U.S. Military Forces’ Role and Border Security

Homeland Defense

The threats along US borders are increasingly adopting an ominous character. Previously, customs and border officials handled mostly benign matters relating to the enforcement of laws surrounding immigration and trade. Nevertheless, these issues have been eclipsed by the increasing apprehension enveloping matters of significant concern including illegal immigration and terrorism. As the severity and nature of the threat facing the US increases, the character of the response must change so as to match the growing threats.

In the last two decades, homeland security has emerged as the top priority to prevent terrorist attacks in the US. The failure to protect US borders poses four core national threats, namely drug trafficking, infiltration of terrorists, and human smuggling. The present border strategy does not exploit national resources within the most effective way to respond to the national security threats. The study explores the opportunity for the US Military to collaborate with civil authorities to mitigate the terrorist threat on US borders. The military adoption of a more important role within border security operations will deliver enhanced deterrence of illicit activities along the US borders, especially curtailing terrorist infiltration.

The maintenance of border security in the US is the primary responsibility of the Federal Government. Since the 1980s, the DOD, inclusive of the National Guard, as permitted by Congress, has undertaken a broad range of counterdrug support missions along the US borders. Although the US Military does not enjoy primary responsibility to secure US borders, the Army mainly provides vital support to law enforcement and immigration authorities. However, the involvement of the armed forces in the border security might contradict the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) that forbids the use of US Army to undertake the tasks of civilian law enforcement unless overtly authorized. The paper does not contest the value of military involvement in the border security, but rather pursues to widen the body of knowledge relating to the role and effectiveness of the military support to civil authorities. Current paper will explore the US Military forces role in availing border security against terrorist threats by testing the following hypothesis: (1) the US Military forces lack a central role in providing border security against terrorist threats; and, (2) the benefits of US Military engagement in domestic affairs are not evident.

Research Questions

  • The main research question is: What is U.S. Military Forces’ Role in providing Border Security against terrorist threats? Should the US Military forces adopt a broadened function within border protection operations?
  • The deployment of military forces for operations involving border security raises other subordinate questions. What function (scope and type) is suitable for the military support of the law enforcement along the border?
  • How effective is the US Military within the performance of non-conventional, civil-support missions?
  • Can the US Military undertake support missions for the border security devoid of contravening the PCA or influencing the US Military’s core mission of training and combat readiness?

Homeland Security

Homeland defense represents the military protection of the domestic population, US territory, and critical defense infrastructure against external threats and aggression. The definition implies that for a strategy, activity, or operation to qualify as homeland defense, the country will need to utilize the military to purge a national security threat emanating from outside US borders.

The term homeland security delineates the combined national effort intended to prevent and defeat terrorist attacks, limit propensity to terror attacks, and lessen the attendant harm from terrorist attacks. The core objective of homeland security centers on the protection of the citizenry, sovereignty, territory, and critical infrastructure against enemy attack.


Terrorism represents the deliberate utilization of violence or intimidation to cause fear or to force the society or government to advance an agenda that is largely religious, ideological, or political. The line delimiting enemy combatants, terrorists, and other non-state actors have become blurred, which complicates the onerous task of differentiating legitimate actions under the PCA.

Border Security

Border security represents the monitoring of the borders to prevent illegal admission of weapons, people, and narcotics, while concurrently facilitating authorized admission of people and fostering commerce and tourism. Border security serves to uphold homeland security, national sovereignty, and economic prosperity.

History of US Military Support of Border Security

Historically, the northern border manifests significantly lower numbers of illicit incursions relative to the southwest border. The southwestern border poses a nexus of three prominent transnational threats, namely: smuggling aliens, drug trafficking, and terrorism. Both Mexico and Canada avail terrorists with huge opportunities for financing, potential recruits, movement and concealment, access to weapons and highly advanced technologies. The presence of individuals from the countries manifesting alleged connections to terrorist activities raises the possibility that the foreign terrorists may exploit the southern border to gain access to the US. For example, the Hezbollah terrorist organization’s global presence encompasses South and North America as evidenced by the arrest of persons within Mexico that possess ties to Hezbollah (Tams).

