Written by Brecken Denler
The war on drugs is decades old. Numbers of usage and production have remained steady or even grown. In order for a major shift to occur the United States should implement the following changes to its counternarcotics policy.
As the government has suggested in the past, a multi-pronged approach is often necessary for such detailed criminal networks.[i] This approach must include a focus on local policing at the production level and cultural changes in the U.S.. “Plan Colombia,” the widely successful program implemented by the U.S., was one of the major factors that forced the FARC to negotiations and the deal brought about by the Colombian government and the rebels has led to the narco-terrorists’ almost complete dissolution. Programs heavily focused on supporting domestic efforts of eradication, policing, and training of counternarcotics forces is a historically successful option[ii] that should be continued.
Additionally, campaigns must be carried out that politically turn against the oppressive power-brokers on a local level. Drug cartels rely on propaganda and political manipulation to gain support—and sometimes even taxation—from local populations.[iii] That requisite political power can be reduced. Through governmental programs that build faith in policing, schooling, and governmental organization local populations are less likely to support or join cartels or gangs.[iv]
Domestically, counternarcotics policing has been confronted with a number of policy challenges. An increasing acceptance of drug use, more evasive drug trafficking both at the border and within the country, and consumption at near all-time highs means the flow of money to cartels and gangs continues. The U.S. should continue to police through customs, the coast guard, and local agencies.[v] There are though untapped resources that could be better used. The U.S. has large influence with global financial institutions and for foreign undesirables—such as terrorists or dictatorial regimes[vi]—sanctions are easily places and enforced on the individual level. Similar intelligence and direct targeting should be used against these groups and their individual members.[vii] This particular type of policing works because it cuts right to the heart of the drug trade—money.
To reduce demand domestically, a number of policy options have been suggested. The options vary from drug education, to community-based policing, to methadone clinics. International examples prove that no one solution is an antidote.[viii] Local responses from states, cities, and communities can be encouraged and funded from the federal government. Campaigning against drugs is a long and frequently difficult process, by sponsoring a number of local programs the government can at least begin.
Cartels and narco-gangs are often compared to a hydra. With no easy answer in sight, the answer comes to cut everywhere at once. If the United States can focus its efforts to helping allies abroad, customs in transit, and local programs at home the results may come faster than expected.
[i] U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. International Counternarcotics Policies: Do They Reduce Domestic Consumption or Advance Other Foreign Policy Goals?: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. By R. Gil Kerlikowski. 111th Cong., 2d sess. H. Rept. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2011.
[ii] O’Hanlon, Michael E., and David Petraeus. “The Success Story in Colombia.” Brookings. July 28, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2018. https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-success-story-in-colombia/.
[iii] Campbell, Howard. “Narco-Propaganda in the Mexican “Drug War”: An Anthropological Perspective.” Latin American Perspectives 41, no. 2 (2014): 60-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24575498.
[iv] Felbab-Brown, Vanda. “Counternarcotics Policy Overview: Global Trends & Strategies.” Brookings. November 24, 2008. Accessed November 9, 2018. https://www.brookings.edu/research/counternarcotics-policy-overview-global-trends-strategies/.
[v] United States. Government Accountability Office,. Counternarcotics, Overview of U.S. Efforts in the Western Hemisphere: Report to the Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2017.
[vi] United States. Treasury. Office of Foreign Assets Control. Narcotics Sanctions Program. Washington, DC: U.S. Treasury, 2014.
[vii] “Treasury Sanctions Violent Colombian Cocaine Trafficking Organization.” June 5, 2018. Accessed November 9, 2018. https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0403.
[viii] “Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives and UNGASS 2016.” Brookings. October 11, 2016. Accessed November 9, 2018. https://www.brookings.edu/research/improving-global-drug-policy-comparative-perspectives-and-ungass-2016/.