formal points

of entry and departure. In effect, this is where “the

strategy of state territoriality is dramatized and state

sovereignty is paraded. It is also here that many

countervailing strategies contesting state territoriality

are clustered. The struggle between these strategies

continually reproduces, reconstructs, or undermines


orders.” 68 It is also a struggle between customs officials,

immigration service personnel, and border guards on

the one side and smugglers, illegal migrants, criminals,

and terrorists on the other. For these latter groups,

borders are both obstacles and opportunities. Once the

border has been crossed, all sorts of benefits accrue—

job opportunities for illegal migrants or profits from

illegal goods that have increased significantly in value

from one side of the border to the other. Smugglers also

exploit differential tax rates among countries—which

explains why cigarette smuggling has become a major

issue in Europe and why Turkey (with gasoline prices

among the highest in the world) remained a favorite

destination for smugglers of Iraqi oil and gasoline even

after sanctions against Iraq were removed. Smugglers

also seek to meet the demands for products that are

illegal, regulated, prohibited, or stolen.

The inability of states to control their borders and

the global flows—of people, money, weapons, drugs,

etc.—that cross these borders into their national

territories is both a manifestation of the decline of the

state and a major contributor to the strengthening and

acceleration of this tendency. Although Stephen Krasner

is correct in his observation that states “have never

been able to perfectly regulate transborder flows,” 69

it is also arguable that they have never before had to

contend with the sheer volume, speed, and diversity

of the people and commodities that cross their borders

both legally and illegally. As Carolyn Nordstrom has

observed, in the contemporary globalized world, “taxes

and tariffs are obstacles, not obligations.” 70 Similarly,

borders might be boundaries, but they are far from

being barriers.

One reason for this is the intermodal container,

a development which both transformed the scale of

global trade by reducing transaction costs, and—in


spite of such measures as the Container Security

Initiative rolled out by U.S. Customs—helped to deny

states the ability to control what comes across their

borders, unless they are willing to place global trade

on hold. The container ship, with its large numbers

of containers and the ability to move them from ship

to shore quickly and efficiently, has compounded the

inspection challenge. 71 The result is that states enjoy

what Nordstrom termed “the illusion of inspection”

but are unable to turn the illusion into reality. 72 The

sheer volume of trade, the diversity of commodities,

and the increased reliance of businesses on just-in-time

deliveries all militate against the imposition of truly

effective border controls.

Those who want to bring commodities or people

across borders undetected have a range of options

to exploit. For example, they can simply circumvent

customs posts and come in through remote areas

where checks are nonexistent. Alternatively, they can

facilitate their actions through corruption, which in the

last few years has become a major problem on the U.S.

side of the border with Mexico in spite of (or perhaps

because of) U.S. efforts to impose more stringent border

controls. More often than not, however, concealment

and/or deception are sufficient given the volume of

goods crossing borders and the limited capacity for

search and discovery. The problem for states is that

the smugglers’ toolkit is diverse and flexible in scope

and innovative in method. Mexican drug traffickers,

for example, have dug a significant number of tunnels

from Mexico to the United States, through which

they can move their drugs unhindered. Although 19

of these tunnels were discovered and closed in 2007,

clearly illegal movements across borders of prohibited,

regulated, and stolen goods, as well as of people and

dirty money, are flourishing. 73


So, too, are cross-border digital signals. Ironically,

the Internet, which was a product of the Cold War

between the superpowers, has become a means of

empowerment of individuals, small groups, and small

businesses—often at the expense of the state. In some

instances, states such as Burma are able to clamp

down on Internet access and use, at least temporarily.

Nevertheless, nonstate actors are generally able to use

the Internet as a force multiplier in their competition

with states. Although the Internet is not wholly

unregulated, it is a haven for the sexual predator,

the insurgent looking for international support, the

criminal seeking to move his money covertly, and the

terrorist who uses it to finance and plan and to recruit

and train people for his next attack on state targets.

Indeed, if borders are far more than simply lines on

maps; in cyber-space, they are far less.

Implications: From New Medievalism to the New

Dark Age.

Each of the drivers outlined above poses a formidable

set of challenges to the state. The drivers also feed off

one another in ways that are not only mutually reinforcing

but multiply the difficulties in developing an adequate

response. In complexity terms, they interact in an

emergent system which makes the ultimate outcomes

both synergistic and highly unpredictable. The extent

to which states are able (or unable) to adapt and learn

also adds to the uncertainties. Nevertheless, it is not

hard to envisage the transformation of global politics

and an abrupt, nonlinear shift from the New Middle

Ages to the New Dark Age.

The 21st century will see a continuing dialectic

between the forces of order and the forces of disorder.

Within this co-evolution, the limits of state power will


ecome increasingly apparent, while the empowerment

of nonstate actors will increase significantly. Although

some strong legitimate states will continue to exist, the

number of what might be termed qualified, restricted,

notional, or hollow and collapsed states is likely to

increase. Moreover, many of these weaker states will be

neutralized, penetrated, or in some cases even captured

by organized crime, terrorists, militias, warlords, and

other violent nonstate actors. In effect, we will continue

to see a world of formal state structures, but at least

some of these will be little more than fronts for these

other actors. In other instances, the emphasis on formal

sovereignty will do little to obscure the dispersal of real

authority and power among what Rapley described

as “autonomous political agents, equipped with their

own resource bases, which make them resistant to a

reimposition of centralized control.” 74

One of the corollaries of this is the spread of

disorder from the zone of weak states and feral cities in

the developing world to the countries of the developed

world. This is recognized, for example, by Collier in

his argument that the problem of the bottom billion

matters, and not just to the . . . people who are living

and dying in 14th century conditions. It matters to us.

