A state-building approach to the drug trade problem.

Author:Felbab-brown, Vanda


The United Nations Security Council has increasingly highlighted organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, as requiring the coordinated focus of various United Nations bodies and the Secretary-General. (1) The escalation of drug trade-related violence in Mexico and Central America where inadequate rule of law institutions have been overwhelmed by intense organized crime; the emergence of drug smuggling in West Africa, which contributes to its cauldron of other illegal economies and poor governance; and the deep penetration of drug trafficking into the political and economic life in Afghanistan and Pakistan have all captured policy attention.


Yet many existing policies to combat the illegal drug trade and associated organized crime have not been highly effective. Premature eradication of drug crops, interdiction too narrowly preoccupied with stopping illicit flows, and imprisonment of drug users have proven to be ineffective and even outright detrimental to key policy objectives, such as weakening criminal organizations and their linkages to militant groups, improving security and rule of law and reducing consumption. These policies have also often been counter productive with respect to other important goals, such as mitigating violent conflict, fostering good governance and promoting human rights.

Hailed by critics of the existing global counter-narcotics regime as a major breakthrough, The Drug Problem in the Americas, a recent Organization of American States report, emphasized the deficiencies of the dominant counter-narcotics approaches and the intense and chronic problems they have been generating in Latin America, including violence, displacing crime to other areas and social conflict. Significantly, the report urged considering decriminalization or legalization as appropriate responses to dealing with marijuana, marking the first time that a major international organization composed of standing national governments suggested such a major loosening of the existing counter-narcotics regime. Indeed, various countries within Latin America are likely to increasingly break with the existing law enforcement heavy drug suppression model. They may thus usher in an unravelling of the global counter-narcotics regime that has been in existence for more than 50 years.


A similar desire to fundamentally restructure the existing drug policy regime is not paralleled in other parts of the world. China and the...

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