Congressional intent and DOD policy have evolved over the years accompanied by an emphasis on the supportive role of the DOD, in which the protection of the US homeland from attacks ranks as a priority. In compliance with recent history, the origin of DOD activity along the southwest border can be traced to the drug war witnessed within the late 1980s. The Defense Authorization Act (1989) made the DOD the leading agency for maritime and aerial detection and monitoring of drug trafficking. The intent of the Congress was to operationalize military capabilities that reinforce the counterdrug mission (U.S. Department of Defense 2003, 2). The new mandate of the DOD also encompasses collaboration with the DHS on civil support mission, inclusive of military coordination and responding to terrorist attacks (U.S. Department of Homeland Security).

Restricted military aid to the civil authorities involving counter-narcotics operations begun during the Nixon Era. The Congress, through Public Law 97-86, amended the PCA to admit military support of law enforcement agencies in the counter-narcotics war. The National security directive (NSD #221) highlighted illicit drug use as a prominent threat to the nation’s security and rooted for more active military support for the counter-narcotics measures (Kamien). Consequently, the DODO became the leading agency in curtailing aerial and maritime transportation of prohibited drugs. Since 2002, the DOD has received requests from law enforcement agencies to provide military aid to execute heightened security measures preventing terrorist attacks.

The Posse Comitatus Act (PCA)

Americans treasure a tradition of separation between the police and military. The Posse Comitatus Act embodies the issue that opposes military engagement within civilian affairs. The Act was enacted within 1878 to prevent the Army from being misused by having the soldiers drafted into service as law enforcement officers. The Posse Comitatus Act limits the utilization of military service to engage in domestic duties such as civil disturbances and homeland security counterterrorism. Some people fear that the utilization of armed forces within any law enforcement capacity will weaken civilian control of the military and violate individual freedoms (Brinkerhoff).

The PCA does not ban the military services from backing the police, nor does it exclude enforcement of the law under the order of the President. The erosion of the PCA via executive policy and Congressional legislations avail the exemptions in several areas including war on drugs and terrorism (Brinkerhoff). For example, Chapter 18 of the US Code that approves military support of civilian law enforcement agencies engaged in counterdrug operations. The Secretary of Defense may avail information, permit the utilization of military facilities and equipment, and train law enforcement within the maintenance and operation of the military equipment.

The Effectiveness of Military Support of Border Security

The National Military Strategy supported the National Security Strategy (NSS) by establishing homeland security as the most significant priority of the military (Kamien). The strategy recognized the need to coherently assimilate the means of the federal, state, and local agencies to effectively utilize all accessible resources for the shared purpose of securing US borders. The present National Security Strategy permits the utilization of military resources to support civil authorities within the defense of the homeland.

The utilization of military personnel for the support of civilian law enforcement manifests a controversial and extensive past since the post-Revolutionary War era. Critics contend that the military is a highly expensive and ineffective asset, and that the military funding to the support their missions should be channeled to law enforcement agencies. Critics regularly cite the largely disappointing results from US counternarcotics efforts. Notwithstanding, it is essential to appreciate that without military support, the effectiveness of the border security against terrorist threats would suffer (Tams ). Advocates of utilizing military support of the civil authority border control endeavors cite the distinct skills that military personnel enjoy and the advanced equipment and technology that the military can provide to the missions. In the civil authority support missions, the military is not merely providing administrative persons, but rather trained, highly disciplined specialists who have analytical and technical skills and capabilities that are helpful to the civil authorities.