The 21st century world of material comfort, global travel,

and economic interdependence will become increasingly

vulnerable to these large islands of chaos. And it

matters now. As the bottom billion diverges from an

increasingly sophisticated world economy, integration

will become harder not easier. 75

This notion of spreading disorder is a very important

antidote to an overly-optimistic Wilsonianism that

sees democracy, liberty, or global economic integration

as cure-alls. Thomas Barnett, for example, in


a sophisticated variant of economic Wilsonianism,

has argued that global security is simply a matter of

inclusion, of bringing states on the periphery into the

world of globalization and making them more like the

core. 76 In some ways this is a variant of the argument

developed in the 1990s by Singer and Wildavsky

suggesting that the real world order was made up of

both zones of peace and zones of turmoil. 77 For Singer

and Wildavsky, the key was to export democracy and

thereby contain and reduce the turmoil and enlarge

the space in which there was a real sense of order and

stability. Barnett’s twist on this is simply the emphasis

on economic integration into the developed world—

and in particular the need to integrate states which

are economically isolated. He argues, for example,

that one of the most positive consequences of the U.S.

intervention in Afghanistan is the prospect that this

will help to integrate the country into the core of the

global economy. The problem with this argument is

that Afghanistan is already fully integrated into the

global economy—albeit the illicit global economy.

Connectivity and integration have multiple layers and

facets. Moreover, opium and heroin radiate out from

Afghanistan, bringing with their market diffusion a

cornucopia of violence and addiction. The Afghan

experience directly challenges Barnett’s Wilsonianism

as it suggests that the export of order from the core

to the periphery can be far outweighed by the export

of disorder from the periphery to the core. Another

example of this is the spillover of conflicts between

transnational criminal organizations from their home

states to host states. Indeed, “gang warfare or apparently

random murders in Toronto or London that seem

senseless and anarchic within the context of those

societies take on a new, brutally rational meaning when


analyzed within the context of the activities of gangs

back in Jamaica or Nigeria (or Russia, or Albania, or a

host of other countries).” 78

Some of the disorder, however, will be more

widespread and even more intractable than criminal

or drug-related violence. This is particularly likely

in Western Europe where the clashes of religions

and civilization will be fuelled by a continuation of

demographic trends and the failure of policies designed

to integrate immigrant communities. In retrospect, the

Madrid and London bombings, as well as the Paris

riots in 2005, will be seen as the first salvos in what

is the functional equivalent of a low-grade civil war

that is likely to wrack Europe in the coming decades.

Some elements within immigrant Moslem populations

in Western Europe are reluctant to accept the authority

of the states within which they reside, and the backlash

against this is almost certain to fuel indigenous

nationalism. 79

Another danger stemming from many of the

conditions enunciated above is that of a pandemic

of an emerging or reemerging disease. Urbanization,

underdevelopment, the gap between health care

services and needs in many cities, as well as urban

populations whose immunity is compromised by

both extreme environmental degradation and close

proximity to animals and fowl in confined spaces,

could all contribute to virulent outbreaks of emerging

or reemerging diseases. Trade and travel could rapidly

transform the outbreak from local to global in a few

days. Even with no ill will, the prospect for a rapidly

spreading epidemic is enormous. Add to this the

possibility of malevolence and the ability of terrorists

to deploy human biological weapons—infected people

on planes at airports and other dispersal nodes—


and the scenario rapidly becomes worst case. 80 If the

carriers are asymptomatic, unless there is a cessation

of international air travel, national borders will have

all the stopping power of tissue paper. And even if

there is a formal travel embargo, illegal migration is

unlikely to cease. Trafficking and smuggling of peoples

could undermine efforts at disease containment. 81 And

even if they do not, the damaging consequences of a

pandemic will not be confined to the health sector.

The cascading effects into the economic domain could

be enormously damaging—a kind of globalization

interrupted that would hit the bottom one billion

even harder than anyone else. At the same time, the

inability of states to control and limit the pandemic

would further undermine public faith and confidence

in them. In extreme situations, people might even look

for comfort and support not to the state but to the

alternative forms of governance that are likely to be

equally overwhelmed but at least have the virtue of

proximity. To the extent that alternative governance

can provide some help, alternative loyalties to these

nonstate groups will be cemented, while faith in and

loyalty to the state will diminish even further.

Clearly, the prospects for global chaos are not as

remote as might be thought. Problems such as transnational

organized crime, terrorism, and pandemics

could intersect and interact to create a tipping point

from “durable disorder” into chaos. When one adds to

the trends already discussed the strains coming from

global warming and environmental degradation, the

diminution of cheaply available natural resources, and

the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the

agenda becomes even more formidable. As states go

further into decline, some will inevitably collapse. It is

certainly not inconceivable that among these could be


a nuclear weapons state. Conditions of chaos, looting,

and violence are not conducive to secure command

and control. A race for the acquisition of “loose nukes”

between states and nonstate actors, therefore, is not

out of the question. And if states lose this race, the

radical and sudden empowerment of nonstate actors

will demand an immediate reevaluation of many of

the orthodoxies about weapons of mass destruction

(WMD) terrorism.

