International Policy on Illicit Drug Trafficking: The Formal and Informal Mechanisms

Article excerpt

In the last 10 years the world's leading economic powers have driven important changes in international policy on illicit drug trafficking. They have set up and financed semi-formal or informal transnational groups to proactively implement policy on the ground. This is a reaction to the bureaucratic, formal mechanisms of the United Nations and its agencies, where policy is diluted by the need for consensus among 53 member states, plus various regional groupings of other countries. The new groups take a more integrated approach to the problem by going beyond trafficking into countering money laundering and controlling the sale of precursor chemicals, which criminal gangs use to synthesize drugs earlier in the supply chain to reduce the bulk of trafficked materials. The established link between organized transnational crime, drugs, and the financing of terrorism has added impetus to these efforts, but there is still a need for better cooperation on projects and to harmonize the collection of seizure statistics between key international bodies.

INTRODUCTION

Important changes have taken place in international policy on illicit drugs in general and drug trafficking in particular during the last 10 years. Policy is now determined not only by the formal mechanisms of the United Nations and its agencies, but increasingly by semi-formal or informal ones set up by the world's leading economic powers. Their efforts now go beyond trafficking into tighter control of money laundering and the sale of precursor chemicals used to synthesize drugs earlier in the supply chain to reduce the bulk of trafficked materials. The established link between drugs and the financing of terrorism has added impetus to these efforts.

Four formal world international organizations lead the fight against illicit traffic: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Customs Organization (WCO), Interpol (the international police organization), and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). They have been supplemented and to some extent bypassed in recent years by regional players such as Europol, a body of the European Union (EU), which is increasingly concerned with trafficking beyond the EU's borders, and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), which directs its practical assistance to preventing money laundering.

The economically powerful G8 group of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the U.S., and Russia has been financing this shift to drive policy on the ground. This is in part because the formal mechanisms for controlling drug policy have become diluted and blunted as more and more countries have become involved, with 53 of them now sitting on the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Such UN bodies tend to be reactive rather than proactive because the United Nations is inherently a bureaucracy. The inevitable result has been a shift of funding and emphasis by the G8 into more visible, direct action closer to the donors' own interests. And although the new bodies or groupings are called "informal," they have regular formal meetings. Most may not have their own secretariat, but they are not answerable to international authorities. Representatives or delegates report directly to their own governments, bypassing international bodies.

The growing concern of all these organizations to be more effective against trafficking arises from the recognition that "drug trafficking is frequently linked to other serious crimes such as people smuggling, organized prostitution, and traveldocument counterfeiting. It is often cited as a means to finance the most violent and destructive activities of criminal and terrorist organizations because of the major cash benefits derived from relatively minimal time and investment" (Interpol, 2007a, p. 1). The inevitable association with organized crime and terrorism is evident: "Organised crime can exist without drug trafficking but the reverse is not true. …