Case Studies on Military Support of Law Enforcement Agencies: Evidence of Efficiency

Case 1: The Los Angeles Riots (1992)

The riots emerged following the acquittal of white police officers prosecuted for assaulting Rodney King, a black man. The black population in L.A. had a long-standing detest of the LAPD owing to an extended history of conflict between the black population and the police. Indeed, the riots were largely caused by accumulated anger, exclusion, and bitterness. The Los Angeles Riot spread across numerous parts of the city in which 54 people died, 13,212 were arrested, and 2,383 were injured. The riots also led to widespread arson in which 11,113 fires were reported leading to damage of over $717 million (Scheips).

The incapability of the LAPD to promptly move onto the streets to confront the rioters only encouraged them to exploit the low police presence to cause mayhem and loot. The L.A. Mayor, Tom Bradley, by 9 PM requested the support of 2000 National Guards troops to help city police and L.A. County officials in restoring order (Scheips). The California National Guard speedily and successfully responded to the Governor’s request, despite the conflicting messages and poor emergency planning exhibited by the civil authorities. The capacity of the National Guard to mobilize quickly and provide highly trained and disciplined people ready to aid civil authorities even in dangerous conditions illustrates the efficacy of the military support.

Case 2: The Border Security Missions (Post-September 9th, 2001)

The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks transformed the homeland into a theater of war. As a result, the military support to the civil authorities (MSCA) entered the broader context of homeland security (Buchalter). Following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, the National Guard was ordered to deploy in all Ports of Entry to avail extra support to the law enforcement agencies overwhelmed by the new security demands. The supporters of this move held that the military enjoys pertinent advantages for the restoration of order; the high visibility of the National Guards within airport terminals would reinstate the confidence of the public members.

The security missions illustrated that the National Guard enjoyed the capability to respond almost instantaneously to the civil emergency situations. However, there remain impediments to military effectiveness that undermine the speed of the deployment and the support accessible to the civil authorities. For example, the L.A. Riots exposed the underbelly of military support due to the absence of prior planning between military and civil leaders that impeded on the efficiency and speed of the California National Guard response to the call for mobilization. The hurried federalization of the National Guard needlessly introduced PCA restrictions that constrained the operations that were less limited while under the state’s control.

The qualitative research methodology employed in this paper is a case study. A case study design seeks to answer the “how” and “why” questions on the phenomena, especially on the context conditions characterizing it. The researcher, in this case, undertakes an intensive, holistic account and analysis of a solitary phenomenon (Baxter and Susan). The approach allows a comprehensive and thorough review of the facts relating to the border security within the US borders. Although this approach limited the amount of information accessible for utilization within the study, the amount of existing information was more than adequate to appraise the national security impact.

The case study methodology allows one to focus on a specific phenomenon relating to military support of the border security. The first step in the methodology detailed the collection of data central to the case study, which required an exploration of the department and agencies engaged in securing the US borders. The study utilized multiple sources of data to collaborate and confirm the evidence from different sources in order to illuminate the themes (Baxter and Susan). The triangulation detailed the gathering and analysis of documents relating to border security.

In the context of the case study, data is analyzed so as to solve the underpinning issues connected to the research statement. Although the selected cases are exhaustive within the scope of border security, the cases cannot be considered all encompassing; moreover, the utilization of open-source materials limits the depth and breadth of the study. The study focuses narrowly on the present land border security strategies to establish the feasibility and necessity for a greater utilization of military capabilities in support of law enforcement operations. The other step centers on analyzing whether the present measures and capabilities implemented by the US authorities are adequate to combat the threat of terrorist infiltration. It was pertinent to explore the effectiveness of the doctrines directing the collective efforts of the law enforcement agencies. The research methodology should facilitate a comprehensive and unbiased review of the literature relating to involvement of the military within border security.

