International Drug Trade and U.S. Foreign Policy
CRS Report for Congress
International Drug Trade and U.S. Foreign Policy
Updated November 6, 2006
Raphael F. Perl
Specialist in International Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
International Drug Trade and
U.S. Foreign Policy
Efforts to significantly reduce the flow of illicit drugs from abroad into the
United States have so far not succeeded. Moreover, over the past decade, worldwide
production of illicit drugs has risen dramatically: opium and marijuana production
has roughly doubled and coca production tripled. The effectiveness of international
narcotics control programs in reducing consumption is a matter of ongoing concern.
Despite apparent national political resolve to deal with the drug problem,
inherent contradictions regularly appear between U.S. anti-drug policy and other
national policy goals and concerns. Pursuit of drug control policies can sometimes
affect foreign policy interests and bring political instability and economic dislocation
to countries where narcotics production has become entrenched economically and
socially. Drug supply interdiction programs and U.S. systems to facilitate the
international movement of goods, people, and wealth are often at odds.
U.S. international narcotics policy requires cooperative efforts by many nations
that may have domestic and foreign policy goals that compete with the requirements
of drug control. One contentious issue has been the congressionally-mandated
certification process, an instrument designed to induce specified drug-exporting
countries to prioritize or pay more attention to the fight against narcotics businesses.
Current law requires the President, with certain exceptions, to designate and withhold
assistance from countries that have failed demonstrably to meet their
P.L. 106-246, commonly referred to as “Plan Colombia,” a $1.3 billion
military assistance-focused initiative to provide emergency supplemental narcotics
assistance to Colombia, was signed into law July 13, 2000. Recently, U.S. policy
toward Colombia has focused increasingly on containing the terrorist threat to that
country’s security posed by groups engaged in drug trafficking.
The high national priority given to terrorism has resulted in enhanced focus on
links between drug and terror groups. A challenge facing policymakers is not to
divert counter-drug resources for anti-terror ends in areas of potentially low payoff.
An issue likely to receive continued attention in the 109th Congress is that of
skyrocketing opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and whether to press for aerial
crop eradication against the wishes of the local Afghan leadership.
This report replaces IB10150, International Narcotics Policy: Overview and
Analysis, by Raphael F. Perl. It will be updated periodically.
Current International Drug Control Policy..............................2
Eradication of Crops...........................................2
Interdiction and Law Enforcement.................................3
Expansion of Efforts to Reduce Production at the Source...............6
Political and Economic Tradeoffs.............................8
Use of Sanctions or Positive Incentives.........................9
Expansion of Interdiction and Enforcement Activities to Disrupt
Supply Lines/Expanding the Role of the Military................10
Expansion of Efforts to Reduce Worldwide Demand.................11
Expansion of Economic Disincentives for Illicit Drug Trafficking.......12
Major Policy Initiatives............................................12
Plan Colombia/Andean Counterdrug Initiative......................12
The George W. Bush Administration’s Anti-Drug Strategy................15
2006 National Drug Control Strategy.............................15
2006 Synthetic Drug Strategy...................................16
Possible Issues Relating to Policy and Strategy Implementation.............16
International Drug Trade and
U.S. Foreign Policy
Some 19 million Americans use illicit drugs at least once per month, spending
by most conservative estimates over $60 billion annually in a diverse and fragmented1
criminal market. Such drugs are to varying degrees injurious to the health,
judgment, productivity and general well-being of their users.2 Additionally, the U.S.
illicit drug market generates billions of dollars in profits. Such profits provide
international drug trafficking organizations with the resources to evade and compete
with law enforcement agencies, to penetrate legitimate economic structures, and, in
some instances, to challenge the authority of national governments. Calculated in
dollar value terms, at least four-fifths of all the illicit drugs consumed in the United
States are of foreign origin, including virtually all the cocaine and heroin and most3
of the marijuana. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the
methamphetamine market is supplied predominantly from laboratories in both the
United States and Mexico while most of the hallucinogens and illegally marketed
psychotherapeutic drugs and “designer” drugs are of domestic U.S. origin.4
Drugs are a lucrative business and a mainspring of global criminal activity.
Knowledge is incomplete about the distribution of revenues from illicit drug sales,
but foreign supply cartels exercise considerable control over wholesale distribution
in the United States and illicit proceeds are often laundered and invested through
foreign banks and financial institutions.
1 See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Survey on Drug Use and
Health, 2004, Revisions as of 9/8/2005, p. 3, which states: “In 2004, 19.1 million
Americans, or 7.9% of the population aged 12 or older, were current illicit drug users.”
2 The total economic costs of illicit drug use to the nation in 2002 have been estimated by
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to be $180.9 billion. See Executive
Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy, The Economic Costs of
Drug Abuse in the United States: 1992-2002, p.vii, December 2004.
3 See 2002 Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) National Drug Control
Strategy (ONDCP Strategy) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 2002
report, Drug Trafficking in the United States. Note that the more current editions of the
National Drug Control Strategy do not appear to provide overall drug trade dollar figures,
which many argue are speculative at best.
4 For issues relating to methamphetamine, see generally CRS Report RS22325,
Methamphetamine: Legislation and Issues for Congress, by Celinda Franco.
The federal anti-drug initiative has two major elements: (1) reduction of demand
and (2) reduction of supply. Reduction of demand is sought through education to
prevent dependence, through treatment to cure addiction and through measures to
increase prices and risk of apprehension at the consumer level. Reduction of supply,
which currently accounts for about 64.5% of the federal anti-drug control budget, is
sought by programs aimed at destabilizing the operations of illicit drug cartels at all
levels and severing their links to political power, and by seizing their products,
businesses, and financial assets. As most illicit drugs are imported, a major
interdiction campaign is being conducted on the U.S. borders, at ports of entry, on
the high seas, and along major foreign transshipment routes and at production sites.
