International Drug Control Policy
International Drug Control Policy
Updated August 28, 2008
Liana Sun Wyler
Analyst in International Crime and Narcotics
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
International Drug Control Policy
This report provides an overview of U.S. international drug control policy. It
describes major international counternarcotics initiatives and evaluates the broad
array of U.S. drug control policy tools currently in use. The report also considers
alternative counterdrug policy approaches to international drug control initiatives and
raises several counterdrug policy issues and considerations for policy makers.
Illegal drugs refer to narcotic, psychotropic, and related substances whose
production, sale, and use are restricted by domestic law and international drug control
agreements. The most common illegal drugs include cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and
synthetic drugs. International trade in these drugs represents a lucrative and what at
times seems to be an intractable criminal enterprise, affecting countries worldwide
and generating between $100 billion and $1 trillion in illicit profits per year.
Revenue from the illegal drug industry provides international drug trafficking
organizations with the resources to evade and compete with law enforcement
officials; penetrate legitimate economic structures through money laundering; and,
in some instances, challenge the authority of national governments.
Congress is involved in all aspects of U.S. international drug control policy,
regularly appropriating funds for counterdrug initiatives, conducting oversight
activities on federal counterdrug programs, and legislating changes to agency
authorities and other counterdrug policies. U.S. programs to combat drug production
and trafficking exist in the Andean region of South America, Afghanistan, and other
areas of concern. Congress is also considering a proposed multiyear, $1.4 billion
security assistance package to enhance existing U.S. efforts to combat drug
trafficking and related criminal activity in Mexico and Central America.
Despite apparent national resolve to address international narcotics trafficking,
tensions appear between U.S. international drug control policy and other U.S. foreign
policy goals and concerns. Pursuit of international drug control policies can
sometimes negatively affect national interests by exacerbating political instability and
economic dislocation in countries where narcotics production is entrenched
economically and socially. Drug supply interdiction programs and U.S. systems to
facilitate the international movement of legitimate goods, people, and wealth also are
often at odds. The high priority of terrorism in U.S. foreign policy has resulted in
increased attention to links between drug and terror groups; a challenge facing policy
makers, however, is how to avoid diverting counterdrug resources for anti-terror ends
in areas of potentially low payoff.
This report expands and replaces RL33582, International Drug Trade and U.S.
Foreign Policy, by Raphael F. Perl. It will be updated periodically.
In troduction ......................................................1
U.S. National Drug Control Strategy...................................2
International Drug Control Tools......................................6
Foreign Assistance Sanctions.....................................7
“Drug Majors” and the Certification Process....................7
Methamphetamine Precursor Chemicals........................8
Anti-Money Laundering Efforts..................................14
Ex tradition ..................................................17
Institutional Capacity Building..................................18
U.S. Bilateral and Regional Counterdrug Initiatives......................18
Plan Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Program ................21
Afghanistan Counterdrug Programs...............................23
Alternative Policy Approaches......................................25
Rebalance Current Drug Policy Tools.............................25
Emphasize “Hard-Side” of Counternarcotics Policy..............25
Emphasize “Soft-Side” of Counternarcotics Policy...............27
Emphasize Drug Demand Reduction..........................28
Reevaluate Prohibitionist Drug Regime...........................28
Legalize Illegal Drugs.....................................28
Decriminalize Illegal Drugs.................................31
Allow Government-Supervised Drug Use for Addicts............32
Expand International Criminal Court Jurisdiction....................32
Policy Issues and Considerations.....................................33
Unintended Consequences of Current Efforts.......................33
Potential Conflicts of Interest...................................35
The War on Terror........................................37
List of Figures
Figure 1. Map of World Drug Majors in 2008...........................8
Figure 2. Major Money Laundering Countries and Jurisdictions of Primary
Money Laundering Concern in 2008..............................16
List of Tables
Table 1. U.S. Drug Control Funding ...................................3
Table 2. U.S. Assistance for Crop Eradication..........................10
Table 3. U.S. Illegal Drug Seizures Along the Southwest Border............13
Table 4. Requested Mérida Initiative Funding, by Country.................20
Table 5. Estimated Plan Colombia/ACP Funding, by Country..............22
Table 6. Estimated U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance for Afghanistan,
International Drug Control Policy
Illegal drugs refer to narcotic, psychotropic, and related substances produced,
traded, or used in contravention to domestic law or international drug control
agreements. Narcotic drugs include cannabis, cannabis resin, coca leaf, cocaine,12
heroin, and opium. Psychotropic substances include ecstasy, LSD, amphetamine,
and methamphetamine. Examples of other related substances include precursor
chemicals used to make narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances — such as
ephedrine and pseudoephedrine — which are used to make methamphetamine, and
potassium permanganate, which is used to make cocaine. With few exceptions,
production and sale of controlled substances is legally permitted only if used for
medical and scientific purposes.
Illegal drug use generates a lucrative illegal drug trade that affects countries
worldwide. Estimates of the global proceeds from illegal drugs vary significantly,3
ranging from $100 billion to more than $1 trillion per year. A substantial portion
of profits generated by illegal drug trade — as much as 70% — are laundered and4
invested through foreign banks and institutions. This transnational illegal drug
industry also provides international drug trafficking organizations with resources to
evade and compete with law enforcement agencies; penetrate legitimate economic
structures; and, in some instances, challenge the authority of national governments.
Although an issue of foreign policy interest for more than a century,
international drug trafficking first emerged in U.S. policy debates as a national
security threat in the late 1960s. In a 1971 press conference, then-President Richard
1 Ecstasy is the street name for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine).
2 LSD is the street name for lysergic acid diethylamide.
3 The most recent international effort to estimate the value of the illicit drug market was
undertaken by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which estimated that for
CY2003, the international drug market was valued at $322 billion at the retail level.
Subsequent UNODC reports do not give global estimates on proceeds. Debate continues to
surround methodological limitations to drug market estimates. See UNODC, 2005 World
Drug Report, “Estimating the Value of Illicit Drug Markets,” at [http://www.
unodc.org/pdf/WDR_2005/volume_1_chap2.pdf]. For such a discussion, see Francisco E.
Thoumi, “The Numbers Game: Let’s All Guess the Size of the Illegal Drug Industry!”
Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 35, No. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 185-200.
4 U.N. International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), “Economic and Social
Consequences of Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking,” Technical Series No. 6, 1998, at
[http://www.unodc.org/ pdf/tec hnical_series_1998-01-01_1.pdf].
Nixon identified illicit drugs as America’s “public enemy number one.”5 That same
year, Congress enacted a chapter into the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to define
U.S. policies and authorities relating to international narcotics control.6 In 1986,
President Ronald Reagan declared narcotics trafficking a threat to U.S. national
security.7 That same year, Congress expanded drug interdiction authorities and
criminal penalties for drug trafficking.8 Successive administrations have continued
to feature combating the illicit drug trade prominently among U.S. national security
objectives. Congress exercises its oversight responsibilities on U.S. counternarcotics
policy and appropriate funds to international counternarcotics programs.
This report provides an overview of U.S. international drug control policy and
is divided into four main parts. First, it outlines and evaluates major U.S. drug
control policy initiatives; second, it assesses major international drug control tools
used by the United States; third, it considers alternative counterdrug policy
approaches; and finally, it raises several policy issues and considerations for drug
control policy makers.
U.S. National Drug Control Strategy
U.S. involvement in international counterdrug policy 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
Bush Administration maintains the goal of reducing, and ultimately cutting off, the
international flow of illegal drugs into the United States.
Since 1999, the Administration has developed an annual National Drug Control
Strategy, which describes the total budget for drug control programs and outlines
U.S. strategic goals for stemming drug supply and demand.9 The Administration’s
2008 National Drug Control Strategy centers on five major goals: (1) reduce the flow
of drugs into the United States; (2) disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking
organizations; (3) focus on the nexus between the drug trade and other potential
5 Richard Nixon, “Remarks about an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention and
Control,” June 17, 1971. Briefing transcript at John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The
American Presidency Project, at [http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/WS/?pid=3047].
6 P.L. 92-226, Section 109, added Ch. 8, International Narcotics Control, to the Foreign
Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195; 22 U.S.C. 2291 et seq.).
7 Ronald Reagan, National Security Decision Directive 221, “Narcotics and National
Security,” April 8, 1986, partially declassified on November 7, 1995, redacted version
available at [http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd/nsdd-221.htm].
8 Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-570; 21 U.S.C. 801 note).
9 Congress requires that the White House submit to Congress a National Drug Control
Strategy report each year. This requirement was first established by Section 706 of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998 (Division C, Title VII,
P.L. 105-277; 21 U.S.C. 1705) and has been subsequently amended. The current National
Drug Control Strategy is available at [http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/
policy/ ndcs08/index.html ].
transnational threats to the United States, including terrorism; (4) deny drug
traffickers, narco-terrorists, and their criminal associates their illicit profits and
money laundering activities; and (5) assist foreign countries threatened by illegal
drugs in strengthening their governance and law enforcement institutions.
For FY2009, the Administration has requested a total of $14.1 billion for federal
drug control programs (see Table 1).10 Of this, 38.6%, or $5.4 billion, is requested
for international and interdiction programs.
Table 1. U.S. Drug Control Funding
(in historical U.S. $ millions)
F Y 2008b F Y 2009
Activities a F Y 2002 F Y 2003 F Y 2004 F Y 2005 F Y 2006 F Y 2007 Es t . Re q.
International 1,084.5 1,105.1 1,159.3 1,393.3 1,434.5 2,016.6 2,043.2 1,610.4
Interdiction 1,913.7 2,147.5 2,534.1 2,928.7 3,287.0 3,175.9 3,214.2 3,830.9
Dome stic 7,783.2 7,967.5 8,312.2 8,462.3 8,422.6 8,651.5 8,783.1 8,673.1
T otal 10,781.4 11,220.1 12,005.6 12,784.3 13,144.1 13,844.0 14,040.5 14,114.4
Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), National Drug Control Strategy, FY2009
Budget Summary, February 2008.
a. “International” refers to activities primarily focused on or conducted in areas outside the United
States, including a wide range of drug control programs to eradicate crops, seize drugs (except
air and riverine interdiction seizures), arrest and prosecute major traffickers, destroy processing
capabilities, develop and promote alternative crops to replace drug crops, reduce demand,
investigate money laundering and financial crime activities, and promote the involvement of
other nations in efforts to control the supply of and demand for drugs. “Interdiction” refers to
activities designed to intercept and disrupt shipments of illegal drugs and their precursors en
route to the United States from abroad. “Domestic” refers to activities related to domestic
demand reduction, including federal drug treatment and drug prevention programs, as well as
domestic law enforcement.
b. These estimates include $385.1 million that the Administration is requesting in FY2008
Several U.S. agencies are involved in implementing U.S. international
counternarcotics activities in support of the Administration’s 2008 National Drug
Control Strategy. These agencies include the following:
10 Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), National Drug Control Strategy,
FY2009 Budget Summary, February 2008, p. 11, at [http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/
!Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).11 Located
within the Executive Office of the President, ONDCP establishes
U.S. counterdrug policies and goals, and coordinates the federal
budget to combat drugs both domestically and internationally. Every
February, ONDCP’s director, sometimes referred to as the U.S. drug
czar, produces the National Drug Control Strategy and the federal
counterdrug budget summary.