The point about such contingencies is not that they

will necessarily happen, but that they represent a set of

threats and challenges that have multiple implications

for U.S. policy and strategy during the next few

decades. A key issue, therefore, is the extent to which

this has been recognized in the U.S. national security

community. The next section addresses this.



There is no single or easy answer to the question

about threat recognition. The National Security Strategy

of 2006, for example, is unabashedly Wilsonian in

tone and optimistic in outlook. Although the Bush

administration is very different from its predecessor

in its willingness to use military force, the underlying

thrust of U.S. policy remains that articulated by the

Clinton administration—“engagement and enlargement.”

82 The emphasis is on spreading democracy

and promoting development. Democracy is treated

as synonymous with good governance, while the

focus on development, although well-placed, does

little to help the bottom billion or the urban poor.

The idea of stability is given little attention. In terms

of threats, four categories are identified: traditional

threats from other states, irregular challenges from


oth state and nonstate actors, catastrophic challenges

involving acquisition and use of WMD, and disruptive

challenges from state and nonstate actors who employ

technologies and capabilities in novel ways to offset

U.S. military superiority. Not surprisingly, the list of

adversaries has broadened to include nonstate actors

such as terrorist and criminal organizations. The

strategy also recognizes that globalization presents

challenges such as pandemics, as well as illicit trade

and environmental destruction. The strategy notes that

although these are not traditional national security

concerns, “if left unaddressed they can threaten

national security.” 83 The overall tone, however, is that

the United States is powerful enough to deal with both

threats and challenges.

Other documents are somewhat more cautious

in their optimism. The 2020 study conducted by

the National Intelligence Council, entitled Mapping

the Global Future, for example, focuses upon both

opportunities and dangers. While noting that the

likelihood of great power conflict is very low, it argues

that many governments and publics do not feel secure.

The study highlights both the positive and negative

consequences of globalization while also acknowledging

that the process itself could be derailed by “a pervasive

sense of economic and physical insecurity.” 84

Mass casualty terrorist attacks, widespread cyber

attacks on infrastructures, or even a pandemic could

trigger efforts by “governments to put controls on the

flow of capital, goods, people,” and technologies, thereby

increasing transaction costs and dampening economic

growth. 85 Even if this is avoided, “lagging economies,

ethnic affiliations, intense religious convictions, and

youth bulges” could combine to create what the study

describes as a “perfect storm.” 86 States with insufficient

capacity to meet expectations or reconcile conflicting


demands are likely to “encounter the most severe and

most frequent outbreaks of violence.” 87 These states,

for the most part, are in “a great arc of instability from

Sub-Saharan Africa, through North Africa, into the

Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and South and

Central Asia and through parts of Southeast Asia.” 88

Clearly, the 2020 report recognizes “that troubled and

institutionally weak states” will be a major security

challenge. 89 For all its sophistication and subtlety,

however, the report focuses on particular states and

regions rather than systemic strains. It discusses the

possibility of state failure in specific circumstances

and locations but offers little more than a genuflection

to the notion of systemic state decline. Whereas the

2020 report suggests that some states will fail to meet

the Westphalian ideal, the argument here is that the

Westphalian system itself is increasingly eroding.

Another government document that provides

a highly sophisticated and very compelling, but

only partial, assessment of the emerging security

environment is The Joint Operational Environment (JOE).

Produced by the Joint Forces Command and presented

as a “living draft,” the JOE acknowledges that “the

United States will not operate in a single, static,

operational environment” but in “layers of operational

environments, all constantly in flux.” 90 Inherent in

this assessment is the recognition that complexity

and connectedness will significantly influence the

operational environment for future conflicts. Moreover,

this environment will be characterized by nonlinearity

and cascading effects: “some of the smallest activities

and interactions cause the largest effects. No activity is

subject to successful prediction. Instead, outcomes will

be possibilities (potentialities unbound by constraint)

that undergo confirmation or denial processes.” 91


Although the JOE assessment of the future

geostrategic landscape acknowledges the “diffusion

of power away from central governments” 92 and the

increasing influence of nonstate and transnational

actors, it still assumes that “nation-states will remain

principal actors.” 93 In other respects, however, it

acknowledges the kind of dynamics that could tip the

system from the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age.