An international program of source crop eradication is also being pursued.
Approximately 24.6% of the requested federal drug control budget of $12.6 billion
for FY2007 is for interdiction and 11.5% is for international assistance programs.
These ratios continue to remain relatively constant. The major international
components of federal policies for the reduction of illicit supply are discussed below.
On March 1, 2006, the State Department released its annual International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), a congressionally-mandated
comprehensive assessment of the efforts of foreign nations to combat the illicit drug
trade and drug related money laundering.5
Current International Drug Control Policy
The primary stated goal of U.S. international drug policy is to reduce the supply
of illicit narcotics flowing into the United States. A second and supporting goal is
to reduce the amount of illicit drugs cultivated, processed, and consumed worldwide.
U.S. international drug control policy is implemented by a multifaceted strategy that
includes the following elements: eradication of narcotic crops; interdiction and law
enforcement activities in drug-producing and drug-transiting countries; international
cooperation; sanctions/economic assistance; and institutional development. The U.S.
State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)
has the lead role in coordinating U.S. international drug intervention and suppression
Eradication of Crops
A long-standing U.S. policy regarding international drug control is to reduce
cultivation and production of illicit narcotics through eradication. The United States
supports programs to eradicate coca, opium, and marijuana in a number of countries.
These efforts are conducted by a number of U.S. government agencies administering
several types of programs. The United States supports eradication by providing
producer countries with chemical herbicides, technical assistance and specialized
equipment, and spray aircraft. The U.S. Agency for International Development
(AID) funds programs designed to promote economic growth and to provide
alternative sources of employment for the people currently growing, producing, or
processing illicit drugs. U.S. eradication policy receives informational support from
the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which
publicizes the dangers of drug abuse and trafficker violence. In addition, AID
sponsors drug education and awareness programs in 33 Latin American, Asian, and
East European countries.
On January 2, 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported a Bush Administration split
over how to respond to Afghanistan’s skyrocketing opium poppy production.6 Central
to the debate is what some view as potentially competing U.S. policy objectives in
the war-torn nation, i.e., counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, and political stability.
Interdiction and Law Enforcement
A second element of U.S. international narcotics control strategy is to help host
governments seize illicit narcotics before they reach America’s borders. A related
imperative is to attack and disrupt large aggregates of criminal power, to immobilize
their top leaders and to sever drug traffickers’ ties to the economy and to the political
hierarchy. Training of foreign law enforcement personnel constitutes a major part of
such endeavors. The Department of State funds anti-narcotics law enforcement
training programs for foreign personnel from more than 70 countries. In addition, the
Department of State provides host country anti-narcotics personnel with a wide range
of equipment, and DEA agents regularly assist foreign police forces in their efforts
to destabilize trafficking networks. U.S. efforts to promote effective law enforcement
against drug traffickers also include suggestions to nations on means to strengthen
their legal and judicial systems. Finally, an important judicial tool against drug
dealers is extradition.
A November 2005 report released by the Government Accountability Office
argues for the development of better counter-drug performance measures by
government agencies and warns that the commitment of military assets to Iraq and
Afghanistan is likely to hamper the ability of U.S. law enforcement to intercept drug
shipments in the future.7 Proponents of strong drug interdiction policies have long
been concerned that the nation’s focus on anti-terror objectives will detract from
resources and political will needed to combat foreign illicit drug production and
A major challenge facing the counter-drug law enforcement and intelligence
community is how best to target criminal facilitators who may be working both for
drug organizations and terrorist groups. As links between terrorist organizations and
criminal groups appear to be a growing phenomenon, development of new
mechanisms to collect and effectively share “targeting information” may warrant
attention. A related issue involves deciding which agency/agencies should take action
when suspects are involved in “dual use” (crime/terror) criminal support activity.
6 See Sonni Efron, “Deadline: Washington,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2, 2005, p. A1.
7 Drug Control: Agencies Need to Plan for Likely Decline in Drug Interdiction Assets and
Develop Better Performance Measures for Transit Zone Operations (GAO-06-200, Nov.
Essentially all elements of U.S. international narcotics control strategy require
international cooperation. By use of diplomatic initiatives, both bilateral and
multilateral, the Department of State encourages and assists nations to reduce
cultivation, production, and trafficking in illicit drugs. These bilateral agreements
and international conventions have been seen thus far as largely ineffective in
reversing the growth of international narcotics trafficking, in part because they lack
strong enforcement mechanisms and are not uniformly interpreted by member
U.S. international narcotics control strategy also requires cooperation among
governments to coordinate their border operations to interdict traffickers. To this
end, the U.S. government has provided technical assistance for anti-drug programs
in other countries. For FY2006, the State Department’s international narcotics
control budget appropriations totaled $1.2 billion to assist programs globally,
including $79.2 million for Bolivia, $106.9 million for Peru, $464.8 million for
Colombia, and $19.88 million for Ecuador. For FY2007, the State Department’s
international drug control budget request totaled $1.5 billion to assist programs
globally, including $66 million for Bolivia, $98.5 million for Peru, $465 million for
Colombia, and $17.3 million for Ecuador. Also requested was $65.5 million for
interregional aviation support to provide aircraft for anti-drug programs in other
countries, a slight increase from FY2006 appropriations levels of $62.9 million.
