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US Government Approach to Defeat Transnational Crime

Updated on December 30, 2014

Main Global Cocaine Flows, 2008


The President & DOD's Strategy Defined

The US President created a policy named The President’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. It is designed to disrupt and defeat transnational organized crime abroad, but also describes the importance of taking an inward approach to reduce the transnational threat and drug abuse within the United States, which will curb Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) abroad (White House, 2011). The President’s strategy outlines six policy objectives that are designed to thwart TOC within the United States such as improving intelligence collaboration, safeguarding economic infrastructure and institutions, enhance policing and judiciary elements, interdict narcotics traffickers, and build alliances and partnerships abroad (White House, 2011). Similarly, the Department of Defense’s Counternarcotics and Global Threats Strategy is in synch with the President’s overall national strategy to thwart transnational organized crime. The Department of Defense strategy places a stronger emphasis on international counter narcotics initiatives, while supporting U.S. national security interests. The counter narcotics strategy consists of three primary goals and numerous objectives for defeating or disrupting illegal trafficking that is known to facilitate corruption, terrorism, and fund global insurgencies (DOD, 2011). This strategy is designed to build “a whole of government “ approach that integrates Middle Eastern and Latin American nations to partner in the defeat of transnational organized crime by enhancing law enforcement capabilities, strengthening foreign counter narcotics programs, and improving US relations with transit and source nations (DOD, 2011). This approach intends to assist US and foreign counter narcotics efforts to disrupt transnational criminal networks, government corruption, and terrorism.

What is the Most Significant Transnational Threat?

The most significant transnational threat is the narcotics trade. The production, distribution, and trafficking of narcotic drugs significantly impacts the well being of the international community and produces extensive economic, political, and security ramifications that destabilizes society and the success of legitimate industries. To sustain operations, narcotics traffickers are known to work within organized crime rings and share tactics with terrorists (Picarelli, 2006). These various crime groups have evolved over time and have formed a “marriage of convenience” to support their overall goals and objectives (Picarelli, 2006). Narcotics trafficking is the primary source of income for many terrorist organizations and organized crime rings, which provides them with adequate resources and funding to sustain illicit businesses or terrorist activities. The drug trade financially supports these two crime groups on an international scale. The narcotics trade poses a significant threat to U.S. national security interests because of its links to transnational organized crime and terrorism and is further exacerbated by open trade and globalization (Swanson, 2006).

Ramifications of the Drug Trade

Narcotic trafficking abroad is very problematic for the stability of the United States because the source and transit countries continue to fuel the demand for illicit drugs within the U.S. (Swanson, 2006). The formation of organized drug cartels throughout Colombia and Peru was a result of intensive US drug interdiction and drug control policies that caused the Medellin and Cali cartels to increase networking and form organized drug rings (Kenney, 2007). The narcotic trade continues to ensue violence, instability, fund insurgencies and promote corruption as drug traffickers pursue violent means to thwart interdiction efforts and quell law enforcement and government measures to disrupt drug operations (Kleiman, 2004). In Colombia, the Medellin and Cali Cartels used the drug trade to gain a substantial amount of profit and perpetuated its existence using violence and intimidation to secure the drug trade (Willoughby, 2003). Pablo Escobar, kingpin of the Medellin Cartel, conducted horrendous, violent killings such as attacking the Palace of Justice and bombing an Airliner that killed a combined total of 197 people (Willoughby, 2003). These cartels were known for trafficking large amounts of cocaine into the United States, since the demand for drugs continued to rise (Swanson, 2006). Once the Cali and Medellin cartels were defeated, revolutionary elements began to emerge such as the FARC, which created a complex insurgent army that coveted the drug trade in order to finance its revolution (Willoughby, 2003). The Colombian drug trade represents a prominent example of how narcotics trafficking can cause political instability throughout a nation. Not only can drug trafficking stimulate political strife, but it also can facilitate economic ramifications. For example in Mexico, the narcotic money that flows into the country has caused Mexico’s economy to depend on narco-dollars to sustain economic growth. Narcotic trafficking in Mexico brings in about 28 billion dollars of revenue (Willoughby, 2003). Throughout most of Latin America, the countries are heavily dependent on the drug trade to sustain their economic well being. A reliance on drug trafficking and narco-dollars perpetuates an environment conducive to such illegal activities and creates a never-ending cycle of dependence on the drug trade, which makes it harder to reverse (Marcy, 2010).