Many of the developments envisaged in the report

coincide with those discussed above. They include state

weakness and collapse, demographic time bombs, the

emergence of urban environments as centers of gravity

(and, therefore, areas of operation) with potential

for chaos and civil unrest, the likelihood that many

traditional challenges will morph into irregular ones,

the pervasiveness of criminal elements in operational

environments, and the importance of tribes, extended

families, and “super-empowered” individuals and

groups. 94 Failed or failing states will be sanctuaries for

enemies who are flexible and adaptive. In spite of this

overlap, however, there are three critical differences

between the JOE assessment and the central thesis of

this monograph about the descent into the New Dark


The first is that the JOE very naturally focuses

on enemies to be defeated, whereas the argument

here is that the key issues revolve around conditions

of chaos, contagion effects, and the capacity of the

United States and other members of the international

community to mitigate consequences, restore order,

foster reconciliation and reconstruction, and ultimately

provide good governance where none exists. The

distinction is between purposeful threats from hostile

actors and threats posed by unmanageable and

chaotic conditions that have a significant prospect of


spreading. To some extent, these conditions develop

from what Liotta terms “creeping vulnerabilities.” 95 In

the context discussed here, however, they have become

dramatic, highly visible, and fast moving. To focus on

these conditions is not to deny the existence of enemies

who will flourish within chaos. Nor is it to ignore the

likely existence of spoilers who will seek to prevent the

restoration of order. Neutralizing enemies and dealing

with spoilers will be essential if the United States is

to have any chance of success in any intervention to

restore order. Moreover, providing a congenial security

environment will clearly be a prerequisite for success

in reestablishing governance. If military successes are

a necessary condition for successful management of

the kinds of contingencies that are likely to arise in

the New Dark Age, however, they are not a sufficient


Second, the analysis here is ultimately far more

pessimistic than that continued in the JOE. The JOE

assessment, at least implicitly, incorporates many of the

characteristics of the New Middle Ages. The argument

here is that we are already moving from the New Middle

Ages to the New Dark Age, and that the challenges of

security in an increasingly chaotic environment will be

even more formidable than they already are. In terms

of wicked problems, the frightening thing is that we

have not seen anything yet.

The third difference flows from this. Understandably

there is a “can do” quality about the military operations

envisaged as likely within the emerging joint

operational environment. Military planning after all is

designed for success not failure. Yet the difficulties the

United States has confronted in Iraq—although they

stemmed in part from no planning rather than poor

planning—suggest that the challenges are formidable,


victory is difficult to define, and that military success

cannot easily be translated into political stability. Iraq

has revealed that state building is complex, protracted,

and expensive, and comes with no guarantee that

desired or anticipated outcomes can be achieved. Yet

Iraq also illustrates the kinds of conditions that are likely

to characterize the New Dark Age—albeit in multiple

locations rather than a single country. Unfortunately,

Iraq at its most intractable might be little more than a

poor approximation of the difficulties that will have to

be confronted in a world where chaos is both extensive

and intensive.

To summarize, the National Security Strategy has little

sense of the tectonic shocks that might be ahead, whereas

both the 2020 report and the JOE suggest that we will

typically have to confront quakes that are magnitude

8 or above on the Richter scale. The problem is that

future shocks could prove beyond the realm of current

experience—creating what Nassim Taleb has called

a “black swan” event. 96 Put differently, the paradigm

shift involved in the transition from the New Middle

Ages to the New Dark Age is so profound that it might

require new kinds of responses to security challenges.

If the world moves in this direction and confronts the

United States with conditions of chaos rather than

simply a “durable disorder,” U.S. policymakers will

have to design a far more holistic approach to the

exercise of power. Against this background, the final

section explores the range of strategic options available

to the United States as it prepares for the possibility

that the New Middle Ages will be followed not by the

revitalization of the Westphalian state system but by a

decline into a New Dark Age.



Even if the notion of a New Dark Age is dismissed

as a truly worst case scenario, a looming crisis of

governance and widening security deficits are harder

to ignore. They are inextricably linked to increasing

global instability. The decline of the state will both

reflect this rising tide and intensify it. Consequently,

instability could all too easily degenerate into a

tsunami of chaos—posing far-reaching challenges for

U.S. military forces as well as U.S. diplomatic and

global leadership. The signs are already evident. One

of the lessons of Iraq, for example, is that the resource

demands of state-building and economic reconstruction

are far greater than expected. Although the United

States, in effect, catalyzed the failure of the old Iraqi

state, the resulting chaos, factionalism, and violence

proved much harder to control than expected, even by

those who had serious reservations about the invasion.

If the outlook described above is even partially correct,

the implications for U.S. security and strategy are farreaching.

Yet the United States is not without some discretion

in how it responds to this world of global chaos.

Broadly speaking, there are three major choices:

interventionism, disengagement and mitigation, and

triage or selective interventionism. There are also, of

course, significant variations within the first and third,

depending on whether the United States acts alone or

in concert with other powers which are also willing

to try to shape the environment. For purposes of this

analysis, however, the focus is simply on the three

major options as this offers a clearer, not to say starker,

picture of the advantages and shortcomings of each



The first of these is a highly interventionist strategy

which is designed explicitly to uphold the state

system, to contain disorder and chaos, and to reimpose

order and stability. In many respects, this offers a

continuation of the assertive and activist strategy

pursued by the Bush administration. The logic was

encapsulated in the National Security Strategy initially

enunciated in 2002 and refined in 2006. In the words

of the administration, this strategy reflects “the path of

confidence,” the choice of “leadership over isolationism

and the pursuit of free and fair trade and open markets

over protectionism.” 97 It seeks to “deal with challenges

now rather than leaving them for future generations . . .

fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to

arrive in our country . . . shape the world, not merely be

shaped by it; to influence events for the better instead

of being at their mercy.” 98 Although this is in some

respects very appealing, there are major problems with

a long-term extension of this highly activist strategy in

a chaotic world.