The United States also participates in multilateral assistance programs through
the U.N. International Drug Control Program and actively enlists the aid and support
of other governments for narcotics control projects. The U.N. currently assists some
treatment, and rehabilitation programs. For FY2007, the Bush Administration
requested $14.5 million for general anticrime/anticorruption programs and $5.4
million for narcotics control-related contributions to international organizations; the
majority of the latter would constitute the U.S. voluntary contribution to the U.N.
drug control program.
A fourth element of U.S. international narcotics control strategy involves the
threat of, or application of, sanctions against drug producer or trafficker nations.
These range from suspension of U.S. foreign assistance to curtailment of air
transportation. Current law on International Drug Control Certification Procedures
(P.L.107-228, Section 706) requires the President to submit to Congress not later
than September 15 of the preceding fiscal year a report identifying each country
determined to be a major drug transit or drug producing country as defined in section
481(e) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. In the report the President must
designate each country that has “failed demonstrably” to meet its counternarcotics
obligations. Designated countries would be ineligible for foreign assistance unless
the President determined that that assistance was vital to the U.S. national interest or
that the country had made “substantial efforts” to improve its counternarcotics
A second certification process was enacted by Congress as part of the USA
Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, P.L. 109-177, 120 Stat. 256
(March 9, 2006).8 Title VII, the “ Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005”
requires the Secretary of State to complete a report not later than March 2007 that
identifies the nations that are the top five world exporters and importers of ephedrine
and related precursor chemicals used for the production of methamphetamine. The
Secretary of State must then certify, under current drug certification procedures, that
such nations are “fully cooperating” with the United States to restrict the ephedrine
trade to the legitimate market. Nations deemed not to be fully cooperating face
withholding of U.S. bilateral assistance and U.S. opposition to multilateral assistance
from the multilateral development banks. However, the President can issue a waiver
if national security interests warrant.
A multilateral [drug performance] evaluation mechanism (MEM) has also been
established under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS). This
mechanism is seen by many as a vehicle to undermine and facilitate abolishment of
the existing U.S. sanctions-oriented unilateral certification process, which is often
viewed as an irritant to major illicit drug-producing countries, and which, opponents
argue, does little to promote anti-drug cooperation.
U.S. sanctions policy has been augmented with programs of economic
assistance to major coca producing countries (see “Use of Sanctions or Positive
Incentives” and “Bush Administration Anti-Drug Strategy,” below). For FY2007,
the State Department requested funds for drug related alternative development,
including approximately $125 million for Colombia, $42.5 million for Peru, $31
million for Bolivia and $8.4 million for Ecuador.
On June 2, 2003, President Bush submitted to Congress a list of foreign drug
kingpins subject to U.S. legislative efforts to deny such individuals and entities
access to U.S. financial systems and to prohibit U.S. individuals and companies from
doing business with these kingpins. For the first time, foreign “entities” such as
Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and United Self-Defense Forces
(AUC) are included in the list.
A fifth element of U.S. international narcotics control strategy increasingly
involves institutional development, such as strengthening judicial and law
enforcement institutions, boosting governing capacity, and assisting in developing
host nation administrative infrastructures conducive to combating the illicit drug
trade. Institution development includes such programs as corruption prevention,
training to support the administration of justice, and financial crimes enforcement
8 See generally CRS Report RS22325, Methamphetamine: Legislation and Issues in the
The primary goal of U.S. international narcotics control policy is to stem the
flow of foreign drugs into the United States. A number of approaches have been
proposed to reshape U.S. international narcotics control policy and implement it
more effectively. It is estimated that the illicit drug trade generates as much as half
of the approximately $750 billion in illegal funds laundered internationally each year.
Policymakers face the challenge of deciding the appropriate level of funding required
for the nation’s international narcotics control efforts within the context of competing
Another challenge facing the U.S. international drug control efforts concerns
how to implement policy most effectively. Some observers argue that current U.S.
policy is fragmented and overly bilateral in nature. These analysts suggest that to
achieve success, policy options must be pursued within the context of a
comprehensive plan with a multilateral emphasis on implementation. For example,
they point out that some studies indicate that interdiction can actually increase the
economic rewards to drug traffickers by raising prices for the products they sell.
They agree, however, that interdiction as part of a coordinated plan can have a strong
disrupting and destabilizing effect on trafficker operations. Some analysts suggest
that bilateral or unilateral U.S. policies are ill-suited for solving what is in effect a
multilateral problem. They cite the need for enhancing the United Nations’ ability
to deal effectively with the narcotics problem and for more international and regional
cooperation and consultation on international narcotics issues. Proponents of
bilateral policy do not necessarily reject a more multilateral approach. They point
out, however, that such multinational endeavors are intrinsically difficult to arrange,
coordinate, and implement effectively.
Four major approaches to reduce demand for illicit drugs and the foreign source
supply of illicit drugs to the United States are set out below.
Expansion of Efforts to Reduce Production at the Source
This option involves expanding efforts to reduce the volume of narcotic plants
and crops produced in foreign countries before the crops’ conversion into processed
drugs. Illicit crops may either be eradicated, or purchased or seized (and then
destroyed). Eradication of illicit crops may be accomplished by physically uprooting
the plants, or by chemical or biological control agents. Development of alternative
sources of income to replace peasant income lost by nonproduction of narcotic crops
may be an important element of this option.
Proponents of expanded efforts to stop the production of illicit drug crops and
substances at the source believe that reduction of the foreign supply of drugs
available is an effective means to lower levels of drug use in the United States. They
argue that reduction of the supply of cocaine — arguably, the nation’s top drug
control priority — is a realistically achievable option.