The research problem demands a thorough and exhaustive review of the published historical data relating to national security. A brief literature exploration was undertaken to illuminate DOD’s role within homeland security and homeland defense. The case highlights the occasions when the military was involved to aid civil authorities in restoring and maintaining order. In the two cases, the military was hailed for effectively and efficiently aiding civil authorities during extreme crises. In the two cases, the military was credited for speedily provision of the highly needed manpower, organization, and equipment that significantly enhanced the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies. The cases demonstrate that the military support of civil authorities offers distinct advantages, such as highly advanced equipment and technology, necessary to defend the US against the infiltration of terrorists. The capability of the military to readily deploy resources allows effective support to law enforcement agencies within day-to-day operations such as counter-drug operations.

Findings and Analysis

The vulnerability of the US to the national security threats remains inevitable; the apparent weaknesses ought to be addressed devoid of impeding on the free flow of trade. Illegal border activity remains unhindered and profitable despite the growing contraband seizures. Moreover, the potential of arrest remains low for the persons attempting illegally to enter the US, especially given that the constant flow of aliens across the US border could readily cover terrorist infiltration. The southwest border is an ideal base of operations for terrorist organizations. The anticipated benefits deriving from broadened DOD function can include enhanced arrests and seizures along the borders and increased deterrence of the border criminal activity (Buchalter).

The distinction between terrorism and warfare is increasingly fading as terrorists seek to inflict mass casualties by utilizing weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist groups have demonstrated willingness to operate at a higher level within the spectrum of violence, by inflicting substantial economic damage and mass casualties. As such, it would be wasteful not to exploit every capability that the military enjoys addressing such threats (Congressional Research Service).

There is a case for military involvement in provision of the border security against terrorist threats given that sometimes it is impossible to safeguard the citizenry against terrorist attacks utilizing defensive measures only. In order to thwart a terrorist attack or respond to them, it may be essential to deploy military assets offensively against known terrorist networks aimed at creating a shock and intimidation. The defensive (anti-terrorism) measures are designed at minimizing the vulnerability of attacks to US population, infrastructure, territory, and communications systems. The PCA is not a significant hindrance to DOD participation within law enforcement and homeland security, but rather it is the DOD regulations that have imposed the restrictions (Brinkerhoff 2002). The broadened utilization of DOD resources avails a viable option to the increased protection to US land borders. A broadened military function can only enhance the capacity of civil authorities to safeguard the US borders.

The US faces challenges in protecting the borders from the national security threats as evidenced by growing susceptibility to infiltration from the individuals possessing diverse degrees of criminal intent. It is essential to exploit the wide range of assets and options accessible for the US government to conquer or neutralize a growing national threat to the US. Undoubtedly, the military heralds special equipment and skills to the border security mission, especially in supporting the on-going effort as a secondary border security response. Moreover, military assistance to the border security is unlikely to diminish combat readiness of the military. In the present volatile and unpredictable world, it is essential that DOD adopt a broadened role within the protection of the US borders. The US Military shares the obligation of guaranteeing that the homeland is secure and protected. An enhanced military role will improve the development of an in-depth border security strategy that responds to the national security threats linked to the US borders.

The US defense posture ought to evolve rapidly to match the threats encountered at home, which necessitates a revision of the US Military forces role in homeland security. Despite the overriding misconception, the PCA does not ban the use of military resources within support of border protection operations or related law enforcement activities when the use of the army is considered appropriate. As such, the misinterpretation of the PCA unduly impedes the military’s capability to provide support to domestic crises. It is time to amend or rescind the Posse Comitatus Act since it is irrelevant, dangerous, broadly misunderstood, and imprecise. The restrictions linked to the PCA should be modified, as well as the military structure in order to effectively accommodate an increased military role in border security. The efficacy of the military support of civil authorities can be augmented by circumventing the needless federalization of the military, which exposes the military to limitations of the PCA.

Should the US Use “Drones” for Military Purposes Outside the US Borders?