First, it suffers from stateocentrism. This has

already been evident in Iraq where the United States,

at the political level at least, has put all its faith into the

recreation of a unified central state. The difficulty with

this has been highlighted by the military’s alliance

with Sunni tribes which led to the “awakening” and

the defeat of al-Qaeda in Anbar province. This might

actually make it harder rather than easier for the central

government to consolidate its power. Empowering

the Sunni tribes tacitly disempowers the central


Second, an interventionist strategy can all too easily

become indiscriminate. In some respects, this reflects

the fact that since terrorist threats can emanate from

anywhere to hurt the United States, security is globally


indivisible. From this perspective, there are no longer

primary and secondary interests—there is only an

overriding interest in preventing disorderly spaces that

can provide terrorists safe havens. If the United States

envisages its role in terms of maintaining stability,

shaping the environment, minimizing disorder, and

preventing or eliminating chaos, the demands on

national resources will be enormous—and perhaps

unsustainable. For the United States to carry out a

strategy of this kind, at the very least, it would have

to expand the Army and Marine Corps—which are the

keys to successful interventions—beyond the increase

already projected. This would likely be at the expense

of the Navy and Air Force—which are typically more

concerned (again in a stateocentric way) about the

emergence of peer competitors than about military

interventions in chaotic contingencies. Even this,

however, might not be enough for what is potentially

an open-ended strategy.

More important than the size of the intervention

capability, however, would be its composition. In

confronting a deteriorating security environment of

the kind envisaged here, the United States would need

a far more holistic approach to the exercise of power

and a far more coherent organizational structure than

currently exist. In responding to security challenges,

the United States still tends to develop several strands

of distinct and often independent activities rather than

a sustained strategic approach that integrates multiple

activities and directs them towards a common purpose.

In a world where the United States seeks to combat

extensive disorder and restore stability, military,

economic, and diplomatic power have to be targeted

in ways that create synergies rather than seams, that

reinforce rather than undercut, and that provide


maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Iraq has shown

that throwing money at problems is no longer enough.

In effect, U.S. interventions in the future would have to

be smarter, not harder.

Achieving this goal requires major institutional

change. As suggested above, the United States is

organized according to domains of activity—military,

diplomatic, economic, and so on. The problem is that

effective strategies of intervention and reconstruction

require more than the coordination of disparate

elements. Strategy cannot be patched together. At

the very least it requires going beyond interagency

collaboration to develop what might be termed

transagency organizational structures. Based on

but extending the task force concept, a transagency

structure would be a central core of U.S. interventionist

capabilities. It would include military forces, diplomats,

reconstruction specialists, and legal experts integrated

into one organization designed to assist a target

state in reestablishing its authority, legitimacy, and

effectiveness. For the United States, which historically

has extolled the virtues of fragmented government

structures in order to maintain checks and balances,

this would be a radical departure—perhaps too radical.

It would also run up against bureaucratic self-interest

and standard operational procedures. The danger is

that departments would ostensibly cooperate in what

has been termed a “whole of government” approach,

but that the deployment would simply reproduce in

the field the fissures, tensions, and divergent operating

philosophies that are so prevalent in Washington. 99

The requirement, therefore, is to extend notions of joint

operations beyond the military to civilian institutions

and to develop transagency structures that are

cohesive, replace departmental loyalties with a sense


of loyalty to the mission, and focus on synergistic

effects. Without both organizational innovation and a

shift of organizational cultures and loyalties, success is


In the final analysis, however, the real problem

with this activist strategy is cost. Even if the Iraq

involvement is not followed by an Iraq syndrome

resembling the Vietnam syndrome, the interventionist

strategy will almost certainly be difficult to sustain

because of resource constraints. Given the growing

signs of U.S. economic weakness, domestic programs

and demands, and the likelihood that other states

will not fully share U.S. concerns or assessments,

the prospects for long-term implementation of this

strategy are minimal. Overstretch would be inevitable

and would significantly erode mission effectiveness.

There would also be a need to recognize that not all

change can be successfully resisted—even when it is

for the worse—and not all problems can be solved.

Indeed, even if the United States did everything the

strategy requires and even if its power was augmented

on occasion by allies, the United States could end up

with its finger in the dike as the walls are crumbling all


It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that an

alternative and in some respects very attractive strategy

is one of distance and disengagement. Whereas the

interventionist strategy involves a mix of preventive

action and hands-on consequence management,

this alternative strategy is a mix of insulation and

mitigation. If the United States recognizes that disorder

and chaos are inescapable and that even with the

coherent deployment of all its military, diplomatic, and

economic power it cannot change this, then it might opt

for a strategy which focuses not on intervention but


primarily on homeland security. In this case, it would

seek to insulate itself from the worst effects of global

chaos, try to ensure that it is not a primary target, and

seek to mitigate adverse consequences of breakdown

elsewhere. In effect, John Quincy Adams rather than

Woodrow Wilson would provide the leitmotif for

this strategy: America “goes not abroad, in search

of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the

freedom and independence of all. She is the champion

and vindicator only of her own.” 100 This would be low

cost in terms of “blood and treasure” spent on foreign

interventions, and would allow the United States to

focus on domestic problems and economic challenges.