!U.S. Department of State.12 The Secretary of State is responsible
for coordinating all international counterdrug programs implemented
by the U.S. government, including foreign counternarcotics
assistance. The State Department identifies fighting the production,
transportation, and sale of illegal narcotics among its primary
goals.13 Every March, the State Department’s Bureau of
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)
produces the International Narcotics Strategy Report (INCSR),
which describes the efforts of key countries to attack all aspects of
the international drug trade, including anti-money laundering during
the previous calendar year.
!U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID
provides assistance for long-term economic and social development.
The USAID Administrator serves concurrently as the State
Department’s Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, with a rank
equivalent to Deputy Secretary of State. USAID plays a role in
counternarcotics development assistance, especially regarding
alternative livelihood programs, which are designed to offer
alternatives to farmers that will enable and encourage them to
discontinue planting poppy and other illicit crops.
!Department of Defense (DOD). DOD maintains the lead role in
detecting and monitoring aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs
into the United States14 and plays a key role in collecting, analyzing,
and sharing intelligence on illegal drugs with U.S. law enforcement
and international security counterparts. In addition, DOD provides
counternarcotics foreign assistance to train, equip, and improve the
counternarcotics capacity and capabilities of relevant agencies of
11 Congress established ONDCP in 1988 in the National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988
(Title I, Subtitle A of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, P.L. 100-690), which has since been
amended. For additional information on ONDCP, see CRS Report RL32352, War on Drugs:
Reauthorization and Oversight of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, by Mark
12 Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195; Sec. 481(b)(1); 22 U.S.C. 2291(b)(1)), as
amended by Section 4(c) of the International Narcotics Control Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-583).
13 U.S. Department of State, Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2007-2012, p. 15, at
[ ht t p: / / www.st at e.gov/ document s / or gani zat i on/ 86291.pdf ] .
14 10 U.S.C. 124, as added by Section 1202(a) of P.L. 101-189.
foreign governments with its Counternarcotics Central Transfer
!Department of Justice (DOJ). The Attorney General is responsible
for federal law enforcement and to ensure public safety against
foreign and domestic threats, including illegal drug trafficking.
Primary agencies under DOJ that focus on international drug control
include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Drug Intelligence Center
(NDIC), the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force
(OCDETF), and the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC).
!Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Secretary of
Homeland Security is responsible for U.S. policies related to
interdiction of illegal drugs entering the United States from abroad.
The Strategic Plan for DHS identifies securing the U.S. border
against illegal drugs as one of its primary objectives.16 Key offices
within DHS that participate in counterdrug activities include the
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Coast Guard, and
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
!Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA’s Crime and
Narcotics Center collects intelligence information and develops
intelligence analyses to support or conduct operations countering
illicit drug activities, including trends in illegal drug crop cultivation
!Department of the Treasury. The Treasury Department
participates in counterdrug efforts as they pertain to targeting the
illicit financial proceeds that result from drug trafficking. Key
offices that participate in combating drug-related money laundering
include the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the
Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN).17
15 Congress provides the Department of Defense (DOD) with these authorities under Section
16 See p. 14 of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Strategic Plan at [http://www.
17 For additional information, see U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets
Control, “What You Need to Know about U.S. Sanctions Against Drug Traffickers,” at
[http://www.ustreas. gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/narco/drugs.pdf]; see also p.
10 of FinCEN’s Strategic Plan, at [http://www.fincen.gov/news_room/rp/files/strategic_plan
International Drug Control Tools
Over the years, U.S. counterdrug efforts have expanded to include a broad array
of tools to attack the drug trade using several approaches. The following sections
describe and analyze U.S. use of seven major drug control tools: (1) multilateral
cooperation, (2) foreign assistance restrictions, (3) crop eradication, (4) alternative
development, (5) interdiction, (6) extradition, (7) anti-money laundering, and (8)
institutional capacity building.
For nearly a century, the United States has been involved in multilateral
international drug control efforts, beginning with the International Opium
Commission of 1909. This 1909 Commission led to the development of the first ever
international drug control treaty, the Hague Opium Convention of 1912.18 Since the
early 1900s, the U.S. government has been a primary advocate for broadening and
deepening the scope of international drug control, especially through the United
Nations’ three active multilateral drug control treaties: the 1961 Single Convention
on Narcotic Drugs, as amended; the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances;
and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Today, more than 95% of U.N. member states, including the United States, are
parties to these three international drug control treaties.20 In total, these international
agreements limit international production and trade of a defined set of narcotic drugs,
psychotropic substances, and the precursor chemicals used to make these substances
for primarily medical and scientific purposes. The treaties also establish international
mechanisms to monitor treaty adherence and for the collection of data related to the
illicit cultivation, production, or manufacture of proscribed drugs.
The United States also participates in multilateral assistance programs to control
illegal drug production and trafficking through the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime
(UNODC) and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).
UNODC was established in 1997 to provide field-based technical assistance on
counternarcotics projects, as well as research and analysis on illegal drug market
trends.21 As the drug control arm of the Organization of American States (OAS),
18 Article 44 of the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961 Single
Convention) provides that the Hague Opium Convention of 1912 would be succeeded by the
19 A copy of the 1961 Single Convention, as amended, is at [http://www.incb.org/incb/
convention_1961.html]; the 1971 Convention is at [http://www.incb.org/incb/en/convention
_1971.html]; and the 1988 Convention is at [http://www.incb.org/incb/en/convention_1988.
20 International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), 2007 Report, 2008, at [http://www.incb.
21 The UNODC website is available at [http://www.unodc.org/unodc/index.html].
CICAD serves as a regional policy forum for all aspects of Western Hemisphere
illegal drug issues.22 In FY2006, the United States provided UNODC with
approximately $3 million and OAS/CICAD with $1 million. In FY2007, the United
States provided UNODC with an estimated $4 million and OAS/CICAD with $1.4
Foreign Assistance Sanctions
“Drug Majors” and the Certification Process. In an effort to deter
foreign governments from aiding or participating in illicit drug production or
trafficking, the President may suspend U.S. foreign assistance appropriations to
countries that are major illegal drug producers or major transit countries for illegal
drugs, known as “drug majors.”23 For 2008, the President has identified 20 drug
majors (see Figure 1). Of these, Congress requires that the President identify those
drug majors that have “failed demonstrably” to make at least “substantial efforts” to
adhere to their obligations during the previous year under international
Failure to receive a presidential certification of substantial counternarcotics
efforts results in foreign assistance prohibitions against those drug majors. There are
two exceptions to the requirement.24 Drug majors that “failed demonstrably” to make
“substantial efforts” to adhere to their obligations during the previous year under
international coutnernarcotics agreements may be allowed to continue receiving U.S.
foreign assistance if the President determines that assistance is “vital” to U.S.
national interests. Further, foreign assistance may be withheld by Congress, despite
a presidential certification, if Congress enacts a joint resolution disapproving of the
UNODC’s budget in the 2006-2007 biennium totaled $283 million, $120.2 million of which
was devoted for drug control assistance projects.
22 The CICAD website is available at [http://www.cicad.oas.org/].
23 Since 1992, Congress has required that the President submit annual reports, which identify
major drug transit and major drug producing countries, known as the “drug majors.” Major
illicit drug producing countries are defined by section 481(e)(2) of the Foreign Assistance
Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2291(e)(2)) as a country in which (1) 1,000 hectares or more of
illicit opium poppy is cultivated or harvested during a year, (2) 1,000 hectares or more of
illicit coca is cultivated or harvested during a year, or (3) 5,000 hectares or more of illicit
cannabis is cultivated or harvested during a year, unless the President determines that such
illicit cannabis production does not significantly affect the United States. Major drug-transit
countries are defined by section 481(e)(5) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C.
2291(e)(5)) as a country (1) that is a significant direct source of illicit narcotic or
psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances significantly affecting the United States,
or (2) through which are transported such drugs or substances.
24 See 22 U.S.C. 2291j-1.
For 2008, the President did not certify two drug majors, Burma and Venezuela,
and neither country will receive counternarcotics foreign assistance this fiscal year,
unless the President waives the restriction (see Figure 1).25
Figure 1. Map of World Drug Majors in 2008
Source: U.S. Department of State, 2008 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR),
Since its creation, the drug majors designation process has garnered significant
controversy. Supporters of the process argue that it is an “effective diplomatic
instrument” to enforce international drug control commitments because it holds
foreign governments “publicly responsible for their actions before their international
peers.”26 Observers from many countries criticize the unilateral and non-cooperative
nature of the drug certification requirements; such critics recommend moving toward
multilateral and regional fora for evaluating governments’ counterdrug efforts.
Others question the extent to which the process reduces the scope of the illegal drug
trade, when many of the world’s drug producers and transit areas are located in
countries that are not designated as drug majors or decertified by the President.
Methamphetamine Precursor Chemicals. A second certification process
was enacted by Congress as part of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of
25 George W. Bush, Presidential Determination No. 2007-33, “Memorandum to the Secretary
of State: Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing
Countries for Fiscal Year 2008,” September 17, 2007, at [http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/
26 See for example U.S. Department of State, 1996 International Narcotics Control Strategy
Report (INCSR), 2007, at [http://www.state.gov/www/global/narcotics_law/1996_narc_
2005.27 This law amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require the State
Department to report the five largest importing and exporting countries of two
precursor drugs, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, commonly used to produce
methamphetamine, and certify whether these countries are fully cooperating with the
United States on methamphetamine chemical precursor control (see Table 2).
Nations deemed not to be fully cooperating face a loss of U.S. bilateral assistance and28
U.S. opposition to multilateral assistance in the multilateral development banks.
For 2008, the State Department identified 15 major precursor chemical source
countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, India, Mexico, the
Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and
the United States. So far, the President has not decertified any country for its efforts
to control methamphetamine precursor chemicals.
Eradication programs seek to combat the flow of cocaine, opium, heroin, and
marijuana at the root of the supply chain — in the fields. Illicit drug crop eradication
can take several forms, including (1) aerial fumigation, which involves the spraying
of fields with herbicide; (2) manual removal, which involves the physical up-rooting
and destruction of crops; and (3) mechanical removal, which involves the use of
tractors and all-terrain vehicles to harrow the fields. The United States supports
programs to eradicate coca, opium, and marijuana in a number of countries, including
primarily Colombia and Afghanistan (see Table 2). These efforts are conducted by
a number of U.S. government agencies and contractors that administer U.S.
eradication programs providing producer countries with chemical herbicides,
technical assistance and specialized equipment, and spray aircraft. In FY2007, the
State Department spent approximately $452 million on international eradication29
27 Section 722 of Title VII of USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005
(P.L. 109-177; 21 U.S.C. 801 note) amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 at Sections
28 As with the drug majors certification process, the President can waive the foreign
assistance restrictions if he determines that providing aid to the country is vital to U.S.
