Toward a New Foreign Policy

By Spencer, Bill; Amatangelo, Gina | Foreign Policy in Focus, February 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

Toward a New Foreign Policy


Spencer, Bill, Amatangelo, Gina, Foreign Policy in Focus


Over the past few years there has been a growing movement in Congress to reform the process and the current Senate initiative is gaining the support of some Members of Congress who have opposed past efforts. Most notable is that Senator Biden (D-DE), one of the original authors of the certification legislation, has stated his intention to support new legislation to reform the process. Even those who continue to be hesitant to promote reform now recognize the need for debate on the issue.

General doubts about the efficacy of unilateral sanctions as a foreign policy tool are also spurring policymakers to consider alternatives to the U.S. certification process. Some had hoped that the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), launched by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organization of American States in 1998, might be seen as a viable alternative to the unilateral process. The MEM is the first multilateral attempt to standardize indicators of progress on drug control efforts, and also provides a forum to share technical expertise in counternarcotics programs. However, the MEM does not sanction those countries that have failed to combat drugs effectively. Consequently, staunch advocates of certification do not regard it as a viable substitute.

The certification process is failing our purposes. Moreover, it does more harm than good. A constructive alternative is needed. Such an alternative would have to meet three requirements.

First, the alternative should create the opportunity for real partnerships with other countries. This would remove a barrier to cooperation on drug control issues and relax the stranglehold of the drug issue on U.S. relations with Latin America.

Measures that develop mutually agreed objectives and design national and international strategies to meet them are badly needed. But such a consensus-building process will inevitably founder if the U.S. continues to impose its rigid supply-side strategy. A truly multilateral approach will never satisfy hard-line drug warriors in the U.S. Congress. But unilateral evaluations and mechanisms, such as the certification process, are neither constructive nor effective.

Second, U.S. policy should emphasize support for programs that stem the corrosive effects of the drug trade on democratic institutions and societies throughout the Western Hemisphere. …

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