Throughout history, specific types of weaponry and war have been considered more horrifying than others. From the introduction of gunpowder to the deployment of nuclear weapons, the technology has affected government’s policies related to conflicts. Since the ancient period, governments have tried to codify the ethics of war and regulate the application of modern technologies in order to moderate the devastating effects of war and conflict. Despite such efforts, many lethal weapons and technologies remain unchallenged, for example, uranium consumption, defoliants, napalm, daisy cutters, etc. (Bell). In recent years, the controversial use of unmanned aircrafts, or “drones”, has inspired the debate over the effectiveness and ethical implications of this particular technology, which is used not only to gather intelligence, but also to initiate missile strikes against suspected terrorists.

Unmanned aircrafts, or “drones”, have taken warfare to another higher level, where human involvement is less demanding. Recently, the US has utilized drones of all sizes, shapes and capabilities in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Though drones have saved thousands of the US soldiers’ lives, they have caused an enormous number of civilian casualties. Despite the fact that drones have proved to be an effective and beneficial solution for operations of the US army, they have caused the death of many innocent civilians. Ethically, any targeted killing or innocent civilians’ causality is considered as the intentional murder, which is certainly immoral and wrong. It is a violation of basic human rights, and in order to avoid it, the US should not use drones for military purposes outside the US borders.

The purpose of this essay part is to evaluate the use of drones for foreign affairs by considering both sides and overall outcomes and make a recommendation based upon the research and studies.


Technically, a drone can be defined as any unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is used for both lethal and non-lethal purposes. They are also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), remotely piloted aircrafts (RPA), or unmanned aircrafts (UA). Drones come in a variety of sizes and shapes that range from the mini humming-bird sized spy devices to the plane-sized Reapers and Predators carrying destructive weapons and missiles. Drones, like “Gorgon Stare”, can spy on the widespread area. In addition, solar-powered drones are capable of remaining aloft for a long period of time and used for killing or spying. Drone is an advanced and modern lethal weapon, which is increasingly used in recent various military operations (Ngak).

Drone Policies and After-Effects

On January 1st, 2005, Federal Aviation Administration of the US (FAA) issued the first official drone policy to encourage drone production and its application for military purposes. On November 21st, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security signed a deal of $443 million to purchase additional drones (Battersby, Roche, and Simon). According to the official reports, the US drones were logging around 1500 hours a month in Iraq in 2003, however, by 2010, almost 20 Predator drones were logging around 500 hours a day in Afghanistan. Drones were limited in their use under George Bush’s presidency, but Barack Obama’s drone policies have escalated their applications, leading to massive “targeted killing” in Afghanistan, and Pakistan (“‘Drone strikes Killed More Civilians than Publicly Acknowledged’–UN Investigator”).

Despite various reliable reports of civilian deaths, the Obama administration denies any significant collateral damage. It also insists that any adult male killed by a drone is certainly a militant, but such claims lack the fundamental credibility. According to Human Rights Watch, 82 civilians were killed by drones in Yemen between September 2012 and June 2013. On September 2, 2012, two drones attacked a bus, killing 3 children, 1 pregnant woman, and 8 other people. Amnesty International reported the civilian casualty in Pakistan in October, 2012, in which a 68-year old grandmother was hit by a drone missile, while farming with her grandchildren (Dozier). The number of aerial drone attacks increased from 294 in 2011 to 447 in 2012 in Afghanistan, according to the official reports of the US Air Force. Pakistan officials accepted that out of 2200 deaths at least 400 were of innocent civilians caused by the strikes of drones. Larry Lewis, a research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, claimed that drone strikes are 10 times more lethal than the strikes of fighter jets. A recent British poll found that almost 46% of people are against the use of drones for violent military operations. Such targeted killings are causing an extensive anger among people (“‘Drone Strikes Killed More Civilians than Publicly Acknowledged’–UN Investigator ”).

Such staggering figures show that drone strikes are indiscriminate and unlawful.

Defense of Drones

The Obama administration and many other drone advocates defend the use of drones outside the US borders by emphasizing a low risk of combat casualties. An American political scientist, Peter W. Singer, claimed that drone technology allows the government to conduct aggressive military operations without having to risk the lives of young American soldiers. In a way, it removes the last political barrier to the war. Drones are proved to be effective and lethal weapons in the war. Moreover, the production cost of drones is far less than the cost of any traditional jet (Bell).

