Law and Policy: Foreign Policy and Drugs

views updated

Law and Policy: Foreign Policy and Drugs

Since the 1980s, the control of illegal drugs has played an important role in the U.S. government's foreign policy, or dealings with other governments. The use of drugs in the United States has led to ad- diction, crime, family violence, and social disintegration in some communities. The United States has fought to stop the production, trafficking, and sale of illegal drugs that fuels these social problems through agreements with other countries, the funding of crop elimination efforts, and aggressive efforts to stop drugs from crossing U.S. borders.

During the 1990s it became apparent that drug cartels gained un- official control in some countries and sometimes used money from the production and sale of drugs to fund terrorist activities. Analysts began to see connections between drugs, money laundering , and international terrorism. These developments have forced the United States to find new ways to work together with other nations to reduce the production and sale of illegal drugs. At the same time, the United States is supporting alternatives that will provide permanent solutions to this global economic and social problem.

Requirements for Foreign Aid

On the international front, the U.S. government pressed hard for members of the United Nations to approve the U.N. Convention on Psychotropic Drugs and created the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control. Later, this organization became the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP). Drug control gained full acceptance as a factor in relations among countries during the 1980s, after cocaine use became widespread among entertainers, athletes, and stockbrokers.

Because the United States could not stop the use and spread of drugs at home, Congress tried to gain control of the problem by working with countries that produced and shipped drugs abroad. In 1986, in the first of a series of comprehensive international anti-drug laws (the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986), Congress placed the burden of halting drug flows on the governments of the drug-producing countries. The United States began to use a traditional "carrot-and-stick" approach (rewarding countries that cooperated and punishing those that did not). The new law required the major drug producing and transit countries to cooperate fully with the United States in drug matters in order to receive American foreign aid. Half of all assistance was withheld every year until the president certified that the country concerned had met the standard requirements for control- ling production and shipment of illegal drugs. Subsequent laws have expanded the requirement, forcing the major drug-producing and transit countries also to comply with the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Countries that do not comply not only lose U.S. assistance but also have a very difficult time getting loans from the World Bank and other international financial institutions. For many countries in the developing world, losing access to these loans is an even greater hard- ship than losing U.S. assistance. Though the certification process has raised tensions with some foreign governments, by 2000 it had be- come an accepted part of U.S. foreign policy. However, critics noted that the United States has recertified countries such as Mexico and Colombia, even when political corruption in these nations has seriously limited their narcotics enforcement efforts.

Diplomacy (the relations among countries) concerns different is- sues at different times. Drug control, like other global issues, such as human rights or control of the spread of nuclear weapons, has had to overcome obstacles to become a legitimate, or accepted, subject for diplomacy. Some U.S. foreign-policy experts view drug control as a law enforcement issue, and they do not believe that law enforcement should be as important as concerns about national security or foreign trade in determining U.S. dealings with other nations. Congress, how- ever, has left no doubt that it intends to keep drug control high on the list of U.S. foreign-policy issues. Congress has denied virtually all forms of aid—with the exception of humanitarian (food and medicine) and drug-control assistance—to countries that refuse to cooperate with U.S. drug policies. In doing this, Congress has devised an effective form of control over countries that produce, ship, or sup- port illegal drugs. Because the law also allows the president to waive (lift) sanctions when clearly stated national interests are at stake, Congress has made it difficult for foreign-policy agencies to avoid their drug-control responsibilities.

Agencies Responsible for Drug Policy

The U.S. Department of State is responsible for creating international drug policy. Its Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) oversees the annual certification process and pre- pares an annual report. The INL narcotics control program has two primary goals: to convince foreign governments that narcotics control is an important consideration in international relations and to promote cooperation with the United States. Second, the INL uses the bureau's various programs to help stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. The international crime program has three major goals: (1) to combat the growing threat to U.S. national security posed by international organized crime; (2) to help emerging democracies strengthen their national law enforcement institutions; and (3) to strengthen efforts by the United Nations and other international organizations to assist member states in combating international criminal activity.

Since 1989, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the National Security Council have coordinated U.S. drug policy with other countries. However, a broad spectrum of government agencies are also involved, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Department of Treasury, the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services. A small percentage of the U.S. drug-control budget is spent on international programs. The bulk of the money goes to domestic law enforcement, drug treatment, and public education.

One innovative international program is the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), which opened in 1995 in Budapest, Hungary. The ILEA serves as a law enforcement training center for officers from Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. Instructors at the academy represent a cross-section of federal law enforcement agencies, including subject experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the United States Customs Service, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. They work on attacking organized crime, which depends on narcotics trafficking as a source of income.

The Realities of Drug Control

An effective drug policy is easier to design than to carry out. The drug issue is a typical "chicken-and-egg" problem. Does the supply of drugs drive the demand for them, or vice versa? The drug-consuming countries traditionally blame the suppliers for drug epidemics, while drug- producing countries charge that without foreign demand, local farmers would not grow drug crops at all. Planners of drug control policies must therefore strike the right balance between reducing drug supply and demand. In theory, eliminating drug cultivation in the source countries is the most economical solution, since it keeps drugs from entering the system and acquiring any value as a finished product. However, few source-country governments—all of which are in developing nations—will deprive farmers of a way to make a living unless foreign governments provide substantial compensation. And the price they seek is usually more than the U.S. government is prepared to pay.