Drug Trafficking Routes


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Recommended Policy Change: Implementing a Stronger Demand Side Approach

The DOD Counternarcotics Strategy is built around a supply side approach comprised of interdiction, targeting key members of narcotic organizations, and eradication in an effort to reduce drug trafficking on a global scale (DOD, 2011). Over the past 40 years, US international drug control policies have taken a supply side approach by primarily targeting the source countries with evasive military and interdiction tactics that failed to reduce the growth of narcotic drugs and ultimately perpetuated economic and political upheaval as well as drug violence and extensive human rights abuse (Marcy, 2010).

A recommended policy change that would hinder the narcotics trade is enforcing a stronger demand side approach that focuses on reducing the amount of drug abusers throughout the US and the globe, using treatment facilities, “drug courts, or testing-and-sanctions programs” in an effort to lessen the consumption market (Kleiman, 2004). The United States should implement a whole of government approach to reduce the demand for narcotic drugs rather than a supply strategy, which would reduce drug abusers, the prevalence of drugs, and curb narcotic funding at home and abroad that could be used to finance drug criminals or extremist networks. In Mexico, the US decided to help with its demand reduction efforts, which allowed addicts to seek treatment in medical facilities instead of being prosecuted and put in jail for a drug offense, but unfortunately when President Bush took office US drug control policies shifted (Boddiger, 2011). By 2008, the US and Mexico established the Merida Initiative, which was a 400 million dollar program to assist Mexico and Central America to defeat the drug cartels. The US only allocated 11 million dollars for demand reduction efforts throughout Mexico (Boddiger, 2011). Once President Calderon took office, his administration authorized the use of seized drug money to fund narcotic treatment facilities and programs. Due to Mexico’s demand reduction efforts, Mexico has established between 1300 and 1730 drug treatment clinics to reduce drug consumption throughout the country (Boddiger, 2011). Mexico’s drug addiction is equivalent to .4 percent of the entire population, which is significantly lower than the other North American and Latin American countries (Castaneda, 2010). According to Castaneda (2010), the U.S. demand for drugs has not decreased over the years and will likely not change because the United States does not believe demand reduction is worth the expense.

Advantages of Curbing the Narcotics Demand

Shifting toward a demand side approach in U.S. drug control policy is an important strategy that could greatly curb drug trafficking abroad. The US continues to have the largest demand for narcotic drugs across the globe (Boddiger, 2010). Statistics in a National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that 8.9 percent of the population are drug abusers (U.S. Senate, 2012). If the United States can reduce drug abuse within its own borders, it can decrease the spread of drug trafficking operations abroad as well as lessen the likelihood for violence, corruption, and terrorism risks (U.S. Senate, 2012). The U.S. needs to increase its involvement in demand reduction programs and should establish and integrate drug programs into the criminal justice system for repeat drug offenders. Hawaii has established a new program called the HOPE program for drug abusers on probation (U.S. Senate, 2012). The probationers are subjected to random drug testing to keep them in line with U.S. drug policies. The HOPE program conducted a yearlong survey comparing probationers from the HOPE program to a control group. The survey concluded that only 13 percent of drug offenders in the HOPE program used drugs and 46 percent of the control group used drugs (U.S. Senate, 2012). More of these programs need to be integrated into the U.S. criminal justice system due to the reduced rate of recidivism seen in the HOPE program.

Decreasing the narcotic demand within the United States is vital, since narcotics trafficking can produce political and economical turmoil that facilitates violence, instability and threatens the security of the U.S. Another way to reduce such high demand for drugs is to increase the prevalence of drug courts within the United States. Drug courts are designed to combine assistance from social services, probation, behavioral health, and drug treatment centers to assist drug offenders with treatment, recovery, and transform them into good citizens (U.S. Senate, 2012). According to a survey from 2006 and a GAO report, 78 percent of drug courts were found to lower crime rates and membership in the drug court initiative has revealed lower recidivism rates (U.S. Senate, 2012).

Conclusive Remarks

Enforcing demand reduction efforts at home rather than extensive supply drug control policies will likely shrink the consumption market and curb drug trafficking efforts and funding on a global level. In the President’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, President Obama does emphasize the importance of reducing demand at home to aide the global initiative, but the bulk of his drug control policies as well as DOD’s target the supply countries and interdiction efforts. The establishment of drug treatment facilities have proven to decrease drug abuse by half and reduce overall illegal activities by 80 percent as well as lower apprehensions by 64 percent (U.S. Senate, 2012).


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