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Friday, February 1, 2013

International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses



Liana Sun Wyler
Analyst in International Crime and Narcotics

The global illegal drug trade represents a multi-dimensional challenge that has implications for U.S. national interests as well as the international community. Common illegal drugs trafficked internationally include cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. According to the U.S. intelligence community, international drug trafficking can undermine political and regional stability and bolster the role and capabilities of transnational criminal organizations in the drug trade. Key regions of concern include Latin America and Afghanistan, which are focal points in U.S. efforts to combat the production and transit of cocaine and heroin, respectively. Drug use and addiction have the potential to negatively affect the social fabric of communities, hinder economic development, and place an additional burden on national public health infrastructures. 

International Policy Framework and Debate 


International efforts to combat drug trafficking are based on a long-standing and robust set of multilateral commitments, to which the United States adheres. U.S. involvement in international drug control rests on the central premise that helping foreign governments combat the illegal drug trade abroad will ultimately curb illegal drug availability and use in the United States. To this end, the current Administration maintains the goal of reducing and eliminating the international flow of illegal drugs into the United States through international cooperation to disrupt the drug trade and interdiction efforts.

Despite long-standing multilateral commitments to curb the supply of illicit drugs, tensions appear at times between U.S. foreign drug policy and approaches advocated by independent observers and other members of the international community. In recent years, an increasing number of international advocates, including several former and sitting heads of state, have begun to call for a reevaluation of current prohibitionist-oriented international drug policies. Alternatives to the existing international drug control regime may include legalizing or decriminalizing certain drugs. Debates may also focus on shifting priorities and resources among various approaches to counternarcotics, including supply and demand reduction; the distribution of domestic and international drug control funding; and the relative balance of civilian, law enforcement, and military roles in anti-drug efforts. 

U.S. Counternarcotics Initiatives and Foreign Policy Options 


Several key U.S. strategies and initiatives outline the foundation of U.S. counternarcotics efforts internationally, including the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy and International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), both of which are updated annually and congressionally mandated. Other major country and regional initiatives include the (1) Mérida Initiative and Strategy in Mexico; (2) Central American Citizen Security Partnership; (3) Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI); (4) U.S.-Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI); (5) U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan; and (6) West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI).

Located within the Executive Office of the President, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) establishes U.S. counterdrug policies and goals, and coordinates the federal budget to combat drugs both domestically and internationally. Within the U.S. government, multiple civilian, military, law enforcement, and intelligence entities contribute to international drug control policy, including the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International

Development, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

As an issue of international policy concern for more than a century, and as a subject of longstanding U.S. and multilateral policy commitment, U.S. counterdrug efforts have expanded to include a broad array of tools to attack the international drug trade, such as the following:


  • Reducing drug production at the source: Central to reducing cocaine and heroin production is the eradication of coca bush and opium poppy crops and the provision of alternative livelihood options to former drug crop farmers. Both policy approaches ultimately seek to reduce the amount of illicit drug crops cultivated. 
  • Combating drugs in transit: To reduce the international flow of drugs from source countries to final destinations, U.S. efforts focus on joint monitoring and interdiction operations as well as other forms of border, police, and maritime cooperation and training. 
  • Dismantling international illicit drug networks: The United States collaborates with other countries to target major drug traffickers and their transnational networks through various law enforcement interventions, judicial mechanisms, and financial sanctions. With the provision of U.S. foreign assistance, the U.S. government supports other countries to strengthen their capacity to investigate, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate drug traffickers domestically. 
  • Creating incentives for international cooperation on drug control: In order to deter foreign governments from aiding or participating in illicit drug production or trafficking, certain U.S. foreign assistance may be suspended to countries that are major illegal drug producers or major transit countries for illegal drugs, known as “drug majors.” Similarly, certain drug majors countries may be deemed ineligible to be a beneficiary of preferential U.S. trade arrangements. 

Congress has been involved in all aspects of U.S. international drug control policy, regularly appropriating funds for counterdrug initiatives, as well as conducting oversight activities on federal counterdrug programs and the scope of agency authorities and other counterdrug policies. For FY2013, the Administration has requested from Congress approximately $25.6 billion for all federal drug control programs, of which $2 billion is requested for international programs, including civilian and military U.S. foreign assistance. An additional $3.7 billion is requested for interdiction programs related to intercepting and disrupting foreign drug shipments en route to the United States. The 113th Congress may continue its ongoing interest in counternarcotics policies, including potential legislative activity to fund the remainder of FY2013 and consider the Administration’s new budget.

Date of Report: January 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: RL34543
Price: $29.95

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