Human Rights Laws and Ethical Judgment

Even though drones are beneficial for military operations, one simply cannot ignore the fact that drones are causing enormous civilian casualties. According to the research, the average ratio of soldier to civilian war deaths was 9:1, which is now almost reversed. The drone-technology has minimized the risk for soldiers; however, the number of innocent war victims is increasing day by day. According to international humanitarian law, an individual needs to be directly involved in anti-government acts in the armed conflict in order to become a lawful target. If the attack occurs in a place other than an actual armed conflict, then it violates the international humanitarian law. Furthermore, under such circumstances, targeted killings or attacks on innocent civilians are considered as the violation of basic human rights to life. Various reports and studies have proved that drones are the major reason behind a substantial number of civilian casualties in Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghan armed conflict (Dozier). Therefore, the strikes on civilians with drones can be considered as intentional murders. Ethically, killings of innocent civilians or attacks on them are immoral and cannot be justified.

Technology Errors and Other Flaws

Drones are predominantly controlled by various different mechanisms such as mouse, joysticks, touch-screens, keyboards, etc. Such complex controls are increasing the rate of mistakes and accidents. According to the reports, even today, drones are not designed for the amount of excessive workload they are possessing. In 2012, the US Air Force reported 16 Reaper and Predator accidents. Many drones are identified with the error of visual systems, due to which pilots are misguided about the drone’s altitude and its position. The manned aerial warfare is particularly inaccurate as the pilot zooming from thousands of feet above the ground with almost the speed of sound has very little idea about the target. Surprisingly, drone operators have even less information about the target than traditional jet pilots. Based on their assumption, they have to evaluate their target. In a way, drones should not be used for military purposes, considering their massive errors and the risk of striking innocent civilians (Zucchino).

Besides such technological errors, there is another major issue related to the drones’ use outside the US borders, which is proved to be critical. When innocent civilians are killed due to drone strikes or other military operations, it makes the issue even much worse. In the article, “How the US War in Afghanistan Fueled the Taliban Insurgency”, the US Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall noted that before the military action against the insurgents, there were merely 1500 insurgents, but four years later, there were almost 35000 insurgents in Afghanistan. When a civilian is killed in the conflict, it triggers the rebellious nature among the victim’s relatives or close ones, creating about 20 more insurgents. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan increased the violence in the area up to 25% to 65% during the next 5 months (Dreyfuss).


Drone strikes have caused a substantial number of civilian casualties, which can be characterized as a serious war crime. Human life is precious and both the soldiers and civilians have equal human rights to life. Considering the massive flaws in the drone technology and a considerable number of civilian casualties related to it, it is recommended to avoid the use of drones for military purposes outside the US borders. Instead of military operations, drones can be used in manmade and natural disasters to survey the damage, assess potential threats without risking the lives of rescue members and locate injured victims. Drones can be used to monitor large crowds, in search and safety operations. For aerial photography, media coverage and news broadcast, drones can be a safe, economical and efficient variant (Melle).


In conclusion it is essential to note that though drones have proved to be an effective and beneficial solution for the military purposes to lower the risk of lives of soldiers, it has caused a substantial number of innocent civilians’ deaths due to its technological errors and other limitations. Ethically, targeted killings or destruction of civil infrastructure is immoral and wrong. There are certain codes of ethics in war, which need to be followed and respected by everyone. As nuclear weapons are considered lethal and devastating, drones are also proving to be dangerous weapons in the war. The application of drones for military purposes may encourage other states and terrorist groups to adopt it, which can cause staggering after-effects.

Therefore, in order to avoid the misuse of drone technology and protect fundamental human rights, the US should not use drones outside the US borders for military purposes. It can be used for many other non-military operations, as well as promoting peace and stability in the society.

Discount applied successfully