Proponents of vastly expanded supply reduction options, and specifically of
herbicidal crop eradication, argue that this method is the most cost-effective and
efficient means of eliminating illicit drug producing crops. They maintain that,
coupled with intensified law enforcement, such programs will succeed since it is
easier to locate and destroy crops in the field than to locate subsequently processed
drugs on smuggling routes or on the streets of U.S. cities. Put differently, a kilogram
of cocaine hydrochloride is far more difficult to detect than the 300 to 500 kilograms
of coca leaf that are required to make that same kilogram. Also, because crops
constitute the cheapest link in the narcotics chain, producers will devote fewer
economic resources to prevent their detection than to concealing more expensive and
refined forms of the product. In addition, eradication successes have been recorded
in individual countries, such as in Colombia for the period 2004/2005.
Opponents of expanded supply reduction policy generally question whether
reduction of the foreign supply of narcotic drugs is achievable and whether it would
have a meaningful impact on levels of illicit drug use in the United States. They
argue that aerial spraying in Colombia has failed to contain the spread of coca
cultivation and point to drug syndicates’ moving into opium poppy cultivation in
Colombia and (more recently) Peru. Total Andean cultivation has remained relatively
stable in the past decade despite U.S. efforts, and because farmers are finding ways
to increase productivity per unit of land according to State Department figures.
Critics also suggest that even if the supply of foreign drugs destined for the U.S.
market could be dramatically reduced, U.S. consumers would simply switch to
consumption of domestically-grown and/or synthetic drug substitutes. Thus, they
maintain, the ultimate solution to the U.S. drug problem is wiping out the domestic
market for illicit drugs, not trying to eliminate the supply in source countries.
Some also fear that environmental damage will result from herbicides. As an
alternative, they urge development, research, and funding of programs designed to
develop and employ biological control agents such as coca-destroying insects and
fungi that do not harm other plants. Others argue that intensified eradication will
push the drug crop frontier and the attendant polluting effects of narcotics industries
farther into ecologically sensitive jungle areas, with little or no decrease in net
cultivation. In addition, reports have surfaced in Colombia of toxic effects of
herbicides on legal crops and on the health of animals and humans, although the
veracity of such accounts is debated.
Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is
politically feasible since many areas in the world will always be beyond U.S. control
and influence. Such critics refer to continuously shifting sources of supply, or the
so-called “balloon effect”: when squeezed in one place, it pops up in another.
Nevertheless, many point out that the number of large suitable growth areas is finite,
and by focusing simultaneously on major production areas, substantial reductions can
be achieved if adequate funding is provided.
Some also question the value of supply reduction measures since world
production and supply of illicit drugs vastly exceeds world demand, making it
unlikely that the supply surplus could be reduced sufficiently to affect the ready
availability of illicit narcotics in the U.S. market. Such analysts also suggest that
even if worldwide supply were reduced dramatically, the effects would be felt
primarily in other nations’ drug markets. The U.S. market, they argue, would be the
last to experience supply shortfalls, because U.S. consumers pay higher prices and
because U.S. dollars are a preferred narco-currency.
Political and Economic Tradeoffs. Some suggest that expanded and
effective efforts to reduce production of illicit narcotics at the source will be met by
active and violent opposition from a combination of trafficker, political, and
economic groups. In some nations, such as Colombia, traffickers have achieved a
status comparable to “a state within a state.” In others, allegations of drug-related
corruption have focused on high-level officials in the military and federal police, as
well as heads of state. In Mexico, according to a Washington Times report,
smugglers often are protected by heavily-armed Mexican military troops and police
who “have been paid handsomely to escort the drug traffickers and their illicit
shipments across the border and into the United States.”9 In addition, some
traffickers have aligned themselves with terrorist and insurgent groups, and have
reportedly funded political candidates and parties, pro-narcotic peasant workers and
trade union groups, and high visibility popular public works projects to cultivate
public support through a “Robin Hood” image. Because some constituencies that
benefit economically from coca are well armed, if the United States were successful
in urging foreign governments to institute widespread use of chemical/biological
control agents, cooperating host governments could well face strong domestic
political challenge and violent opposition from affected groups. Heavy military
protection, at a minimum, might be required for those spraying or otherwise
eradicating drug crops.
Some critics have argued that an important tradeoff with respect to Colombia
is that eradication campaigns can have the unintended effect of aggravating the
country’s ongoing civil conflict. Since Colombia’s guerrilla groups pose as advocates
of growers, spraying may broaden support for such groups, thereby contradicting the
objectives of the government’s counterinsurgency efforts in the affected zones. These
observers believe that Colombia’s enforcement priorities should shift to targeting
critical nodes in transportation and refining and, to the extent possible, sealing off
traffic routes to and from the main coca producing zones. The argument is made that
interdiction can disrupt internal markets for coca derivatives and that, compared to
eradication, it imposes fewer direct costs on peasant producers and generates less
For some countries, production of illicit narcotics and the narcotics trade have
become an economic way of life that provides a subsistence level of income to large
numbers of people from whom those who rule draw their legitimacy. Crop reduction
campaigns seek to displace such income and those workers engaged in its production.
In this regard, these campaigns may threaten real economic and political dangers for
the governments of nations with marginal economic growth. Consequently, some
analysts argue that the governments of such low-income countries cannot be expected
to launch major crop reduction programs without the substitute income to sustain
those whose income depends on drug production.
9 See Jerry Seper, “Mexican Cops in Border Trade,” Washington Times [National Weekly
Edition], Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2002.