The Drug Trade as Criminal Threat

Today's illegal drug trade is one of the most profitable and, there- fore, powerful criminal enterprises in history. Drugs create profits on a scale never before seen—especially given their abundance and low production costs. These financial resources, which are well beyond those of most national budgets, give drug traffickers the means to buy sophisticated weapons, aircraft, and electronic and technical equipment available to few countries. More important, illegal drug revenues allow trafficking organizations to buy themselves protection through bribes and other means at almost every level of government in the drug-producing and drug-transit countries. Drug-related corruption remains the single largest obstacle to effective control programs.

As for the drugs themselves, there is a huge abundance. Opium is in especially great supply. In Southeast Asia, Myanmar (formerly Burma) could supply the world's needs several times over, with 257.5 metric tons annually. Estimates of heroin consumption in the United States range only between 6 and 20 metric tons, less than 10 percent of Myanmar's potential output. In South America, coca production dropped in the 1990s, yet it is enough to satisfy the world demand for cocaine twice over. This surplus is so large that the drug trade easily absorbs losses inflicted by drug-control authorities and still makes enormous profits.

Traffickers also have the option of expanding cultivation of drug crops into new areas. For example, although coca plants are currently confined to Latin America, coca once flourished in Indonesia and could do so again if market conditions were right. Opium poppy cultivation is spreading into areas where it was not previously grown, including South America. South American cocaine-trafficking organizations have been cultivating the opium poppy as well, because they expect a new surge in heroin use. Without active government antidrug programs, production will grow until the demands of new expanding markets are satisfied.

Current Policy

The U.S. government's first priority is to stop the flow of cocaine, which still poses the most immediate threat to potential drug users. Because of rising heroin use promoted by the new, cheaper Latin American producers, the United States must also focus on opium- producing countries. The United States' goal is to limit the cultivation of drug crops to the amount necessary for international medical uses. Since all the cocaine that enters the United States comes from coca plantations in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, the U.S. government has active drug-control programs in the three countries.

During the 1990s, the United States assisted Bolivia and Peru in their efforts to reduce coca cultivation. While these efforts have dramatically reduced production, drug traffickers increased coca production in Colombia. This resulted in increased political corruption and political destabilization. In 2000 the United States approved a $1.3 billion emergency assistance package to Colombia to help the Colombian government. The aid package contains money for police and military training, administration of justice programs, and economic development programs. The United States has also increased its military assistance to Latin America to help fight narcotics trafficking, yet many critics question the effectiveness of this approach. Others have expressed concern that Colombia may request direct U.S. military involvement. Such involvement could lead to problems similar to those the United States faced in the Vietnam War and other conflicts in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.

Controlling opium is more difficult than controlling coca. This is because most of the world's opium poppy grows in countries where the United States has very limited diplomatic influence (Myanmar, Afghanistan, Laos, Iran, and so on). There also appears to be increasingly important opium poppy cultivation in China, Vietnam, and the Central Asian countries. Left unchecked, this opium expansion will make effective heroin control virtually impossible in drug- consuming countries. Many nations in Europe have already begun to experience this problem.

Terrorism and Narcotics

In the 1990s analysts began to see links between terrorist organizations and narcotics trafficking. Drug trafficking raises enormous sums of money, which terrorist organizations can use to achieve their political goals. The term "narcoterrorist" entered the language to explain the intertwining of terrorism and drug trafficking. The 1988 United Nations (UN) Convention recognizes the links between illegal drug traffic and organized criminal activities that threaten the stability and rule of law in independent nations. A 1993 UN report documented these links and warned of future threats to stability. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) is the country's largest and oldest insurgent (rebel) group. FARC has used the drug trade to finance its opposition to the Colombian government. In Afghanistan, the Taliban government proclaimed that it sought to get rid of opium, but U.S. analysts came to believe that the Taliban used drug trafficking proceeds to fund both its regime and the terrorist organizations headed by Osama bin Laden.

Programs between two countries alone (bilateral programs) rarely provide solutions to global problems. For this reason, the United States has been an active supporter of collective (joint) action by nations under the 1988 UN Convention. This latest agreement includes traditional aspects of drug production and trafficking in keeping with the UN Convention of 1988. It also requires members to control chemicals used to process drugs and outlaws drug-money laundering.

The outlawing of money laundering is an extremely important new control, since it targets the enormous international cash flows that support the drug trade. As astronomical as drug profits may be, drug money is useless unless it can enter the international banking system. The major industrialized countries are pressing for uniform laws and regulations to exclude the use of drug money in all key financial centers. Combined with existing drug-control programs, strict money-laundering controls that are honestly carried out have the potential to reduce the drug trade from an international threat to a manageable concern. The UNDCP's Global Program against Money Laundering helps member states introduce laws against money laundering and to develop means of combating this crime. Unfortunately, as a UN report has noted, the development and use of modern telecommunications has made it easier to move money around the world in complex and anonymous transactions.

The link between drug trafficking and international terrorism, which became apparent in the 1990s, is forcing the United States, its allies, and international organizations to increase enforcement actions. Limiting and preventing money laundering remains a serious international challenge in the twenty-first century.

see also Drug Producers; Drug Traffickers; Law and Policy: Controls on Drug Trafficking; Terrorism and Drugs.

About this article

Law and Policy: Foreign Policy and Drugs

Updated About content Print Article


Law and Policy: Foreign Policy and Drugs