Attractive as this might appear, it has significant

shortcomings. First, neglect is not always benign.

Without a continued U.S. military role in upholding

at least some of the vestiges of international order,

the descent into chaos could be deeper, sharper, and

more long-lasting in its effects. In effect, the Dark Age

would be even darker without U.S. efforts to maintain

or restore order. Second, there is no guarantee that the

United States can effectively insulate itself and mitigate

adverse consequences of chaos in a world with even the

vestiges of globalization and connectivity. Even if the

United States succeeds in taking itself out of the line of

fire of terrorists, so long as it fosters trade and travel,

it will remain vulnerable to microbes, to economic

disruption, and to other spillover effects from the

growing chaos outside its borders. A disengagement

strategy, therefore, could prove to be both elusive and


The third option offers a middle ground between

these two and could be described variously as selective

intervention, a triage strategy, or even as “prudential

realism.” 101 In effect, this strategy would be based on the


assumption that although these trends towards chaos

are global, their impact varies according to location,

circumstance, and even U.S. strategic interests. To put

it crudely, chaos in Mauritania is not as important for

the United States as chaos in Mexico. Even in a world

of global terrorism, some interests are more important

than others. Accordingly, the United States could opt

for selective interventions to deal with chaos or disorder

when it is a direct rather than indirect threat, when it is

proximate rather than distant, or when it takes on such

proportions that it could have highly disruptive and

far-reaching spillover effects.

This is a more differentiated approach than either

of the other two alternatives. In many respects, it

reflects a recent U.S. Army assessment of the strategic

environment which noted that “the stability and

legitimacy of the conventional political order in regions

vital to the United States is increasingly under pressure

from a variety of sources. There is now a nexus of

dangerous new actors, methods, and capabilities that

imperil the United States, its interests, and its alliances

in strategically significant ways.” 102 These threats

require a response which is carefully formulated, with

an appropriate balance between ends, ways, and means,

and a realistic prospect of reaching an end state that

is less dangerous and unfavorable than it would be in

the event of inaction. In effect, the Weinberger-Powell

Doctrine could provide the framework for assessment,

albeit with one addendum—the United States should

not intervene if its intervention would lead to an increase

rather than a decline in chaos and instability.

Even a strategy of limited and selective intervention,

however, has to be done right. Significantly, the Army

has not only enunciated at least some of the preconditions

for intervention, but also has emphasized the need


for “integrated operations . . . in Joint, interagency,

and multinational environments.” 103 In addition, it

has acknowledged the need to integrate the elements

of national power—diplomatic, military, economic,

and information. 104 Taking this a step further and

developing the transagency organizational structures

discussed above might enhance the prospects that

these selective interventions would create the desired

results. Even selective interventions require the holistic

exercise of power and a more coherent organizational

approach than has been evident in Iraq.

The difficulty is that adaptation by the United

States is constrained by intense partisanship and by

an anachronistic set of institutional arrangements and

procedures for managing national security policy.

Gone are the days when politics stopped at the water’s

edge. Partisanship not only encourages the adoption

of extremes rather than more prudent and moderate

alternatives but also results in dramatic course

shifts when presidential incumbents are replaced

by members of the opposing party. Similarly, many

institutional arrangements in the United States are

unsuited to the demands of the 21st century. Reform

of American government in general and the national

security apparatus in particular might be a necessary—

albeit not a sufficient—condition for the United States

to function effectively in dealing with the challenges of

emerging global chaos.

The other constraints on the United States are

the increasingly obvious fiscal and economic trends.

In the short and medium terms, the possibility of a

U.S. economic meltdown and a global realignment of

economic power cannot be excluded. The ripple effects

of such an event would greatly intensify the trends and

tendencies towards the dissolution of the Westphalian


order discussed above. Yet this might not be all bad.

In the final analysis, it is important to recognize that

state predominance is not immutable. The state does

not necessarily represent the optimum set of political

arrangements for meeting people’s needs or for

ensuring peace and stability. More organic, bottomup

forms of governance, for all their shortcomings,

might be the best available in a world of increasingly

hollow states. The fixation with the centralized state

needs to confront realities that point at least towards

the serious consideration of alternatives. The problem

is that the stateocentric mode of thinking is so highly

normative that serious consideration of alternative

forms of governance, which does more than treat them

as threats, is typically regarded as heretical, irrelevant,

or misguided. Yet if we fail to see the decline of the

state and to recognize the underlying realities, the

prospect of a cascade of strategic surprises and a series

of strategic disasters is inescapable.


1. The notion was even used as a title of a book. See Robert

H. Jackson, Quasi-states: Sovereignty, International Relations, and

the Third World, Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK): Cambridge

University Press, 1990. It is also worth emphasizing that the

state in Latin America never developed to the same extent as in

Europe. The author is grateful to Dr. Gabriel Marcella for this


2. Stephen D. Krasner, “Abiding Sovereignty,” International

Political Science Review, Vol. 22, No. 3, 2001, pp. 229-252.

3. The author is grateful for the observation on absolute and

relative decline to Dr. Paul Kan.