Use of Sanctions or Positive Incentives. Those promoting expansion of
efforts to reduce production at the source face the challenge of instituting programs
that effectively reduce production of narcotic crops and production of refined
narcotics without creating unmanageable economic and political crises for target
countries. A major area of concern of such policymakers is to achieve an effective
balance between the “carrot” and the “stick” approach in U.S. relations with major
illicit narcotics-producing and transit countries.
Proponents of a sanctions policy linking foreign aid and trade benefits to U.S.
international narcotics objectives argue against “business as usual” with countries
that permit illicit drug trafficking, production, or laundering of drug profits. They
assert that this policy includes a moral dimension and that drug production and
trafficking is wrong, and that the United States should not associate with countries
involved in it. Such analysts maintain that U.S. aid and trade sanctions can provide
the needed leverage for nations to reduce production of illicit crops and their
involvement in other drug related activities. They argue that both the moral stigma
of being branded as uncooperative and the threat of economic sanctions prod many
otherwise uncooperative nations into action. They further stress that trade sanctions
would be likely to provide a highly effective lever as most developing countries
depend on access to U.S. markets.
Opponents of a sanctions policy linking aid and trade to U.S. international
narcotics objectives argue that sanctions may have an undesirable effect on the
political and economic stability of target countries, making them all the more
dependent on the drug trade for income; that sanctions have little impact because
many countries are not dependent on U.S. aid; that sanctions historically have little
effect unless they are multilaterally imposed; and that sanctions are arbitrary in
nature, hurt national pride in the foreign country, and are seen in many countries as
an ugly manifestation of “Yankee imperialism.” Finally, an increasing number of
analysts suggest that if sanctions are to be fully effective, they should be used in
conjunction with additional positive incentives (subject perhaps to an expanded
certification/approval process) to foster anti-drug cooperation.
Alternatively, some suggest positive incentives instead of sanctions. They
believe that illicit drug producing countries must be motivated either to refrain from
growing illicit crops, or to permit the purchase or destruction of these crops by
government authorities. Many argue that since short term economic stability of
nations supplying illegal drugs may depend upon the production and sale of illicit
substances, it is unrealistic to expect such nations to limit their drug-related activities
meaningfully without an alternative source of income.
It has been suggested by some analysts that a massive foreign aid effort — a
so-called “mini-Marshall Plan” — is the only feasible method of persuading
developing nations to curb their production of illicit drugs. Such a plan would
involve a multilateral effort with the participation of the United States, Europe,
Japan, Australia, other industrialized nations susceptible to the drug problem, and the
rich oil producing nations. The thrust of such a plan would be to promote economic
development, replacing illicit cash crops with other marketable alternatives. Within
the framework of such a plan, crops could be purchased or else destroyed by
herbicidal spraying or biological control agents while substitute crops and markets
are developed and assured.
In this view, any such program would be coupled with rigid domestic law
enforcement and penalties for non-compliance. Thus, it could require a U.S.
commitment of substantially increased enforcement assets to be used against both
growers and traffickers, and some observers assert it might require direct U.S.
military involvement at the request of the host country. Significant coercion might
be required, since drug crops typically produce a better cash flow than licit crops
grown in the same region. For example, in Afghanistan a hectare of opium might
earn 30 to 45 times as much as a hectare of wheat at prevailing prices ($13,000
compared to $300 to $400). Even if the international community bought up the
entire Afghan opium crop, the temptation to plant new opium could prove irresistible
Critics have concerns regarding positive incentive concepts. They warn of the
precedent of appearing to pay “protection” compensation, that is, providing an
incentive for economically disadvantaged countries to go into the drug export
business. They also warn of the open-ended cost of agricultural development
programs and of extraterritorial police intervention. Finding markets for viable
alternative crops is yet another major constraint. Some experts argue that typical
conditions of drug crop zones, such as geographical remoteness, marginal soils and,
in certain countries, extreme insecurity, tend to limit prospects for legal commercial
agriculture. According to one report, the soils in Colombia’s Putumayo Department,
an important center of coca cultivation, are simply too poor to support the number
of people currently farming in the province if all converted to growing legal crops.
Such observers believe that a more promising strategy is to foster development of the
legal economy in other locales, including urban settings, in order to attract people
away from areas that have a comparative advantage in coca or opium production. In
the view of these analysts, the best “substitute crop” for coca or opium could well be
an assembly plant producing electronic goods or automobiles for the international
Expansion of Interdiction and Enforcement Activities to
Disrupt Supply Lines/Expanding the Role of the Military
Drug supply line interdiction is both a foreign and domestic issue. Many argue
that the United States should intensify law enforcement activities designed to disrupt
the transit of illicit narcotics as early in the production/transit chain as possible —
well before the drugs reach the streets of the United States. This task is conceded to
be very difficult because the United States is the world’s greatest trading nation with
vast volumes of imports daily flowing in through hundreds of sea, air, and land entry
facilities, and its systems have been designed to facilitate human and materials
exchange. This has led some analysts to suggest that the military should assume a
more active role in anti-drug activities.
Some in Congress, in the late 1980s and prior to appropriations for FY1994, had
urged an expanded role for the military in the “war on drugs.” The idea of using the
military is not novel. Outside the United States, U.S. military personnel have been
involved in training and transporting foreign anti-narcotics personnel since 1983.
Periodically, there have also been calls for multilateral military strikes against
trafficking operations, as well as increased use of U.S. elite forces in preemptive
strikes against drug fields and trafficker enclaves overseas.