29 State Department response to CRS request, May 23, 2008.
Table 2. U.S. Assistance for Crop Eradication
(in current U.S. $ millions)
F Y 2006 F Y 2007 F Y 2008
Ac t u al Estimate Request
Af ghanistana 138.0 168.7 190.3
Bolivia 16.9 8.5 7.5
Colombia 257.0 165.6 189.7
Guatemala 0.1 0.0 0.3
Paki st ana 6.0 2.6 4.0
Peru 28.7 32.5 14.2
IN L b 66.0 73.4 54.3
T otal 513.0 451.6 460.4
Source: U.S. Department of State response to CRS request, May 23, 2008.
a. Funds listed for Afghanistan and Pakistan include “crop control” programs.
b. INL manages funds related to the Interregional Aviation Support and International Organizations
programs that are used for eradication.
Eradication is a long-standing U.S. policy regarding international drug control.
The State Department considers crop control the “most cost-effective means of
cutting supply,” because drugs cannot enter the illegal trade if the crops were never
planted, destroyed, or left unharvested.30 Without drug cultivation, the State
Department’s rationale continues, “there would be no need for costly enforcement
and interdiction operations.” Proponents of eradication further argue that 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
powder cocaine 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 may devote fewer economic resources
to prevent their detection than to conceal more expensive and refined forms of the
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. Manual
eradication requires significant time and human resources, reportedly involving
upward of 20 work-hours of effort to pull up and destroy one hectare of coca plants.31
Aerial application of herbicide is not legal or feasible in many countries and is
30 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR, at [http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2008/].
31 Kevin J. Riley, Snow Job? The War Against International Cocaine Trafficking (New
Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996), p. 112.
expensive to implement where it is permitted.32 Aerial fumigation in Colombia has
also raised allegations that the herbicide chemical used has caused negative human,
animal, and environmental consequences.33
Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is
politically feasible because eradication efforts may also potentially result in negative
political, economic, and social consequences for the producing country, especially
in conflict or post-conflict environments.34 Further, aerial eradication remains a high-
risk activity, as spray planes and their crew are targeted by drug traffickers. In 2003,
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which the State Department
lists as a foreign terrorist organization, shot down a U.S. government plane in the
Colombian jungle, killing the American pilot and a Colombian air force sergeant and
taking three other crew members, all U.S. defense contractors, hostage.35 They
remained FARC hostages until July 2008.36
U.S. counterdrug policy also includes foreign assistance to encourage illicit drug
crop farmers to abandon drug crop cultivation by providing alternative income
opportunities. U.S. alternative development programs, funded and run mainly by the
State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), support
U.S. counternarcotics objectives by helping countries develop economic alternatives
to narcotics production, expand legal employment opportunities, and offer other
incentives to farmers to discontinue planting illicit drug crops. In theory, this
approach is designed to complement law enforcement and eradication efforts to
provide both a “carrot and stick” strategy.
For several decades, alternative development has been implemented in various
forms and with varying success.37 Since the late 1960s, when alternative
development policies were initially conceived as simply crop substitution projects,
efforts have somewhat expanded to include a broader concept of alternative
32 Colombia is currently the only country that conducts regular aerial spraying of coca and
33 For further discussion of eradication policy in Colombia, see CRS Report RL33163, Drug
Crop Eradication and Alternative Development in the Andes, by Connie Veillette and
34 Barnett R. Rubin and Alexandra Guaqueta, Fighting Drugs and Building Peace: Towards
Policy Coherence between Counter-Narcotics and Peace Building, Dialogue on
Globalization, Occasional Paper No. 37, November 2007.
35 For further discussion see CRS Report RL32250, Colombia: Issues for Congress, by
Colleen Cook and Clare Ribando Seelke, and CRS Report RS21049, Latin America:
Terrorism Issues, by Mark Sullivan.
36 “Colombia: U.S. Hostages Spotted,” New York Times, June 10, 2008; “Betancourt, U.S.
Contractors Rescued from FARC,” CNN.com, July 3, 2008.
37 See for example UNODC, Alternative Development: A Global Thematic Evaluation, Final
Synthesis Report, 2005, at [http://www.unodc.org/pdf/Alternative_Development_Evaluation
development. Current U.S. programs include not only crop substitution projects but
also the development of and assistance for roads, infrastructure, and health care.
Some observers, however, claim that while current U.S. efforts often aim to
achieve this broadened concept of alternative development, they may not always
achieve it in practice. Some indicate that a relationship between alternative
development projects and a reduction in illicit drug production may be tenuous, as
policy coordination between alternative development projects and eradication and
interdiction efforts remains limited in some cases.38
For Colombia, Congress and the Bush Administration have been at odds over
the amount of counternarcotics assistance to Colombia that should be allocated for
alternative development and the amount that should be allocated for military and
police-led eradication and interdiction programs. The House Appropriations
Committee, in reporting out the FY2008 appropriations bill for State and Foreign
Operations (H.Rept. 110-197, P.L. 110-161), expressed its preference for a “more
balanced strategy” in which aid funds would be realigned from 76% for military and
police assistance and 24% for alternative development to a 55%-45% split. The
Administration’s FY2009 budget request, however, reverts that ratio of Colombia
counternarcotics programs back to a roughly 74%-26% split.39
Interdiction efforts seek to combat the drug trade as traffickers begin moving
drug products from source countries to their final destinations. Several U.S. federal
agencies are involved in coordinating operations with foreign government
interdiction forces and providing law enforcement training and other forms of
assistance to foreign countries in order to deny drug traffickers the use of transit
routes. Within the so-called “transit zone” — a 42 million square-mile area between
Central and South America and the U.S. southern borders, which covers the
Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean — a DOD-led
interagency group called the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South (JIATF-South)
coordinates interdiction operations across federal agency participants, as well as
international liaisons from Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and several Latin
38 See, for example, “A Failed Balance: Alternative Development and Eradication,”
Transnational Institute, Drugs and Conflict Debate Paper 4, March 2002.
39 U.S. Department of State, Foreign Operations Congressional Budget Justification, Fiscal
Year 2009, p. 668, at [http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/101444.pdf]. Under
“Peace and Security” for Colombia, the Administration requests $317,707,000 for the
Andean Counterdrug Program (ACP) (74%), which would go to mainly to hard-side
activities, including military and police assistance, and $83,360,000 in ESF (26%), which
would go to soft-side activities, including alternative development and other economic aid.
Some small portion of ACP would likely go to judicial reform, demand reduction, rule of
law, and anti-money laundering programs, which would be considered soft-side activities.
Further details for proposed FY2009 funding allocations, however, are not yet publicly
American countries. The U.S.-Mexican border is the primary point of entry for
cocaine shipments and other drugs smuggled into the United States (see Table 3).40
Table 3. U.S. Illegal Drug Seizures Along the Southwest Border
(in metric tons)
CY 2003 CY 2004 CY 2005 CY 2006 CY 2007
Heroin 0.3 0.4 0.2 0.5 0.4
Cocaine 16.3 22.0 22.7 28.2 20.9
Cannabis 1,201.0 1,106.6 1,025.7 1,132.0 1,367.8
Methamphetami ne 1.9 2.9 2.9 2.8 1.7
Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) response to CRS request, March 27, 2008.
Note: Seizure events occurred at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexican border and up to 150 miles
inside the United States where the drugs are believed to have crossed the border by land conveyance.
Outside the transit zone, other international interdiction operations involving
U.S. agencies, mainly DEA, include Operation Containment, Project Cohesion, and
Project Prism. Operation Containment, a multinational law enforcement effort
established in 2002 and led by DEA, aims to place a “security belt” around
Afghanistan to prevent processing chemicals for converting opium poppy to heroin41
from entering the country and opium and heroin from leaving. Project Cohesion,
an international precursor chemical control initiative established in 2005 and led by42
the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), tracks precursor chemicals
involved in the production of cocaine and heroin. Project Prism, a U.N.-sponsored
initiative, monitors and controls illicit trade in precursor chemicals used in the
production of amphetamine-type synthetic drugs.
Several U.S. agencies also provide foreign law enforcement training and
assistance in order to enhance interdiction efforts abroad. The Department of State,
the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and DEA are involved
in providing anti-narcotics law enforcement training, technical assistance, and
equipment for foreign personnel. In addition, the United States regularly contributes
funding and expertise to law enforcement assistance activities of the United Nations
and other international organizations.
40 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), National
Drug Threat Assessment 2008, October 2007, Product No. 2007-Q0317-003, at [http://www.
usdoj .gov/ndic/pubs25/ 25921/index.htm#T op].
41 Statement of the Honorable Michele M. Leonhart, Acting Administrator, Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA), House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee
on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, March 12, 2008, at
42 The INCB is an independent and quasi-judicial control organ monitoring the
implementation of the United Nations drug control conventions.
U.S. interdiction activities are sometimes considered among the bright spots of
U.S. counterdrug efforts. The State Department reports that its interdiction activities
in the Caribbean, including Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT),
contributed to a drop in illegal drug flows from 70% in the 1980s to less than 10%
in recent years.43 A 2005 report released by the Government Accountability Office
(GAO), for example, highlighted the role of improved interagency coordination and
international cooperation for improvements in transit zone interdiction operations.44
Drug trafficking organizations, however, are reportedly growing increasingly
sophisticated in their evasion techniques, and some observers are concerned that
current interdiction capabilities may not be sufficient for long-term reductions in drug
supplies. Proponents of strong drug interdiction policies, for example, 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
trafficking. Supporting such concerns, the 2005 GAO report states that the
commitment of U.S. military assets to Iraq and Afghanistan may hamper the ability
of U.S. law enforcement to intercept drug shipments in the future. Some observers
also caution that interdiction efforts can raise the retail price of illegal drugs,
potentially resulting in a perverse incentive that actually increases the economic
rewards to drug traffickers.
Anti-Money Laundering Efforts
To reap the financial benefits of the illegal drug trade, traffickers must launder
their illicit profits into the licit economy. As a result, the United States and other
members of the international community have sought to use anti-money laundering
efforts as a tool to combat this upstream activity in the illegal drug market.
Currently, several U.S. agencies are involved in international anti-money laundering
efforts designed to enhance financial transaction transparency and regulation,
improve cooperation and coordination with foreign governments and private financial
institutions, and provide foreign countries with law enforcement training and support.
Congress has been active in pursuing anti-money laundering regulations and
program oversight. In 1999, Congress passed the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin
Designation Act to authorize the President to target the financial profits that
significant foreign narcotics traffickers and their organizations (known as “Specially
Designated Narcotics Trafficker Kingpins,” or SDNTKs) have accumulated from
their illicit activities.45 This tool seeks to deny SDNTKs and their related businesses
access to the U.S. financial system and all trade transactions involving U.S.
43 U.S. Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
Affairs, Program and Budget Guide, Fiscal Year 2008 Budget, Publication No. 11453,
September 2007, p. 92.
44 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), 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, November 2005.
45 Title VIII, International Narcotics Trafficking, of P.L. 106-120, the Intelligence
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (21 U.S.C. 1901-1908; 8 U.S.C. 1182).
companies and individuals.46 Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
Congress further strengthened U.S. measures to combat money laundering by
providing the Secretary of the Treasury with new authorities to impose a set of
regulatory restrictions, or “special measures,” against foreign jurisdictions, foreign
financial institutions, and certain classes of financial transactions involving foreign
jurisdictions, if deemed by the Treasury Secretary to be “of primary money
laundering concern.”47 These anti-money laundering tools are designed not only to
address drug trafficking, but also combat other forms of related criminal activity,
including terrorist financing.