4. For a quick summary, see Sandra Mackey, The Reckoning:

Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein, New York: Norton, 2002, p.


5. On this particular issue, the author benefitted from several

lengthy discussions with Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Freier.

6. See, for example, John Mueller, “Harbinger or

aberration? A 9/11 provocation,” The National Interest, Fall

2002, pp. 45-50, available at www.nationalinterest.org/General.


7. Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” Atlantic Monthly,

February 1994, available at www.TheAtlantic.com/atlantic/election/


8. Gregory Laurent, Baudin O’Hayon, Big Men, Godfathers, and

Zealots: Challenges to the State in the New Middle Ages, University

of Pittsburgh: Dissertations and Theses, 2003; Hedley Bull, The

Anarchical Society, New York: Columbia University Press, 1977;

Jorg Friedrichs, “The Meaning of the New Medievalism,” European

Journal of International Relations, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2001, pp. 475-502;

Philip Cerny, “Neomedievalism, Civil War, and the New Security

Dilemma: Globalization as Durable Disorder,” Civil Wars, Vol. 1,

No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 36-64.

9. Mark Duffield, “Post-Modern Conflict: Warlords, Post-

Adjustment States and Private Protection,” Civil Wars, Vol. 1, No.

1, Spring 1998, pp. 65-102.

10. Ibid., p. 70.

11. The notion of the space of flows is developed in Manuel

Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996,

pp. 376-428.

12. Duffield, p. 70.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.


15. Ibid.

16. John Rapley, “The New Middle Ages,” Foreign Affairs, Vol.

85, No. 3, May/June 2006, pp. 95-103.

17. Duffield, p. 70.

18. Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion, New York: Oxford

University Press, 2007, p. 3.

19. Ibid.

20. Cerny, p. 58.

21. Friedrichs, p. 482.

22. Ibid., p. 488.

23. James N. Rosenau, Turbulence in World Politics, Princeton,

NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990, p. 253.

24. This is developed more fully in Philip G. Cerny, “Terrorism

and the New Security Dilemma,” Naval War College Review, Vol.

58, No. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 11-33.

25. Cerny, “Neomedievalism, Civil War, and the New Security

Dilemma,” p. 60.

26. Ibid.

27. Cerny actually uses the term “governance gap.” See Ibid.,

p. 36.

28. For a good overview of wicked problems, see Cognexus

Institute at www.cogenxus.org/id42.htm.

29. See Obi N. I. Ebbe, “Slicing Nigeria’s ‘National Cake’,” in

Roy Godson, ed., Menace to Society: Political-Criminal Collaboration

Around the World, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2003; and

George B. N. Ayittey, Africa in Chaos, New York: St. Martin’s

Griffin, 1999.


30. This is argued more fully in the author’s forthcoming SSI

monograph on organized crime in Iraq.

31. This notion is developed in Phil Williams, “Transnational

Organized Crime and the State” in Rodney Bruce Hall and

Thomas J Biersteke, eds., The Emergence of Private Authority in

Global Governance, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,

2002, pp.161-182.

32. Gabriel Marcella, American Grand Strategy for Latin America

in the Age of Resentment, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute,

U.S. Army War College, September 2007, p. 10.

33. Ibid., p. 24.

34. John Rapley, “Keynote Address—From Neo-Liberalism

to the New Medievalism,” Australian National University

Conference on “Globalization and Governance in the Pacific

Islands,” October 2005.

35. Ibid.

36. David Ronfeldt, RAND Working Papers, In Search of How

Societies Work: Tribes—The First and Forever Form, December 2006,

available at www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WR433.

37. Ibid., p. 53.

38. Ibid., p. 5.

39. General James L. Jones, The Report of the Independent

Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p. 91,

available at media.csis.org/isf.pdf.

40. William Reno, Warlord Politics and African States, Boulder,

CO: Lynne Rienner, 1999.

41. Quoted in Ronfeldt, p. 32.

42. Francis Ianni, Black Mafia: Ethnic Succession in Organized


Crime, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.

43. Stephen Fox, Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-

Century America, New York: Penguin, 1989, p. 62. The author is

grateful for this reference to Dr. Paul Kan.

44. The term “grievance narrative” is used in Jack Cashill,

Sucker Punch, New York: Nelson, 2006.

45. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the

Remaking of World Order, New York: The Free Press, 2002.

46. H. Brinton Milward and Jorg Raab, “Dark Networks,”

paper presented at the International Conference on the Empirical

Study of Governance, Management, and Performance,” Barcelona,

Spain, October 4-5, 2002.

47. Richard Shultz and Andrea Dew, Insurgents, Terrorists and

Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat, New York: Columbia

University Press, 2006, p. 53.

48. This is developed in Roy Godson, ed., Menace to Society:

Political-Criminal Collaboration Around the World, New Brunswick,

NJ: Transaction, 2003.

49. E. Zwingle, “Megacities: The Coming Urban World,”

National Geographic, Vol. 202, No. 5, November 2002, p. 77.

50. Summary Report: Governing Emerging Megacities—

Challenges and Perspectives, December 7-8, 2006, Frankfurt,

Germany, p. 4, available at www.geographie.uni-koeln.de/pearlpune/


51. Zwingle.

52. “Slum Dwellers to double by 2030: Millennium

Development Goal Could Fall Short” UN-Habitat, 21st Session of

the Governing Council, April 16-20, 2007, Nairobi, Kenya.