The military’s role in narcotics interdiction was expanded by the FY1990-1991
National Defense Authorization Act. The conference report (H.Rept. 100-989)
concluded that the Department of Defense (DOD) can and should play a major role
in narcotics interdiction. Congress, in FY1989 and FY1990-1991 authorization acts,
required DOD to promptly provide civilian law enforcement agencies with relevant
drug-related intelligence; charged the President to direct that command, control,
communications, and intelligence networks dedicated to drug control be integrated
by DOD into an effective network; restricted direct participation by military
personnel in civilian law enforcement activities to those authorized by law; permitted
the military to transport civilian law enforcement personnel outside the U.S. land
area, and expanded the National Guard’s role in drug interdiction activities. DOD’s
requested drug budget total for FY2007 was $926.9 million as compared to $936.1
million appropriated for FY2006.
Despite the military’s obvious ability to support drug law enforcement
organizations, questions remain as to the overall effectiveness of a major military role
in narcotics interdiction. Proponents of substantially increasing the military’s role
in supporting civilian law enforcement narcotics interdiction activity argue that
narcotics trafficking poses a national security threat to the United States; that only the
military is equipped and has the resources to counter powerful trafficking
organizations; and that counter drug support provides the military with beneficial,
In contrast, opponents argue that drug interdiction is a law enforcement mission,
it is not a military mission; that drug enforcement is an unconventional war that the
military is ill-equipped to fight; that a drug enforcement role detracts from readiness;
that a drug enforcement role exposes the military to corruption; that it is unwise
public policy to require the U.S. military to operate against U.S. citizens; and that the
use of the military may have serious political and diplomatic repercussions overseas.
Moreover, some in the military remain concerned about an expanded role, seeing
themselves as possible scapegoats for policies that have failed, or are likely to fail.
Expansion of Efforts to Reduce Worldwide Demand
Another commonly proposed option is to increase policy emphasis on
development and implementation of programs worldwide that aim at increasing
public intolerance for illicit drug use. Such programs, through information, technical
assistance, and training in prevention and treatment, would emphasize the health
dangers of drug use, as well as the danger to regional and national stability. The
State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and AID currently
support modest efforts in this area. Some believe these programs should be increased
and call for a more active role for the United Nations and other international agencies
in development and implementation of such demand reduction programs.
Expansion of Economic Disincentives for Illicit Drug
Proponents of this approach say that the major factor in the international drug
market is not the product, but the profit. Thus, they stress, international efforts to
reduce the flow of drugs into the United States must identify means to seize and
otherwise reduce assets and profits generated by the drug trade. Some critics point
out the challenges of tracking, separating out and confiscating criminal assets. These
include the huge volume of all international electronic transfers — more than $2
trillion each day — and the movement of much illegal money outside of formal
banking channels such as hawala-type chains of money brokers.
Policymakers pursuing this option must decide whether laws in countries where
they exert influence are too lenient on financial institutions, such as banks and
brokerage houses, that knowingly facilitate financial transactions of traffickers. If the
answer is “yes,” national leaders might then take concerted action to promote harsher
criminal sanctions penalizing the movement of money generated by drug sales,
including revocation of licenses of institutions regularly engaging in such practices.
Finally, those supporting this option favor increased efforts to secure greater
international cooperation on financial investigations related to money laundering of
narcotics profits, including negotiation of mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs).
Arguably, such an approach would not only assist in combating illicit drugs, but also
in combating other forms of criminal activity as well as terrorism.
Major Policy Initiatives
Three major ongoing policy initiatives that are prominent components of U.S.
international drug control efforts are described below. They are: (1) Plan
Colombia/the Andean Counterdrug Initiative; (2) programs to counter illicit poppy
cultivation and opium production in Afghanistan; and (3) the drug certification
Plan Colombia/Andean Counterdrug Initiative
On July 13, 2000, U.S. legislation was signed into law (P.L. 106-246). A section
provided support for Plan Colombia — a six-year plan for helping then-President
Pastrana to rid the country of drug trafficking, promote economic development, and
restore peace. Included was $1.3 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations
for equipment, supplies, and other counter narcotics aid primarily for the Colombian
military. The Plan aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in
Colombia by 50% over five years. Though focused on military and law enforcement
initiatives, plan components included helping the Colombian Government control its
territory; strengthening democratic institutions; promoting economic development;
protecting human rights; and providing humanitarian assistance.
Funding for Andean regional drug interdiction and alternative development
programs was provided as well. Supporters of the Plan argued that without enhanced
U.S. aid, Colombia risks disintegration into smaller autonomous political units —
some controlled by leftist or rightist guerrilla groups that are heavily involved in drug
trafficking and violent crime for profit activity. Other observers cautioned that
narcotics-related assistance to Colombia can, at best, produce serious reductions in
illicit drug production only within a multi-year timeframe. They warned against
enhanced U.S. involvement in a conflict where clear-cut victory is elusive and to a
large degree dependent on reduction of the so far intractable U.S. domestic appetite
for illicit drugs. Still others warned of the so-called “spillover” effect of Plan
Colombia on neighboring nations such as Ecuador where narco-linked insurgents and
paramilitaries increasingly operate.10
In April 2001, the Bush Administration unveiled an Andean Counterdrug
Initiative (ACI) to support Plan Colombia, requesting $882 million for the program.