In addition, Congress requires that the State Department include in its annual
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) a separate volume devoted
to the state of international money laundering and financial crimes in each country.
Among the report’s congressionally mandated requirements, the State Department
annually identifies the world’s “major money laundering countries,” defined as those
countries “whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving
significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking” and other
serious crimes (see Figure 2).
46 The law was reportedly modeled on Treasury’s sanctions program pursuant to Executive
Order 12978 (October 1995) against Colombia drug cartels under authority of the
International Emergency Economic Powers Act (Title II of P.L. 95-223; 50 U.S.C. 1701 et
seq.) and the National Emergencies Act (P.L. 94-412; 50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.).
47 Section 311 of the International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-
Terrorism Act of 2001 (Title III, Subtitle A of P.L. 107-56, the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001)
amends the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 at 31 U.S.C. 5318A.
Figure 2. Major Money Laundering Countries and Jurisdictions of
Primary Money Laundering Concern in 2008
Source: U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR; U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Crimes
Enforcement Network, Section 311 Special Measures, at [http://www.fincen.gov/statutes_regs/patriot/
U.S. officials and some observers have highlighted the value of anti-money
laundering efforts in combating drug trafficking. In 2007, the Treasury Department’s
Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reported that anti-money laundering efforts
against Colombian drug cartels have been effective in isolating and incapacitating
designated supporters, businesses, and front companies linked to the Cali Cartel and
Norte del Valle Cartel.48 Some observers also describe the Treasury Secretary’s
additional authorities to designate jurisdictions of primary money laundering concern
and apply “special measures”against these jurisdictions as having “potentially
profound effects on the financial services industry.”49 Treasury’s designation of
Banco Delta Asia, for example, successfully resulted in the freezing of some $25
million in North Korean assets — funds that reportedly included counterfeit U.S.
currency and profits from other North Korean criminal activity, including drug
traffick ing. 50
Skeptics of the use of anti-money laundering efforts to combat drug trafficking
argue that tracking illicit financial transactions may be more difficult and may yield
48 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Impact Report:
Economic Sanctions against Colombian Drug Cartels, March 2007.
49 See for example Douglas N. Greenburg, John Roth, and Katherine A. Sawyer, “Special
Measures under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act,” The Review of Banking and
Financial Services, Vol. 23, No. 6, June 2007.
50 See also CRS Report RL33885, North Korean Crime-for-Profit Activities, by Liana Sun
Wyler and Dick K. Nanto.
less success than other counterdrug tools.51 As the State Department’s 2008 money
laundering and financial crimes report reveals, major challenges in tracking and
disrupting international money laundering activities remain.52 The same types of
money laundering methods — bulk cash smuggling, trade-based money laundering,
and others — that the State Department identified as issues of concern more than a
decade ago remain among the most utilized forms of money laundering today.
Further, emerging challenges include the growing volume of financial transactions,
especially the volume of international electronic transfers, and the movement of
illegal money laundering outside formal banking channels, including through
“hawala”-type chains of transnational money brokers.
The U.S. government regularly uses extradition as an important judicial tool
against suspected drug traffickers located abroad. Extradition refers to the formal
surrender of a person by a state to another state for prosecution. Proponents of
extradition to the United States argue that suspected criminals are more likely to
receive a fair trial in U.S. courts than in countries where the local judicial process
may be corrupt and where suspects can use bribes and intimidation to manipulate the
outcome of a trial.
Some anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that the threat of extradition has
affected the behavior of foreign drug trafficking organizations. For example, some
Colombian drug traffickers are reportedly distancing themselves from overt drug
distribution activities, which could be used as evidence to trigger extradition.
Nevertheless, this counterdrug tool remains controversial and is not universally
supported. Many countries simply refuse to extradite drug traffickers, citing concerns
about the potential use of the death penalty in the United States against its citizens
and state sovereignty rights. Burma is one such country, which continues to refuse
to extradite four suspected drug traffickers under indictment in the United States.
Some observers claim that suspected traffickers often take advantage of such
limitations in the extradition system and seek safe haven in countries that are
unwilling to extradite.
Recently, U.S. bilateral judicial cooperation with Mexico and Colombia has
improved, yielding record numbers of extradited traffickers.53 Mexico extradited 83
fugitives to the United States in 2007, up from 63 in 2006. Colombia extradited 164
to the United States in 2007, yielding a total of more than 600 individuals since 1997,
when Colombia’s legislature enacted a non-retroactive law to formalize U.S.-
Colombian extradition cooperation. In addition, although the United States does not
51 See for example R. T. Naylor, “Wash-Out: A Critique of Follow-the-Money Methods in
Crime Control Policy,” Crime, Law, and Social Change, Vol. 32, 1999, pp. 1-57.
52 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR, Vol. 2, at [http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/
53 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR; see also CRS Report RL32724, Mexico-U.S.
Relations: Issues for Congress, by Colleen Cook, Rebecca Rush, and Mark Sullivan.
have a formal extradition agreement with Afghanistan, the country voluntarily
transferred to the United States two alleged traffickers in 2007 for prosecution.
Institutional Capacity Building
Another element of U.S. international narcotics control increasingly involves
institutional development, such as strengthening judicial and law enforcement
institutions, boosting governing capacity, and assisting in developing host nation
administrative infrastructures to combat the illicit drug trade. Institutional
development programs focus mainly on fighting corruption and training to support
criminal justice system reforms and the rule of law.
According to the State Department, drug trafficking organizations often seek to
subvert or coopt governments in order to guarantee a secure operating environment
and essentially “buy their way into power.”54 Anti-corruption efforts thus seek to
prevent traffickers from undermining the legitimacy and effectiveness of foreign
government institutions. Some observers, however, argue that counterdrug policies
are placing too little emphasis on projects that help foreign countries develop a
culture supportive of the rule of law. One expert explained in congressional
testimony in 2007, “unless foreign police organizations recognize and internalize
what the rule of law means, what its key characteristics are, and why the rule of law
is necessary to accomplish their mission, no amount of aid will get the job done.”55
U.S. Bilateral and Regional Counterdrug Initiatives
The following section describes the three most significant U.S.-led international
counterdrug initiatives to date: (1) the Mérida Initiative targeting Mexico and Central
America, (2) the Andean Counterdrug Program (ACP) and related assistance to the
region, and (3) Afghanistan counterdrug programs. Combined, these three programs
represent more than 90% of the Administration’s FY2009 U.S. international
54 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR.
55 Statement of Dr. Roy S. Godson, Emeritus Professor, Government, Georgetown
University, President, National Strategy Information Center, House Foreign Affairs
Committee, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, “Violence in Central America,”
June 26, 2007.
56 As defined by ONDCP, international counterdrug programs refer to activities primarily
focused on or conducted in areas outside the United States, including a wide range of drug
control programs to eradicate crops, seize drugs (except air and riverine interdiction
seizures), arrest and prosecute major traffickers, destroy processing capabilities, develop and
promote alternative crops to replace drug crops, reduce the demand for drugs, investigate
money laundering and financial crime activities, and promote the involvement of other
nations in efforts to control the supply of and demand for drugs.
The United States and Mexico announced on October 22, 2007, the start of a
multiyear, bilateral security agreement called the Mérida Initiative.57 This Initiative
aims to combat drug trafficking and other criminal activity along the U.S.-Mexican
border, as well as in Central America.58 The U.S.-Mexican border is viewed as
especially important for U.S. counternarcotics efforts because Mexico is currently the
primary point of entry for cocaine and other drug shipments smuggled into the United
States. Proposed U.S. bilateral assistance to Mexico and Central America under the
Initiative consists of a $1.4 billion, three-year security package that would provide
two main forms of assistance: (1) equipment, including helicopters and surveillance
aircraft, and technical resources to combat drug trafficking, and (2) training and
technical advice for Mexican and Central American military, judicial, and law
enforcement officials.59 Thus far, the Administration has requested $1.1 billion for
the Mérida Initiative in FY2008 emergency supplemental and FY2009
appropriations, $950 million of which would be allocated to Mexico and the
remainder to Central America (see Table 4).60 According to ONDCP, $817.3 million61
of the requested $1.1 billion would be devoted to counternarcotics efforts.
57 The Mérida Initiative is named for the city where it was first conceived by Presidents
George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon in March 2007.
58 See CRS Report RS22837, Merida Initiative: Proposed U.S. Anticrime and Counterdrug
Assistance for Mexico and Central America, by Colleen W. Cook et al., and CRS Report
RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, by Colleen W. Cook et al.
59 U.S. domestic commitments will be or have already been implemented under the National
Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, the National Drug Control Strategy, the
Security Cooperation Initiative, and the Southwest Border Initiative. See CRS Report
RL33106, Border Security and the Southwest Border: Background, Legislation, and Issues,
by Lisa M. Seghetti et al. (archived), last updated on September 28, 2005.
60 On June 10, 2008, the House passed the Mérida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and
Reduce Organized Crime Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 6028), to authorize the President
to provide a total of $1.6 billion dollars of assistance to Mexico and Central America from
FY2008 through FY2010. Both houses are also considering appropriations for Mérida
Initiative. The House approved the emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008
(H.R. 2642), on May 15, 2008, with $461.5 million for the Mérida Initiative. The Senate
version of H.R. 2642, as amended on May 22, 2008, would provide $450 million for the
Initiative. The bill is now in conference.
61 ONDCP, National Drug Control Strategy, FY2009 Budget Summary, February 2008.
Table 4. Requested Mérida Initiative Funding, by Country
(in current U.S. $ millions)
Emergency Suppl e m e nt al
Suppl e m e nt al F Y 2009 Ac t
Mexico 500.0 450.0 400.0a
Guatemala 11.1 17.7 N/A
Honduras 10.8 12.4 N/A
Nicaragua 3.7 6.7 N/A
(Regional) 7.2 21.7 60.0
T otal 550.0 550.0 465.0
Portion of Total for
Only 385.1 432.2 N/A
Source: U.S. Department of State briefing papers provided to Congressional offices; U.S. Department
of State, Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY2009; and ONDCP, FY2009
a. This $400 million is divided between $352 million for FY2008 emergency supplemental assistance
and $48 million for FY2009 bridge fund supplemental assistance.
Despite apparent initial frustration expressed by some Members of Congress
about not having been notified of the Mérida Initiative as it was being developed,62
observers report that the Initiative carries bipartisan support for its goals. Many
observers and policy makers welcome this effort to address the increasingly violent
illegal drug trade along the U.S-Mexico border. Some Members of Congress and
others continue to raise several issues for concern with regard to the implementation
and monitoring of the Initiative’s programs. Some Mexican observers, for example,
are reportedly concerned about potential strings that may be attached to the final
program, which could be perceived by some as the United States infringing upon
62 See, for example, comments by Eliot Engel, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, Subcommitee on the Western Hemisphere, quoted in Lourdes Heredia, “Doubts
over Bush Plan on Mexico Drugs,” BBC News, October 22, 2007.