53. UN-Habitat, State of the World’s Cities 2006/7, London:

Earthscan, 2006, p. 19.


54. Ibid., p. 11.

55. M. Davis, Planet of Slums, New York: Verso, 2006, p. 26.

56. Ibid., p. 62.

57. “Slum Dwellers to double by 2030.”

58. Richard Norton, “Feral Cities,” Naval War College Review,

Vol. 56, No. 4, Autumn 2003, pp. 97-106, available at www.nwc.


59. This point is emphasized by Thomas Homer-Dixon,

“Standing Room Only,” Toronto Globe and Mail, March 6, 2002,

available at www.homerdixon.com/download/why_population_growth.


60. The notion of social exclusion is discussed in Manuel

Castells, End of Millennium, Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, pp. 71-72.

61. Zwingle, p. 83.

62. In some favelas, there is tacit collaboration between

the traffickers and the forces of the state as represented by the

police. Their relationship is mediated by community associations

which make up the third pillar in a triangle of governance. This

is discussed more fully in Enrique Desmond Arias, Drugs and

Democracy in Rio De Janeiro, Chapel Hill: University of North

Carolina Press, 2006.

63. “Dramatic Death Toll in São Paulo as Drug Gangs, Police

Clash” May 19, 2006, available at stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/436/


64. This characterization is drawn from William Reno,

‘“Protectors and Predators: Why Is There a Difference among

West African Militias?” in Louise Andersen, Bjorn Moller, and

Finn Stepputat, eds., Fragile States and Insecure People?: Violence,

Security, and Statehood in the Twenty-First Century, New York:

Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 99-122.

65. “Militia Rule: A Benefit to the Consumer?” October 5,


2007, posted by and available at www.iraqslogger.com.

66. See Babak Dehghanpisheh, “The Great Moqtada

Makeover,” Newsweek, January 28, 2008, available at www.


67. Ian M Cuthbertson, “Prisons and the Education of

Terrorists,” World Policy Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3, Fall 2004, pp.


68. Willem V. Schendel, “Spaces of Engagement: How

Borderlands, Illicit Flows, and Territorial States Interlock” in

Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham, eds., Illicit Flows and

Criminal Things, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005, pp.


69. Krasner, p. 234.

70. Carolyn Nordstrom, Global Outlaws, Berkeley: University

of California Press, 2007, p. 116.

71. Marc Levinson, The Box, Princeton: Princeton University

Press, 2006.

72. Nordstrom, p. 159.

73. For a report on the tunnels, see Richard Esposito,

“Exclusive: Drug Smugglers Dig Record Number of Tunnels,”

ABC News, February 19, 2008, available at abcnews.go.com/Blotter/


74. Rapley, “Keynote Address.”

75. Collier, pp. 3-4.

76. Thomas Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map, New York:

Putnam, 2004.

77. Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky, The Real World Order:

Zones of Peace, Zones of Turmoil, Chatham, NJ: Chatham House

Publishers, 1996.


78. Rapley, “Keynote Address.”

79. See Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is

Destroying the West from Within, New York: Broadway, 2007.

80. This is the theme of an interesting, entertaining, but

ultimately very sobering novel by Daniel Kalla, Pandemic, New

York: Tor, 2005.

81. The author is grateful for this observation to members of

his Capstone Seminar on Early Warning of Feral Cities, Graduate

School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh,


82. See A National Security Strategy of Engagement and

Enlargement, The White House 1996, available at www.fas.org/spp/


83. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,

March 2006, p. 47, available at www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss/2006/


84. National Intelligence Council, Mapping the Global Future,

Washington DC: CIA, December 2004, p. 30.

85. Ibid., p. 30.

86. Ibid., p. 97.

87. Ibid., p. 97.

88. Ibid.

89. Ibid., p. 14.

90. See The Joint Operational Environment: The World Through

2030 and Beyond, U.S. Joint Forces Command, May 2007, p. 1,

available at www.policefuturists.org/pdf/1May07JOE.pdf.

91. Ibid., p. 37.

92. Ibid., p. 4.


93. Ibid., p. 7.

94. Ibid., p. 34.

95. P. H. Liotta, “Through the Looking Glass: Creeping

Vulnerabilities and the Reordering of Security,” Security Dialogue,

Vol. 36, No. 1, 2005, pp. 49-70.

96. Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly

Improbable, New York: Random House, 2007.

97. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,

March 2006, p. 2.

98. Ibid., p. 2.

99. For a brief discussion of the “whole of government”

approach, see David Wood, “U.S. Facing New World of Warfare,”

Baltimore Sun, March 17, 2008, available at www.baltimoresun.com/


100. The text is available at www.fff.org/comment/AdamsPolicy.


101. The term prudential realism has been used by numerous

scholars but can be traced back to E. H. Carr. See Hidemi Suganami,

The Domestic Analogy and World Order Proposals, Cambridge, UK:

Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 103.

102. See “Annex D: The Security Environment” to Army

Strategic Planning Guidance 2005, p. 1, available at www.army.mil/


103. Ibid., p. 8.

104. Ibid.


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