Of these funds approximately 45% percent were intended for Colombia and the
remainder for six regional neighbors of Colombia (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama,
Peru, and Venezuela) affected by drug trafficking and drug-related violence. In
December 2001, Congress passed the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for
FY2002, allocating $783 million to the ACI. Of the $783 million, 49% were
provided to Colombia and the rest to the other six countries. Of the Colombia funds,
36% were earmarked for economic and social and governance purposes and 64% for
counternarcotics and security, a ratio largely reflecting the enforcement orientation
of Plan Colombia. In the case of Peru and Bolivia, the economic and social share
was significantly higher — 61% in both countries. For FY2003, the Bush
Administration requested $980 million in ACI funding, of which 55% was for
Colombia. The ACI request for FY2004 totaled $990.7 million of which $463
million was for State Department Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) programs for
Colombia. For FY2005, Congress appropriated $731 million for the ACI (of which
$466.5 was for Colombia) and an additional $106.5 million for Foreign Military
Financing (FMF) funding. For FY2006, Congress appropriated $727.2 million for
the ACI (of which $464.8 million was for Colombia) and an additional $89.1 million
for Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funding. For FY2007, the Administration has
requested $721 million for the ACI (of which $465 million was for Colombia) and
an additional $90 million for Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funding.11
The evolving counter-narcotics policy initiative developed for Afghanistan by
U.S. agencies consists of five key elements, or pillars, that mirror Afghan initiatives
10 For additional data on issues relating to Plan Colombia see CRS Report RL32774, Plan
Colombia, a Progress Report, by Connie Veillette; CRS Report RL30541, Colombia: Plan
Colombia Legislation and Assistance (FY2000-FY2001), by Nina M. Serafino; and CRS
Report RS20494, Ecuador: International Narcotics Control Issues, by Raphael Perl.
11 For further information, see CRS Report RL33370, Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)
and Related Funding Programs: FY2007 Assistance, by Connie Veillette; CRS Report
RL33163, Drug Crop Eradication and Alternative Development in the Andes, by Connie
Veillette and Carolina Navarrete-Frías; and CRS Report RL32580, Bolivia: Political and
Economic Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy, by Claire Ribando and Connie
and call for increased interagency and international cooperation.12 The five pillars
of the U.S. initiative are public information, judicial reform, alternative livelihood
development, interdiction, and eradication. New initiatives in these areas are
building upon a range of preexisting policy initiatives being implemented by U.S.,
Afghan, and coalition authorities. The Department of State (INL) budget request for
counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan for FY2007 is $297.4 million, up from
FY2006 appropriations levels of $232.6 million. Western European countries are a
large consumer of Afghanistan source opium, and increasingly other nations, notably
the United Kingdom, are playing a prominent role in supporting Afghan counter-
Opium poppy cultivation and production of opium have become significant
factors in Afghanistan’s fragile political and economic order and are exacerbated by
a persistent insurgency waged by the ousted Taliban regime. According to the 2005
Afghanistan Opium Survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics (MCN), Afghanistan
remained the source of 87% of the world’s illicit opium in 2005, in spite of ongoing
efforts by the Afghan government, the United States, and their international partners
to combat poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. U.N. officials estimate that the
$2.7 billion of in-country illicit profits from the 2005 opium poppy crop were
equivalent in value to 50% of the country’s legitimate GDP, sustaining fears that
Afghanistan’s economic recovery continues to be underwritten by drug profits.14
According to the State Department’s March 2006 International Narcotics Control
Strategy Report [INCSR], Afghanistan experienced a 48% decline in the area of
opium poppy cultivation during 2005.15 However, production of opium during this
period fell only by 10%, reportedly because production yields were sharply higher
due to favorable weather. Press reports from November 2006 suggest that yields
from the 2006-2007 crop of opium poppy are likely to rival the record high level of
opium production (6,100 tons) achieved during the 2005-2006 growing season.16
In December 2001, legislation on “Modifications to the Annual Drug
Certification Procedures” in the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related
Programs Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-115, Section 591) was enacted that
effectively waived the drug certification requirements for FY2002. It required the
President to withhold assistance from the countries most remiss in meeting their
12 David Shelby, “United States to Help Afghanistan Attack Narcotics Industry,”
Washington File, U.S. Department of State, Nov. 17, 2004.
13 See CRS Report RL32686, Afghanistan: Narcotics and U.S. Policy, by Christopher
Blanchard from which this section on Afghan counter-drug efforts draws heavily, and often
14 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)/Government of Afghanistan
Ministry of Counternarcotics (MCN), Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005.
16 See “Opium Production Appears Near Record High” by Jason Straziuso, Miami Herald,
November 3, 2006 .
international drug-fighting obligations, but permitted the President to determine what
countries to put in the “worst offending” category and (under specified conditions)
to provide U.S. foreign assistance to a designated country. Legislation on
“International Drug Control Certification Procedures” in the Foreign Relations
Authorization Act of September 2002 (P.L. 107-228) extended the waiver to
FY2003, and subsequently provided for a de facto ongoing waiver. Such changes
may reflect the fact that spokesmen from many countries have complained for years
about the unilateral and non-cooperative nature of the drug certification requirements,
and have urged the United States to end the process or at least to replace it with
multilateral evaluation mechanisms. Acting under this legislation, President Bush
made designations on a transitional basis for FY2002 and FY2003, and then
continued such designations on a yearly basis.