Mexico’s state sovereignty.63 Some are especially concerned about the possibility
that U.S. military personnel might be deployed into Mexico, despite U.S. pledges not
to do so, and that the United States is not doing enough domestically to cut demand
for illicit drugs from abroad. On the U.S. side, some observers raise concerns about
how to ensure that U.S. assistance funds are not illicitly diverted by corrupt Mexican
officials. Others raise concerns that the Initiative, as currently conceived, might not
have a long-term effect on stemming the flow of drugs into the United States and
reducing the drug economy’s negative societal effects in both the United States and
Plan Colombia and the Andean Counterdrug Program
Plan Colombia was developed by the government of Colombia in 1999 as a six-
year plan, concluding in 2005, to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict,
eliminate drug trafficking, and promote economic and social development. The plan
aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in Colombia by 50%
over five years. Congress approved legislation in support of Plan Colombia in 2000,
appropriating foreign assistance funds under the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)
account each year ever since.64 ACI has not only provided counternarcotics
assistance for Colombia, but also for other countries in the Andean region, including
Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.65 Beginning in FY2008,
Congress renamed ACI the “Andean Counterdrug Program,” or ACP. Since its
inception in FY2000 and through FY2008, Congress has appropriated to the State
Department more than $6 billion for Plan Colombia, ACI, and ACP (see Table 5).
For FY2009, the State Department requests $406.8 million for ACP. DOD has
provided additional counterdrug assistance for training and equipping foreign
counternarcotics personnel to the region; in FY2007, this amounted to approximately66
$20 million for Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
63 See Oscar Avila, “U.S. Strings Could Snarl Drug Pact; Mexico Says Aid Deal Shouldn’t
Meddle in Rights,” Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2008; James C. McKinley, Jr., “Conditions on
U.S. Aid in Drug Fight Anger Mexico,” June 7, 2008; Adriana Garcia, “U.S. Drug Czar
Urges Funds for War on Mexico Cartels,” Reuters News, June 3, 2008.
64 The first appropriations legislation for Plan Colombia was located in the Military
Construction Appropriations Act, 2001 (P.L. 106-246, Title III, Chapters 1 and 2).
65 In FY2005 ACI funds were also used for counternarcotics assistance in Guatemala and
Nicaragua. Currently, ACI funds are no longer used for counternarcotics assistance in
66 DOD report to Congress, FY2007 DOD Foreign Counterdrug Activity Report, February
Table 5. Estimated Plan Colombia/ACP Funding, by Country
(in historical U.S. $ millions)
ia 158.0 52.0 87.6 90.7 91.0 90.3 79.2 66.0 29.8 31.0
b ia a 894.4 48.0 373.9 580.2 b 473.9 462.8 508.7 526.0 244.6 329.6
21.2 2 .2 25.0 30.9 35.0 25.8 19.8 17.3 6 .9 7.2
80.0 48.0 142.5 128.1 116.0 115.4 106.9 103.2 36.5 37.0
l 5 .0 2.0 6 .0 6.0 10.2 8 .9 5.9 4 .0 1.0 1 .0
a 5.0 1 .4 5.0 4 .5 6.5 6 .0 4.5 4 .0 1.0 1 .0
ela4.21.25.02.15.03.02.21.0 — —
c 1,167.8 d 154.8 645.0 842.5 737.6 712.2 e 727.2 721.5 319.8 f 406.8 f
Source: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Operations Congressional Budget Justification, Fiscal
Years 2002-2009, at [http://www.state.gov/s/d/rm/rls/cbj/].
a. Funding listed under Colombia includes the Flight Safety and the Air Bridge Denial programs. In
FY2006 and FY2007, these programs were listed separately in the congressional budget
justifications — specifically, $30.0 million for the Flight Safety Program and $13.9 million for
the Air Bridge Denial Program in FY2006, and $61.0 million for the Flight Safety Program in
b. Funding listed for Colombia in FY2003 includes $54.0 million in emergency supplemental
c. Totals do not include counternarcotics assistance funds to the region that are not part of ACP. Some
additional counternarcotics-related funds are provided to Colombia through two other State
Department accounts, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education
and Training (IMET), as well as DOD’s Central Transfer Account.
d. ACI did not exist until FY2001. Total for FY2000 includes $1.0 billion emergency supplemental
appropriations for Plan Colombia and counternarcotics funds allocated under the International
Narcotics Control (INC) account.
e. Total ACI funds for FY2005 include $1.0 million each for Guatemala and Nicaragua.
f. At the request of Congress, the Administration has begun to provide alternative development and
other soft-side counternarcotics assistance through non-ACP accounts since FY2008. In
FY2008, non-ACP counternarcotics assistance to the region totaled $192.5 million. In FY2009,
requested non-ACP counternarcotics assistance to the region totaled $104 million ($15.2 million
to Bolivia, $50.7 million to Colombia, $6.2 million to Ecuador, and $31.9 million to Peru).
Since ACI and ACP were first implemented, U.S. assistance has focused mainly
on four strategic pillars: (1) eradication of coca and opium poppy crops, (2) illegal
drug interdiction, (3) alternative development to provide coca and opium poppy
farmers other sources of income, and (4) institution-building to train security forces
and to strengthen democratic governance capacity. Supporters of the program argue
that U.S. assistance has been vital to building foreign government counternarcotics
capacities. Critics of ACI and ACP often question the program’s effectiveness to
reduce the amount of cocaine and heroin entering the United States, because the
Andean region still accounts for the production of virtually all of the world’s cocaine
and increasing amounts of high-quality heroin. Some also criticize the program for
excessively emphasizing supply-side eradication and interdiction, especially in
Colombia, without sufficient focus on economic development, institution-building,
and public and private sector reform.67 Others warn of a so-called “spillover” effect
of counternarcotics activity in Colombia on neighboring countries such as Ecuador,
where narco-linked insurgents and paramilitaries reportedly operate, and Venezuela,
from where the flow of drugs destined for the United States has reportedly increased
substantially in recent years.68
In FY2008, funding for ACP declined 55.7% as compared with FY2007 levels.69
This decline can be attributed to three notable changes. First, counternarcotics aid
to the region is increasingly disbursed in several other foreign aid accounts, including
Economic Support Fund (ESF) and Development Assistance (DA). For FY2008, this
transfer from ACP to ESF amounts to $192.5 million. Some say this programming
move will allow more flexibility in the use of economic aid to the Andean countries.
At the same time, this programming move will also cause ACP to be even more
focused on supply-side eradication and interdiction, which has been a criticism of the
program. Second, as of FY2008, Venezuela is no longer receiving ACP assistance.
The Administration’s FY2009 request also does not include a request for any ACP
funding to be allocated to Venezuela. Third, the U.S.-supported Air Bridge Denial
program, which the U.S. government has spent at least $80 million on from FY2002
through FY2006, will soon be entirely funded by Colombia.70
Afghanistan Counterdrug Programs
The U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan consists of five key
elements, or pillars, that mirror Afghan initiatives and call for increased interagency
and international cooperation.71 The five pillars of the U.S. initiative are (1) public
information, (2) alternative development, (3) eradication, (4) interdiction, and (5) law
enforcement and justice reform. The State Department and DOD are the two main
providers of U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Afghanistan and the region, with
67 See, for example, Daniel W. Christman and John G. Heimann, Andes 2020: A New
Strategy for the Challenges of Colombia and the Region, report of an independent
commission sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations Center for Preventive Action,
68 See for example U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR.
69 The FY2009 request represents a 43.6% decline from FY2007.
70 The Air Bridge Denial program aims to target drug traffickers through the air by forcing
down suspicious aircraft, using lethal force if necessary. Historically, this Air Bridge Denial
program, which was originally developed in the late 1980s to interdict cocaine from Peru,
has been the subject of controversy. From 2001 to 2003, the United States suspended
operation of the program because operators shot down a legitimate civilian aircraft in Peru
and two U.S. citizens were killed. Nevertheless, many observers highlight this program as
having been one of the main contributors to the decline in Peruvian cocaine production.
71 See CRS Report RL32686, Afghanistan: Narcotics and U.S. Policy, by Christopher
Blanchard. See also David Shelby, “United States to Help Afghanistan Attack Narcotics
Industry,” Washington File, U.S. Department of State, November 17, 2004.
additional law enforcement and training support from DEA, DHS, and other
agencies. For the State Department and DOD alone, the Administration spent
approximately $547 million in FY2007 funds, which represents a 38.2% increase
from FY2006 (see Table 6). 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 counternarcotics efforts.
Table 6. Estimated U.S. Counternarcotics Assistance for
Afghanistan, by Agency
(in current U.S. $ millions)
FY2008 FY2009 Supp.
Ag ency FY2002 FY2003 FY2004 FY2005 FY2006 FY2007 Estima te Request Request
Dep t. 39.4 0 .0 50.0 499.8 287.6 425.7 315.7 312.6 181.0
DOD — — 71.8224.5108.1291.1257.6b24.1150.6
T o tal 39.4 0 .0 121.8 724.3 395.7 716.8 573.3 336.7 161.6
Sources: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Operations Congressional Budget Justification, Fiscal
Year 2007-2009 at [http://www.state.gov/s/d/rm/rls/cbj/]; unclassified report to Congress on DOD
counternarcotics assistance to Afghanistan and Central Asia, FY2004-FY2007, dated January 16,
2007; DOD response to CRS request, August 14, 2008; and State Department response to CRS
request, May 14, 2008.
Notes: N/A = not available. Listed funds per fiscal year include supplemental appropriations.
a. FY2002-FY2006 funding numbers were provided to CRS by the State Department. Other listed
assistance refers to funds provided to Afghanistan for “counter-narcotics” program area under
the “Peace and Security” objective.
b. DOD requested $257.6 million for FY2008. As of May 2008, $192.6 million has been
The opium drug industry is a significant factor in Afghanistan’s fragile political
and economic order — and many argue that the United States can play an important
role in combating its growth. According to the 2007 Afghanistan Opium Survey
conducted by UNODC and the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics (MCN),
Afghanistan remained the source of 93% of the world’s illicit opium in 2007. This
record production occurred in spite of ongoing efforts by the Afghan government, the
United States, and their international partners to combat poppy cultivation and drug
trafficking. Observers remain concerned about how to break the links between the
illegal narcotics industry and political instability, as conflict and regional instability
have reportedly accompanied efforts to expand existing counternarcotics efforts.
Further, analysts claim that U.S. counternarcotics objectives complicate
counterterrorism and counterinsurgency objectives. Difficulty remains in balancing
between developing “tactical coalition allies” in militia and other irregular forces
who could help with counterterrorism and counterinsurgency objectives, when these
same individuals have ties to the drug trade. If U.S. counterterrorism and
counterinsurgency objectives are a higher priority than counternarcotics objectives,
such issues could affect the feasibility and success of counternarcotics policy goals
Alternative Policy Approaches
Several approaches have been proposed to reshape U.S. international narcotics
control policy and implement it more effectively. This section explores alternative
international drug control policy approaches and identifies U.S. participation and
positions, if any, in the debates.
