What a Better "War on Drugs" Could Look Like

The Merida Initiative, a 3-year, $1.4 billion counternarcotics aid package, is the US's current program of assistance to combat the drug-fueled violence that has turned Mexico into a war zone. It tries to help Mexico take the offensive and win the fight against the powerful drug cartels by strengthening the Mexican police and military. That is the same sort of strategy as is Plan Columbia, a strategy reaffirmed by Bush in the 2008 National Drug Control Strategy.

However, the Merida Initiative won't likely have a meaningful, long-term impact in restraining the drug trade and drug-related violence as it is currently set up, according to a paper published by the US Army War College entitled "Mexico's Narco-Insurgency and U.S. Counterdrug Policy." Because it focuses primarily on security, enforcement, and drug prohibition issues, the Merida Initiative fails to give adequate attention to the deeper structural problems that fuel the situation.

Those problems include

* official corruption,
* widespread poverty and inequality,
* weak governance,
* high demand for illegal narcotics in the United States, and
* the flow of illicit arms across the U.S. border into Mexico.

Because these factors have frustrated Mexican attempts to rein in the cartels so far, it's quite likely that they will also limit the effectiveness of the Merida Initiative.

To make U.S. counternarcotics policy fully effective, it is absolutely necessary, the study says, to create a more holistic and better-integrated approach to the "war on drugs." This would go beyond the politically popular aspects of counternarcotics-like drug prohibitions--and attend to the root issues: honing in on more controversial issues like guns and the US demand for street drugs.

The focus needs to include

* anti-corruption initiatives,
* economic and social development,
* institution building, and
* efforts to restrict U.S. domestic demand and lessen illicit arms trafficking into Mexico.

Because international drug trade is so entrenched, even a "perfect" counternarcotics strategy will not work in the short-run. Results will be seen only on a long-term basis.

Summary of the paper: "Mexico's Narco-Insurgency and U.S. Counterdrug Policy"

Author: Hal Brands. You can download the PDA of the paper here.


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