On September 15, 2006, President Bush issued the annual determination that
lists major illicit drug producing or drug transit countries. The President identified
20 countries to be included on the so-called “majors list”: Afghanistan, The
Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma (Myanmar), Colombia, Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama,
Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Burma was again singled out as a county that had
“failed demonstrably” to adhere to its obligations under international
counternarcotics agreements. Venezuela was singled out as well as having failed
demonstrably, but was granted a national interest waiver exempting it from U.S. aid
and trade sanctions and possible access to loans from international financial
The George W. Bush Administration’s
The direction of drug policy does not appear to be an immediate top foreign
policy priority for the George W. Bush Administration. To date, pressing concern
over issues such as terrorism and homeland security appear to command more
attention. This does not mean that international drug policy has been neglected by the
Administration, or given a lower priority than by preceding administrations. For
example, in addition to fine-tuning the nation’s annual national drug control strategy,
the Administration has crafted and published the nation’s first-ever synthetic drug
2006 National Drug Control Strategy
In February 2006 , the White House released its annual National Drug Control18
Strategy. Central to the international component of the strategy is disrupting the
operations of drug traffickers including destroying the economic basis of the cocaine
production business in South America by fumigating the coca crop, seizing enormous
17 See Presidential Determination No. 2006-24, Federal Register, Vol. 71, No. 189,
September 29, 2006.
amounts of cocaine from transporters, and selectively targeting major drug
organization heads for law enforcement action and, ultimately, extradition and
prosecution in the United States.
2006 Synthetic Drug Strategy
On June 1, 2006 the Bush Administration released its synthetic drug control
strategy.19 A central goal of the strategy is to curb the diversion of ephedrine,
pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, precursor chemicals commonly used
in the production of methamphetamine, from legitimate pharmaceutical markets into
illicit drug production through better control of the international market for these
precursor chemicals. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs is seen as
playing a central role in implementing the strategy by collecting, sharing, and
analyzing data on the trade in such precursors. A primary and immediate concern of
the strategy is the growing presence of illicit methamphetamine super labs in Mexico
and the growing control of the U.S. methamphetamine market by Mexican drug
Possible Issues Relating to Policy and Strategy
Possible issues of concern to Congress relating to international drug control
policy and strategy implementation include the following:
(1) Can Plan Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Initiative as currently
envisioned have a meaningful impact on reducing drug shipments to the United
States and in reducing the current level of violence and instability in Colombia? To
what degree can a counter-drug plan which does not aim to deal a decisive blow to
insurgent operations in Colombia be expected to meaningfully curb drug production
and violence there?
(2) How does U.S. involvement in anti-drug efforts in the Andean nations affect
other aspects of American foreign policy in the region, and in Latin America
generally? Does a concentration on drug-related issues obscure more fundamental
issues of stability, governance, poverty, and democracy (i.e., to what degree are drugs
a major cause, or result, of the internal problems of certain Latin American
countries)? Might U.S. pursuit of drug control objectives conflict in certain ways
with efforts to resolve Colombia’s ongoing civil conflict, for instance by alienating
large rural constituencies in contested regions of the country?
(3) In the case of Colombia and other nations where insurgents are heavily
involved in the drug trade, how can the United States ensure that U.S. military aid
19 See (U.S. National) Synthetic Drug Control Strategy: A Focus on Methamphetamine and
Prescription Drug Abuse, 2006 [Depts. of Justice, Health and Human Services, and the
Office of National Drug Control Policy]. The non-prescription component of the strategy
focuses primarily on methamphetamine and not on other synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy and
and equipment are in fact used to combat drug traffickers and cartels, rather than
diverted for use against domestic political opposition or used as an instrument of
human rights violations? How great is the risk that such diversions could take place,
and is the degree of risk worth the possible gains to be made against drug production
(4) How extensive is drug-related corruption in the armed forces and police of
the Andean nations? What impact might such corruption have on the effectiveness
of U.S. training and assistance to these forces?
(5) Will the evolving strategy under the Bush Administration produce better
results than previous strategies in reducing illicit drug use in the United States and
in supporting U.S. narcotics and other foreign policy goals overseas? Is a proper
balance of resources being devoted to domestic (the demand side) vs. foreign (the
supply side) components of an overall national anti-drug strategy? Are efforts to
reduce the foreign supply level futile while domestic U.S. demand remains high?
Are efforts to reduce domestic demand fruitless as long as foreign supplies can enter
the country with what some see as relative impunity?
(6) To what extent will the Administration’s current priority in fighting
terrorism affect implementation of antidrug policy? Has repositioning of equipment
and resources to improve U.S. defenses against acts of terrorism, for example the
shift of Coast Guard vessels from the eastern Pacific and the Caribbean to perform
coastal patrols and port security functions, lowered defenses with respect to curbing
drug flows? On the other side of the issue, to what degree has committing anti-drug
resources to support anti-terrorism objectives significantly enhanced, or could
significantly enhance, the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts?
(7) To what extent should U.S. military assistance programs in Colombia target
groups that use narcotics operations to finance terrorist activities (including leftist
guerrillas and paramilitaries), as opposed to the narcotics trafficking infrastructure
(8) As links between terrorist organizations and criminal groups appear to be a
growing phenomenon, how does one effectively use the law enforcement community
— especially the drug law enforcement community — to target criminal facilitators
who may be working both for drug organizations and terrorist groups? Through what
mechanisms does one effectively share “targeting information” and how does one
decide which agency/agencies take action?
(9) Are U.S. counterdrug policy and drug related foreign assistance over-focused
on Colombia and Afghanistan and if so, how might policy focus and resource
allocation be realigned?
(10) How do, or should, anti-drug goals dovetail with anti-terrorism goals in
Afghanistan and what programs there, if any, are likely to best serve U.S. policy
goals? For example, should the U.S. continue to press for aerial crop eradication in
Afghanistan against the wishes of the local Afghan leadership, even if this means
alienating and losing their support for counterterror goals and objectives?