Rebalance Current Drug Policy Tools
Emphasize “Hard-Side” of Counternarcotics Policy. Some argue that
the United States should intensify military and law enforcement activities, including
activities funded by foreign assistance, designed to disrupt the transit of illicit drugs
into the United States. Such so-called “hard-side” activities include interdiction,
forced eradication, and training, equipping, and supporting other law enforcement
and military activities geared toward directly targeting drug trafficking organizations
and related traffickers. For FY2007, hard-side counternarcotics activities constituted
roughly 33% of the total domestic and international U.S. counterdrug budget — $3.2
billion for interdiction, $468 million for eradication, and $946 million for other72
international hard-side activities. Policy makers justify the continued emphasis on
hard-side activities because they directly disrupt the flow of foreign drugs. These
tasks are also conceded to require disproportionately more funding to implement than
soft-side activities. The cost of a helicopter to combat drug traffickers, for example,
is substantially more than the cost of providing seeds and agricultural training for
alternative crop development projects. Further, some argue that the U.S. emphasis
on hard-side counternarcotics activities is necessary to carry the burden of other
international participants in counterdrug efforts and foreign aid donors, who73
reportedly tend to shy away from hard-side projects.
Among those who agree that hard-side activities are a vital component of
international counternarcotics strategy, some support expanding U.S. eradication
efforts and recommend that the United States assume a greater role in
counternarcotics activities. Some U.S. policy makers have advocated the expansion
of crop eradication programs. The Administration’s August 2007 U.S.
Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan, for example, argues that “eradication is
essential to controlling the narcotics industry in Afghanistan” and that a “critical
improvement” to current efforts would involve the expansion of force eradication.
The Strategy further recommends the consideration of aerial spraying as a method for
72 U.S. Department of State, INL, Program and Budget Guide, Fiscal Year 2008 Budget, and
discussions with State Department representatives.
73 For example, European countries reportedly provided Colombia with approximately
$131.4 million of foreign assistance in CY2006, which mainly supported alternative
development, human rights, humanitarian assistance, and good governance projects. Based
on CRS discussions with State Department consultant, April 8, 2008.
implementing expanded forced eradication. Expanded eradication activities,
especially those involving aerial spraying of herbicides, remain a source of
controversy. Proponents argue that swift, widespread eradication is necessary to
establish a credible deterrent against cultivating illicit opium poppy crops. Critics,
however, argue that eradication may have public health and environmental safety
implications, may encourage local villagers to align with anti-government insurgents,
and, in the absence of alternative livelihood options, may deepen peasant
impoverishment. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expressed categorical
opposition to the use of aerial eradication, and U.S. officials state that the
Administration will defer to the government of Afghanistan regarding its future use.74
Some analysts also suggest that the U.S. military should assume a greater role
in counternarcotics activities. Since the 1980s, the U.S. military’s role in
counternarcotics efforts has gradually become more focused on training and
equipping foreign counternarcotics officials. 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.
military forces in preemptive strikes against drug fields and trafficker enclaves
overseas. DOD’s role in counternarcotics activity first became institutionalized in
221 (NSDD-221), which directed U.S. military forces to “support counter-narcotics
efforts more actively.”75 DOD’s role further expanded under President George H.
Bush in 1989, who issued National Security Directive-18 (NSD-18) to explicitly
direct the Secretary of Defense to redefine the Pentagon’s mission to include
counternarcotics as one of its main priorities.76 Over the years, Congress has
continued to expand DOD’s international counternarcotics authorities to provide
counternarcotics training and operational support to an increasing number of foreign
governments, as well as to provide counterterrorism support to foreign law
enforcement personnel who are also conducting counternarcotics activities.
Despite the military’s 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 counterdrug support provides the military with beneficial, realistic training. In
contrast, opponents argue that drug interdiction is a law enforcement mission rather
than a military mission, that drug enforcement is an unconventional war that the
74 See for example Kirk Semple and Tim Golden, “U.S. Presses Again to Eradicate Afghan
Opium Poppies,” International Herald Tribune, October 7, 2007.
75 Ronald Reagan, National Security Decision Directive 221 (NSDD-221), “Narcotics and
National Security,” April 8, 1986, partially declassified on November 7, 1995, redacted
version available at [http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd/nsdd-221.htm].
76 George Bush, National Security Directive 18, “International Counternarcotics Strategy,”
August 21, 1989, released in full on August 23, 2001, unclassified version available at
military is ill-equipped to fight, that a drug enforcement role detracts from readiness
for future combat operations, 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 personnel in the military remain
concerned about an expanded role, seeing themselves as possible scapegoats for
policies that have failed, or might fail.
Emphasize “Soft-Side” of Counternarcotics Policy. 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 policy makers
is to achieve an effective balance between the “carrot” and the “stick” approaches in
U.S. relations with major illicit narcotics-producing and transit countries. As a
result, some analysts have suggested increasingly linking hard-side activities with
soft-side activities, such as alternative livelihood development, economic
development, and institutional reform efforts.
Proponents of soft-side activities argue that long-term success in halting drug
production involves motivating producers to refrain from growing illicit crops. Many
observe that because short-term economic stability of nations supplying illegal drugs
may depend on 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 of77
persuading developing nations to curb their production of illicit drugs. Such a plan
would involve a multilateral effort, including participation of the United States and
other industrialized donor nations susceptible to the drug problem. The thrust of
such a plan would be to promote economic development, replacing illicit cash crops
with other marketable alternatives.
Critics have concerns regarding positive incentive concepts. They warn of the
open-ended cost of agricultural development programs, economic development
projects, and institutional capacity building efforts. Programs would likely be
coupled with rigid domestic law enforcement and penalties for non-compliance,
which could require a U.S. commitment of further foreign assistance that aids a
country to strengthen its institutional capacity to implement the rule of law.
Sometimes, marketable alternatives are more difficult to develop than simply
substituting illicit crops with licit crops. Drug crop zones are often located in
geographically remote areas, with marginal soil quality and extreme insecurity that
tend to limit prospects for legal commercial agriculture. In some parts of Colombia,
for example, observers claim that the most promising strategy to stem drug crop
production is to improve educational opportunities and foster the development of
new economies in other locales, including urban settings, that former farmers could
77 See for example comments by former Colombian President Andres Pastrana in NewsHour
with Jim Lehrer, transcript of interview on October 6, 1998, at [http://www.pbs.org/
newshour/bb/latin_america/j ul y-dec98/pastrana_10-6.html ].
transition into with their new skill sets. In the view of these analyses, the best
substitute crop for coca or opium could well be an assembly plant producing
electronic goods or automobiles for the international market. Developing such new
economies, however, could involve potentially costly commitments in foreign
Emphasize Drug Demand Reduction. According to the ONDCP’s National
Drug Control Strategy budget, roughly 35% of the total drug control budget in
FY2007 was allocated for demand reduction activities, including treatment and
prevention, while 65% was allocated for domestic and international supply-side78
reduction activities. In FY2002, roughly 46% of the total drug control budget was
for demand reduction activities, and 54% was for supply-side activities. Some
observers point to this gradual shift in resources toward supply-side activities to
claim that U.S. counternarcotics policy focuses primarily on combating the supply
of illegal drugs, to the detriment of focusing on domestic drug demand reduction.
Such arguments are especially voiced by observers in drug producing countries and
drug transit countries, who view U.S. consumption of illegal drugs as the source of
the problem.79 Supporters of stronger drug demand reduction programs also argue
that it could be more cost effective to combat illegal drug use and trafficking
domestically than in drug source and transit countries in the developing world, where80
resources and government capacity to combat drugs may be limited. As a result,
such critics urge the Administration to rebalance the drug control budget to include81
more funding for drug demand reduction and less for drug supply reduction.
The Administration, however, posits that issues related to the balance between
counternarcotics resources for drug demand reduction and supply reduction have
already been adequately addressed. According to ONDCP’s 2008 National Drug
Control Strategy, for example, two of the three drug policy goals are demand
reduction-oriented: to prevent domestic drug use before it begins and to rehabilitate
current domestic drug users. At the same time, others argue that further emphasis on
supply-side drug control activities is warranted, as transnational drug trafficking
organizations continue to pose threats to U.S. and international security.
Reevaluate Prohibitionist Drug Regime
Legalize Illegal Drugs. For decades, many critics of the current international
drug control regime have argued for legalizing drugs. Drug legalization proposals
take several forms, which differ in the extent to which the legalized drug trade would
be regulated by the government. At one end of the spectrum are those who call for
78 ONDCP, National Drug Control Strategy, FY2009 Budget Summary, February 2008.
79 See for example International Crisis Group, “Latin American Drugs II: Improving Policy
and Reducing Harm,” Latin America Report No. 26, March 14, 2008; “Africa: New Front
in Drugs War,” BBC News, July 9, 2007; “West Africa: More Funds Needed to Tackle Drug
Use, NGOs Say,” IRIN News, November 5, 2007.
81 See also CRS Report RL32352, War on Drugs: Reauthorization and Oversight of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy, by Mark Eddy.
a wholesale deregulation of the drug industry. Such laissez faire advocates argue that
individuals should be able to exert their own free will in deciding whether to engage
in an activity, including potentially dangerous ones. Few proponents of drug
legalization, however, endorse wholesale deregulation. Instead, some support
modified legalization schemes that involve various amounts of government
regulation. These proposals, for example, recommend legalizing some, but not all,
types of currently banned drugs; restricting the sale of drugs to minors, similar to
those currently placed on tobacco products and alcohol in many countries; or
restricting the locations and types of vendors that would be allowed to sell drugs.
Proponents of drug legalization suggest that removing current sanctions against
the drug trade could improve the political and social stability of producer countries.
The Economist argues that legalizing drugs could undercut powerful drug traffickers
who threaten state stability and corrupt political institutions, as it reportedly has in
Mexico and Colombia, and could eliminate use of the illicit drug trade as a source
of revenue for certain regimes, including North Korea.82 In addition, some argue that
legalizing drugs would allow the United States and others to reduce the amount of
resources devoted to eliminating the illicit drug supply through eradication,
interdiction, and other law enforcement efforts.83
Legalizing the trade in substances currently proscribed by the international drug
control regime would involve removing them from the U.N. lists of controlled
substances. One such effort is currently led by the Bolivian government with regard
to coca leaf, which is listed as a controlled narcotic drug by the United Nations, along
with heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and others that are considered to be “liable to abuse”
and “productive of ill effects.”84 Proponents of this move argue that coca leaf has
been an integral part of Bolivian culture, especially for many of the country’s
indigenous people, for generations and the option of exporting coca leaf
internationally could provide a new, licit source of income to Bolivian peasants. The
leaves are often chewed or consumed in teas and reportedly serve as a mild stimulant,
an appetite suppressant, and an herbal remedy to altitude sickness, among other
uses.85 International debate continues to surround the justifications for including
coca leaf as a narcotic drug.86 Proponents argue that consumption of coca leaf is not
addictive or harmful to public health. They also claim that the original decision to
list coca leaf may have been politically motivated and the consequence of ethnic
82 “The Case for Legalising Drugs: Time for a Puff of Sanity,” The Economist, July 28,
83 See, for example, Paul Stares, “Drug Legalization: Time for a Real Debate,” Brookings
Review, March 1996, Vol. 14, No. 2.
84 Article 49 of the 1961 Convention gave countries practicing coca leaf chewing 25 years
following the Convention’s entry into force to abolish coca leaf chewing.
