Since the late 1800’s, there have been laws created to regulate or ban drug use. In 1887, Congress passed the first but the official War on Drugs was declared by President Nixon in 197. He declared that drug abuse was public enemy number one. Following this administration came the establishment of many federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This campaign relies on military aid and intervention to combat the problem of illegal drug trade in the United States.
Before military involvement in the war on drugs, many different strategies were used to try to fight against the struggle in the 1970s-80s. Nixon mainly focused on domestic campaigns, such as employing the Customs Service and Coast Guard to stop the flow of illicit drugs coming in. Many well publicized campaigns against producers, such as marijuana farmers took place. There was also a crack down by state and local law enforcements to punish street pushers, as well as high employment of intimidation tactics such as frequent drug testing, fines, and jail time for casual users. This was the time that drug tests became popularized as many people running for office promised that if they were elected, drug tests for professional and college athletes, employees in public health and safety jobs, the state police, prison guards, and even members of their own cabinets would be subject to random urinalysis.
Despite all these efforts, the campaign proved to be unsuccessful, despite the 400 percent increase of federal funding for it. The funding went from $1.2 billion in 1981 to $5.7 billion in 1989. Because of this failure, proponents of the war on drugs grew intensely frustrated and decided to look for tougher measures that would bring about change.
In the 1980’s under the Reagan administration is when the military’s active involvement really began with the war on drugs. During Nixon’s administration, he mainly relied on the establishment on federal agencies and domestic campaigns to combat the illegal drug trade, but this mainly proved to be unsuccessful. At the time, it was in the news everyday as to whether or not the military should even be used as a resource in engaging in the war on drugs. It was so controversial because to many, it seemed to go against the long standing prohibition of military involvement in domestic law enforcement. Many critics believed that because the military trained to fight enemies in wartime they would not have the skills to be trained in the nuances of civilian law enforcement as well as being familiar with the details of constitutional law. Moreover, many senior military and civilian officials were against it because they believed it would divert the Armed Forces from their primary mission to protect the US from its enemies, such as the Soviet Union. However it was eventually approved. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibited the use of military personnel to enforce civilian laws, but this was amended in 1981 when Congress proposed legislation that allowed the president to employ the military in the drug war. When this act was amended, the purpose was to allow the military to be involved, but only a limited amount. Most members of Congress only wanted the troops to be used to bolster interdiction along the US-Mexico border, but some wanted to push for even more use of Armed Forces.
Paula Hawkins, a Republican senator from Florida, while she was running for Senate, centered her whole campaign around the war on drugs. At this time, the fight against drugs was the biggest focus in the news and media. In May 1984, she proposed to President BUsh to send troops to South America. She urged to offer whatever resources are necessary including U.S. military personnel to the government of Colombia in their war on illegal drugs.
President Ronald Reagan signing a National Security Decision Directive in April of 1986, declaring drug trafficking a security threat to the United States proved to be a crucial step for military involvement on the war on drugs. After declaring this, the debate as to whether the military should be involved or not became less of a topic of contentious debate and seen more as a necessity. Concerning the topic and the reaction of the public at the time, columnist James K. Kilpatrick said, Our soldiers, sailors and airmen are being paid to protect the national security. Let them earn their pay.
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