More on Gangs and Guerrillas vs. the State

A story in the April 26 Washington Times, “Drug Smugglers, Rebels Join Hands,” by Carmen Gentile, offered an interesting illustration of the argument I made in my last column, that Fourth Generation entities may do everything they want to do within the framework of hollowed-out states. The article reports,

“Brazilian drug traffickers have teamed up with Colombian rebels to smuggle narcotics through Paraguay, creating a lucrative new channel for distribution to the United States and Europe. …

“Using a precisely orchestrated system of flights from the Colombian jungle, Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are shipping 40 to 60 tons of cocaine annually to farms in Paraguay owned by Brazilian drug lords, who then put the cocaine in cars and small trucks and drive them across the nearly unmonitored border into rural western Brazil … in return for arms, dollars, and euros from Brazilian traffickers [for the FARC].”

Of course, the states in question – Colombia, Paraguay and Brazil – would like to put a halt to this arrangement. But what can they do? If the United States cannot control its border along the Rio Grande, how can Brazil possibly keep drug traffickers from crossing its vastly longer land border, much of it through difficult country? Colombia is a hollow state, with the FARC, drug gangs, and other non-state elements in effective control of much of its territory.

Paraguay illustrates another effective technique non-state forces use against armed forces of the state: taking them from within. The Washington Times article quotes the U.S. State Department’s 2005 International Narcotics Strategy Report concerning corruption and inefficiency within the Paraguayan National Police, who have been accused of protecting Brazilian narcotics traffickers. What a surprise! Given the profits involved in drug smuggling, how hard would it be to buy off some Paraguayan cops? Or all Paraguayan cops?

Meanwhile, drug smugglers and guerilla forces like the FARC work together more easily than states do. The state system is old, creaky, formalistic, and slow. Drug-dealing and guerilla warfare represent a free market, where deals happen fast. Several years ago, a Marine friend went down to Bolivia as part of the U.S. counter-drug effort. He observed that the drug traffickers went through the Boyd cycle, or OODA Loop, six times in the time it took us to go through it once. When I relayed that to Colonel Boyd, he said, “Then we’re not even in the game.”

Not surprisingly, the FARC and others find they can use the drug trade for political ends. The Times piece noted,

“But the [State Department] report did not mention FARC’s recent cultivation of ties with leftist rebels in Paraguay. …Colombian Marxists infiltrating Paraguay beyond the drug trade made headlines in February when former presidential daughter Cecilia Cubas was found dead after being held captive for more than two months.”

How long will it be before al-Qaeda and other Islamic non-state forces make their own alliances with the drug gangs and people-smugglers who are experts in getting across America’s southern border? Or use the excellent distribution systems the drug gangs have throughout the United States to smuggle something with a bigger bang than the best cocaine?

Just as we see states coming together around the world against the non-state forces of the Fourth Generation, so those non-state forces will also come together in multifaceted alliances. The difference is likely to be that they will do it faster and better. And they will use states’ preoccupation with the state system like a matador’s cape, to dazzle and distract while they proceed with the real business of war.

Author: William S. Lind

William Lind is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former congressional aide and the author of many books and articles on military strategy and war.