85 See, for example, “Bolivia Could Put Coca Leaves on Coat of Arms,” Reuters, March 14,
86 For a short summary, see Francisco E. Thoumi, “A Modest Proposal to Clarify the Status
of Coca in the United Nations Conventions,” Crime, Law, and Social Change, Vol. 42,
Others, including the Administration, argue that coca leaf should remain on the
U.N. list of banned substances.87 As early as 1952, the World Health Organization
(WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence concluded that coca chewing “must
be defined and treated as an addiction, in spite of the occasional absence of some of
those characteristics.”88 In 1993, the WHO Expert Committee revisited coca leaf and
reported that it should remain internationally controlled because cocaine is “readily
extractable” from coca leaf.89 In 2006, the Bolivian government requested another
review of coca leaf by the WHO Expert Committee, which has not yet been
completed. In the meantime, the INCB’s 2007 annual report calls for Bolivia and
Peru to abolish and prohibit coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea (mate
de coca) and other products containing coca alkaloids for domestic use and export.90
Successive U.S. administrations have remained steadfast against such
legalization policy proposals. According to the DEA, legalization could lead to
several negative consequences that may outweigh many of the positive effects.91
These include the possibility that legalization could increase the demand, abuse, and
addiction stemming from an increased availability and access to potentially harmful
drugs. Further, legalization may reduce the perception of the social and health risks
and costs associated with drug abuse. Others have also raised concerns about the
potentially complex array of regulatory questions and legislative challenges that may
arise from a decision to legalize drugs.92 Such concerns may be especially relevant
to less-developed countries with limited institutional capabilities, which would likely
face significant challenges and resource constraints with regulating a legalized drug
trade. No legislative proposals have been introduced to advocate the legalization of
controlled substances both domestically and internationally. Some Members of
Congress, however, have at various times expressed interest in exploring legalization
options.93 Congress has occasionally played a role in evaluating such considerations
87 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR.
88 World Health Organization, WHO Expert Committee on Drugs Liable to Produce
Addiction, Third Report, Technical Series Report No. 57, at [http://whqlibdoc.who.int/trs/
89 World Health Organization, WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Twenty-Eight
Report, Technical Series Report No. 836, at [http://whqlibdoc.who.int/trs/WHO_TRS_
90 INCB, Report for 2007, pp. 37-38.
91 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), FY2008
Performance Budget, Congressional Budget Submission, p. 22, at [http://www.usdoj.gov/
j md/2008j ustification/pdf/35_dea.pdf].
92 Among the most basic questions are those about which types of drugs would be legalized,
where they would be allowed to be sold, and whether drug production and sales would be
under government or private control. Regulatory questions also arise, including what types
of quality control and drug safety precautions on use would be implemented, how would
quality and safety standards be monitored and enforced, whether production and sale of
drugs would be taxed, and what types of penalties would follow in cases of regulatory
93 See, for example, statements by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL)
through oversight of agencies involved in carrying out international drug control
policy and hearings.94
Decriminalize Illegal Drugs. Several countries in Europe, including the95
Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal, have supported efforts to decriminalize drugs.
In contrast to drug legalization schemes, drugs remain illegal while criminal penalties
associated with drug use and sale are reduced or removed in certain circumstances.
The 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances obligates signatory parties to criminalize the production, sale, transport,
and cultivation of these substances, including the profits from drug-related activity.
However, the Convention also allows for states to use their own discretion in dealing
with lower-level offenses. Specifically, it states that in “appropriate cases of a minor
nature” it is left to the discretion of member states to provide “as alternatives to
conviction or punishment” measures such as education, rehabilitation, social
reintegration, drug treatment, and aftercare. Further, none of the U.N. drug control
agreements prevent a state from applying more strict or severe measures if it
considers them desirable or necessary.
Proponents of decriminalization argue that it is a novel policy solution that
should be considered as an alternative to what many consider strictly prohibitionist
policies. Some proponents also argue that decriminalization of small-scale and less-
severe drug trafficking or drug use cases is a logical cost-benefit decision that can
help countries with limited resources to concentrate on combating higher-level
offenders and traffickers. Critics remain concerned that decriminalization could
provide welcome loopholes for traffickers who could avoid penalties for possession
and distribution of illegal drugs if caught. Countries that have experimented with96
decriminalization policies, however, reveal mixed results. Further, the wide
variance in criminalization policies across countries has reportedly been a source of
tension and confusion between countries and could hamper international cooperation
for drug control.97
in House Government Reform Committee Hearing on Heroin Crisis, December 12, 2002.
94 The most recent hearing on drug legalization policy options occurred in 1999. See House
Government Reform Criminal Justice Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Drug Policy, June
16, 1999. More recently, Members occasionally ask questions related to drug legalization
during other hearings on subjects related to drug control policy. See, for example, House
Government Reform Committee Hearing on Heroin Crisis, December 12, 2002.
95 In the United States, some state and local governments have also chosen to decriminalize
some types of illegal drug activities. For such a discussion related to marijuana, see CRS
Report RL33211, Medical Marijuana: Review and Analysis of Federal and State Policies,
by Mark Eddy.
96 Robert J. MacCoun and Peter Reuter, “Does Europe Do It Better?” in Drug War
Deadlock: The Policy Battle Continues, Laura E. Huggins, ed. (Stanford, CA: Hoover Press,
97 INCB and Caroline Chatwin, “Drug Policy Developments within the European Union:
The Destabilizing Effects of Dutch and Swedish Drug Policies,” The British Journal of
Criminology, Summer 2003, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 567-582.
Allow Government-Supervised Drug Use for Addicts. Some analysts
urge policy makers to shift drug policy efforts toward a focus on public health and
harm reduction and less of a focus on law enforcement. Such efforts focus on
reducing the public health consequences of drug use and include needle exchange
programs and government-sponsored injection rooms. Drug injection rooms, or
“maintenance clinics,” have existed in several countries, including Canada,
Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. They have provided certain addicts with drugs
or clean needles on a regular basis. Some of the same countries also provide free
testing of drugs for purity and potentially deadly contaminants.
A major impetus for such a policy approach began with concerns about the
spread of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users in the 1980s, which raised
attention to the health issues related to drug use. According to advocates of this
approach, complete eradication of drugs from society is unrealistic and a better
approach would be to focus on containing the damage caused by drugs.
Nevertheless, government-supervised drug use programs exist in contravention to
U.N. international drug control agreements, which obligates parties to ensure that
drug use and trade are limited to scientific and medical purposes only. The INCB
regularly urges those countries that maintain drug injection facilities to discontinue
their operation.98 Others remain concerned that these facilities could encourage
increased levels of drug use and potentially make drug use more socially acceptable.
Some studies on the effects of drug injection facilities, however, offer some tentative,99
but promising indications of positive results. According to one drug injection clinic
trial study in Switzerland, for example, researchers reported that the crime rate and100
the unemployment rate among its patients dropped over the course of treatment.
Expand International Criminal Court Jurisdiction
Some observers argue that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should101
expand its jurisdiction to include drug trafficking crimes. Currently, ICC
jurisdiction is limited to the “most serious crimes of concern to the international
community as a whole” and encompasses four areas: (1) genocide, (2) crimes against
humanity, (3) war crimes, and (4) crimes of aggression. Proponents of expanding the
ICC’s jurisdiction argue that the current international narcotics control regime is
evidence to the claim that a unified, international response to drug trafficking is
required, and that establishing an international venue where transnational drug crimes
98 INCB, 2007 Report.
99 See, for example, European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, European
Report on Drug Consumption Rooms, 2004, at [http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/attachements.
100 Cited in MacCoun and Reuter, who also note that this study reportedly garnered some
criticism for methodological weaknesses.
101 Notably, the United States is not party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court. Although President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute on December 31, 2000, no
administration has submitted the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent for
ratification. See also CRS Report RL31437, International Criminal Court: Overview and
Selected Legal Issues, by Jennifer Elsea.
can be prosecuted is a logical extension of international drug control policy.
Currently, prosecution of international drug trafficking charges is negotiated between
countries through bilateral and multilateral agreements, including extradition treaties.
Some argue that these agreements leave many legal loopholes and opportunities for
sophisticated traffickers to shift their trafficking routes and seek shelter in countries
with weak law enforcement and an unwillingness to extradite.102
Debate over the appropriateness of including drug trafficking as part of the ICC
jurisdiction dates back to the ICC’s origins. Though drug trafficking is not included
in the ICC’s current jurisdiction, trafficking was included in the original draft
statute.103 The Senate, in the 100th Congress, expressed support of the possibility of
“establishing an international criminal court to expedite cases regarding the
prosecution of persons accused of having engaged in international drug
trafficking.”104 Since then, various Members of Congress have sponsored failed
efforts to both support and criticize the ICC.105 Critics of the inclusion of drug
trafficking as part of the ICC’s jurisdiction argue that the current system of bilateral
and multilateral agreements is adequate for prosecuting international drug trafficking
cases and that it would be inappropriate for the ICC to take jurisdiction because drug
trafficking is not universally considered a serious crime of international concern.
Further, critics argue that the potentially large number of transnational drug
violations could overwhelm the ICC’s capacity to prosecute effectively. The issue
of including or excluding drug trafficking as part of the ICC may be revisited in
2009. As required by the Rome Statute that established the ICC, a review conference
to consider amendments to the treaty is to take place in 2009.
Policy Issues and Considerations
Unintended Consequences of Current Efforts
Many analysts compare international counternarcotics efforts to squeezing a
balloon: squeeze it in one place and it bulges out elsewhere.106 Some experts caution
that as the United States and other countries place pressure on a certain major drug
102 Molly McConville, “A Global War on Drugs: Why the United States Should Support the
Prosecution of Drug Traffickers in the International Criminal Court,” American Criminal
Law Review, Vol. 37, 2000, p. 81.
103 Report of the Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal
Court, U.N. Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an
International Criminal Court, A/CONF.183/2/Add.1, April 14, 1998, p. 29.
104 Section 4108 of the International Narcotics Control Act of 1988 (Title IV of the Anti-
Drug Abuse Act of 1988; P.L. 100-690), repealed in Section 6(e) of the International
Narcotics Control Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-582).
105 See, for example H.J.Res. 89 in the 105th Congress, H.R. 2381 in the 106th Congress, and
H.Con.Res. 23 in the 107th Congress.
106 See for example, “Troublesome Boomerang: Illicit Drug Policy and Security,” Security
Dialogue, Vol. 28, No. 3, 1997, p. 294.
source or trafficking zones, traffickers will likely adapt by changing routes and
exploiting other paths of less resistance.107
Most recently, some observers are claiming that successful pressure against
Colombia cartels in the 1990s, which was expected to reduce the movement of
cocaine into the United States, has instead caused the unintended consequence of
strengthening Mexican drug trafficking organizations along the U.S. Southwest
border without affecting the overall availability of cocaine in the United States.108
During the 1990s, two of the primary Colombian cocaine cartels, the Medellin and
Cali Cartels, controlled or influenced as much as 70% of cocaine shipped into North
America; now Mexican cartels control approximately 90%.109 Following their
successful disruption, remnants of these two Colombian cartels retreated from the
drug trafficking business to focus on cocaine production, while handing over much
of the responsibility for trafficking cocaine and other drugs into the United States to
Some now say that recent U.S. and Mexican pressure against the Mexican
cartels is sparking turf rivalries between several major Mexican drug trafficking
organizations.110 These battles for control are reportedly the source of huge spikes
in violence and murder along the U.S. Southwest border. As international pressure
continues to target Mexican cartels, observers are already questioning where the drug
trade “balloon” will bulge out next. Some suggest that drug flows to the United
States will shift eastward toward the Carribean, with Venezuela playing a larger role
as a transit point.111 Already, the State Department finds that drug smuggling flights
from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, presumably in transit to the
United States, increased 167% in 2006 and 38% in 2007.112 Some also suggest that
cocaine flows may also further shift toward Europe, with Brazil as a transit point.
107 For a discussion of another example, the displacement of the illegal drug industry from
Peru to Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, see Cornelius Friesendorf, “Squeezing
the Balloon?” Crime, Law, and Social Change, Vol. 44, 2005, pp. 35-78.
108 Antonio Nicaso and Lee Lamothe, Angels, Mobsters, and Narco-Terrorists: The Rising
Menace of Global Criminal Empires (Ontario, Canada: John Wiley and Sons, 2005), p. 196;
Adam Isacson, “The U.S. Military in the War on Drugs,” in Drugs and Democracy in Latin
America, edited by Coletta A. Youngers and Eileen Rosin, (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner
Publishers, 2005), p. 45. Isacson further describes another consequences of the successful
disruption of the Medellin and Cali cartels: the emergence of more than 100 “cartelitos” or
baby cartels and new, dispersed networks of drug traffickers that arose in place of the large
criminal organizations and which are arguably more difficult to target by law enforcement
109 Nicaso and Lamothe, p. 197.
110 See CRS Report RL34215, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, by Colleen W. Cook.
111 Juan Forero, “Venezuela Steps Up Efforts to Thwart Cocaine Traffic,” Washington Post,
April 7, 2008.
112 Tom Brown, “Dominican Republic Sees Surge in Drug Smuggling,” Reuters News, May
In the opium and heroin trade, some analysts foresee a potential for international
pressure against Afghanistan’s illicit drug trade to shift eventually to other countries
in the region. Chief among the potential replacements could be Burma and Pakistan,
which the UNODC lists as the second- and third-largest sources of potential opium
production in 2006, after Afghanistan.113
To stem potential unintended consequences, some argue that international
counternarcotics efforts should begin preventive action in countries at most risk to
be exploited by the drug trade in the near future. Such preventative action, in this
view, could include expanding foreign assistance geared toward institutional capacity
building, law enforcement training, and anti-corruption and judicial reform efforts.
As resources for foreign assistance remain finite among donor nations, however,
some acknowledge that policy makers may have difficulty prioritizing limited funds
to countries that are currently in crisis.
Potential Conflicts of Interest
U.S. foreign policy goals sometimes contradict U.S. counternarcotics policy
goals. By the same token, U.S. counternarcotics policy goals sometimes complicate
other U.S. foreign policy goals. Such decisions result from a natural weighing of
foreign policy priorities that are inevitable in a complex reality of conflicting
interests. The following section describes and evaluates foreign policy issues that
some argue are at odds with counternarcotics policies.
Iran. The U.S. government maintains a policy of having no direct contact with
the government of Iran. Nevertheless, Iran is saddled with a drug use and trafficking
problem that many say could have lasting societal consequences and affect U.S.
counterdrug interests. Sharing a long, porous border with Afghanistan, Iran is a
major transit route for drugs smuggled out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. According
to the UNODC, as much as 90% of Afghanistan’s opium may be trafficked through
Iran. Iran is also a major destination for synthetic drugs manufactured in Europe or
domestically. Some anecdotal reports further indicate that local cultivation of opium
poppy crops may be resuming after years of negligible production in some parts of114
the country. In recent years, domestic drug use is also reportedly affecting public
health in Iran, inciting a spike in HIV/AIDS trends and an increasing drug
113 U.S. government opium production estimates differ from those of UNODC. While both
the United States and UNODC agree that Burma is the second-largest source of opium
production, U.S. estimates indicate that Mexico is third. Notably, Mexico is not included
in UNODC estimates for 2006 because the government of Mexico reports that “it can
neither provide cultivation estimates nor endorse those published by UNODC, which are
derived from US Government surveys.” See UNODC, 2007 World Drug Report, p.40, at
[http://www.unodc.org/ unodc/en/data-a nd-analys is/WDR-2007.html ].
114 “Iran’s Drug Problem,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2, 2007; U.S. Department
of State, 2008 INCSR, p. 569.
addiction.115 Iran also claims that more than 3,500 Iranian law enforcement
personnel have died in clashes with drug smugglers over the past two decades.116
Although the State Department reports that “Iran and the United States have
expressed similar viewpoints on illicit drugs,” U.S. interest in assisting Iran to
combat its drug trafficking and use problem appears to be largely overshadowed by
several other national security issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and military
assistance to armed groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Palestinian group Hamas, and
the Lebanese group Hezbollah.117 Because of these other, arguably higher-priority,
national security issues, the U.S. government maintains no direct relations with Iran
and does not participate in bilateral counternarcotics initiatives with Iran. Some have
criticized this approach, urging the United States to provide some forms of
counternarcotics assistance to Iran, as other countries, including Italy, Turkey, the
United Kingdom, and France, have done.118 Others argue that U.S. (proxied by
Swiss) participation with Iran in the United Nations’ multilateral Paris Pact group,
which aims to facilitate regional cooperation against narcotics trafficking, and U.S.
approval of licenses to allow U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to work
on drug issues in Iran is sufficient.
Free Trade. Globalization, characterized by reduced trade barriers and greater
access to international markets, may not only result in intended trade and economic
benefits, it may also have certain unintended consequences. Some analysts argue that
one of these consequences is improved access for illicit actors, including drug
trafficking organizations, to move their illicit products across borders. These analysts
claim, at the very least, that the vast volumes of imports daily flowing in and out of
sea, air, and land entry facilities around the world make international drug control
more challenging. Other analysts argue that greater international trade flows, and
their attendant economic growth opportunities, can provide an incentive for illicit
drug producers and traffickers to shift away from dependence on illegal drugs by
supporting legitimate economic activities. Tension between these two points of view
continues to exist among certain U.S. policy makers, including some Members of
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),119 which has been in
effect since 1994, is one such point of contention. Some policy makers claim that it
is facilitating illicit drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexican border. One pending billth
in the 110 Congress, the NAFTA Accountability Act (H.R. 4329), finds that
“NAFTA has allowed the increased flow of illegal drugs and controlled substances
115 Lionel Beehner, “Afghanistan’s Role in Iran’s Drug Problem,” Council on Foreign
Relations Backgrounder, September 14, 2006.
116 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR.
117 U.S. Department of State, 2008 INCSR.
118 “Iran’s Drug Problem,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2, 2007.
119 Available at [http://www.nafta-sec-alena.org/DefaultSite/index_e.aspx?DetailID=78].
into the United States from Mexico at accelerated rates.”120 The bill calls for
conditioning future U.S. participation in NAFTA on certification to Congress by the
U.S. Attorney General that increased imports from NAFTA member countries are not
resulting in increased illegal drugs and other controlled substances.121 In December
By contrast, the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) and its
replacement, the 2002 Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act
(ATPDEA),122 as amended, have offered trade benefits to help drug producing
countries in the Andes region combat drug production and trafficking by developing
and strengthening legitimate industries.123 The ATPDEA, which remains in effect
but is set to expire on December 31, 2008, exempts some 6,300 Andean products
from U.S. import tariffs. According to the 2007 report to Congress on the operation
of ATPDEA, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative found that ATPDEA
“continues to have a positive (albeit small and indirect) effect on drug-crop
eradication and crop substitution, as well as job growth in export-oriented industries,
in the Andean region.”124
The War on Terror. Many observers, including some U.S. officials,
acknowledge that what the Bush Administration terms the “Global War on Terror”
in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has supplanted the so-called
War on Drugs as a top U.S. foreign policy priority. For example, the DEA FY2008
congressional budget submission stated that:
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, DOJ and other federal agencies
redirected resources from fighting drugs to combating terrorism and improving
national security. As a result, additional resources are required for drug
enforcement operations, including intelligence and other investigative support,
to maintain the momentum of the Federal government’s drug enforcement125
Others argue that overall counterdrug resources have expanded since 2001, and
that Congress has been especially active in providing new authorities to fight a
combined war against drugs and terror. Among these new authorities include (1)
DOD’s global authority to provide counterterrorism support to law enforcement
personnel who are also conducting counternarcotics activities;126 (2) DEA’s authority
to pursue drug traffickers who are also terrorists or are providing funding for
120 Section 2.
121 Section 3(7).
122 19 U.S.C. 3201 et seq.
123 Countries are Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
124 Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Third Report to Congress on the Operation of
the Andean Trade Preference Act as Amended, April 30, 2007, p. 5, at
[http://www.ustr.gov/a s s e t s / T r a d e _ D e velopment/Preference_Programs /AT PA/ asset_
upload_file186_11132.pdf]. Note that quotes are in original.
125 DOJ, DEA, FY2008 Performance Budget, Congressional Budget Submission, p. 21.
126 Sec. 1022, P.L. 108-136 (2003).
terrorists, regardless of whether the drugs are destined for the United States or not;127
and (3) the Department of the Treasury’s enhanced set of regulatory restrictions
against foreign jurisdictions, foreign financial institutions, and certain classes of
financial transactions involving foreign jurisdictions to combat money laundering.128
Some, however, find that efforts against the illicit drug trade and
counterterrorism are at times in conflict. This has especially been raised as a concern
in Afghanistan, where insurgent groups and drug trafficking groups often overlap.
Some observers explain that U.S. and allied counterinsurgency actors are placed in
a dilemma when their informants also happen to be known drug traffickers or
actively involved in the drug trade. U.S. pursuit of counterterrorism and
counterinsurgency objectives at the expense of counternarcotics goals, some say, may
inherently exacerbate illicit drug trade.
Substate Conflicts. Efforts to reduce production of illicit narcotics at the
source are sometimes 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 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. As a result, some say that standard narcotics129
policies are likely to “underperform in places with weak governance and conflict.”
In the case of Colombia, some critics have argued that counternarcotics efforts,
especially aerial eradication campaigns, can have the unintended effect of
aggravating the country’s ongoing civil conflict. Because 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 political unrest.
Poverty Alleviation. According to the Administration’s 2006 National
Security Strategy (NSS), “helping the world’s poor is a strategic and moral
127 USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-177), which
amends the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 at 31 U.S.C. 5318A.
128 International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001,
Title III of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-56).
129 Rubin and Guaqueta, p. 4.
imperative.”130 Further, the 2006 NSS states that development “reinforces” U.S.
efforts to combat national security threats, and since 2002, the Bush Administration
has committed the United States to the goal of doubling the size of the world’s
poorest economies within a decade.131 Some analysts, however, argue that current
international drug control reduction campaigns may be at odds with the
Administration’s anti-poverty commitments. 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 crop reduction
programs in low-income countries could lead to greater poverty, especially if
substitute incomes are not readily available to those whose income depends on drug
130 National Security Council, National Security Strategy of the United States of America,
131 National Security Council, National Security Strategy of the United States of America,