Transnational Drug Trafficking and Crime Impedes Sustainable Development

This past week at the United Nations, a series of discussions were held to assess the current state of illicit drug trafficking and crime and international efforts in combating it. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the main body that oversees the UN’s international efforts at stopping drug trafficking and criminal activities. At a General Assembly high-level meeting on the issue and its impact on sustainable development held on June 26th, the UNODC released its 2012 World Drug Report. The report showed that global opiate production remains high, although drug use in parts of Europe and North America appear largely stable or shrinking. In Afghanistan, opium production is higher than previous levels and synthetic drug production has been on the rise.

Overall, for the past decade drug trafficking around the world has seen a significant increase. The illicit drug market and organized crime are a huge threat to international peace and security. Yet much of the efforts undertaken to combat these threats for the past 50 years have not been able to yield positive results, including preventing the increase in the long-term trend of drug supply and use. Profits from drug trafficking fuel illegal criminal activities and undermine human rights and the rule of law. These issues pose a grave challenge to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, making overcoming the obstacles of poverty, climate change, gender inequality, HIV/AIDS, food insecurity, disarmament, and so on ever harder to achieve.

Criminal networks exploit developing countries and, as a result, corruption is the natural outflow. And with that, the money lost to corruption is money denied to those who need it most: women, children, education, health care, etc. Transnational crimes are a threat to sustainable development and a number of fragile developing countries possess a number of vulnerabilities to drugs and crime. The problem continues to grow in many developing countries around the world.

For example, in Guatemala drug trafficking has been a significant impediment to its development. Guatemala remains an important transit route between the largest producer and biggest consumer markets in the world. Reporting to the General Assembly on the 26th, Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Harold Caballeros, stated, “40% of the people who die in Guatemala are victims of violence, in a high proportion related to drug trafficking.” In addition, Guatemala has seen a rise in local drug consumption. The country has devoted a large amount of national resources to fight drug trafficking yet the effort has been insufficient. Mr. Caballeros also highlighted that Guatemala faces a number of other challenges such as poverty, health, education and developing infrastructure. 

The United States absorbs about 40% of cocaine production in the world. Many Americans believe that the U.S. is failing in the “war on drugs.” However, drugs are not simply a domestic problem. It’s clearly a global issue that is highly interconnected and spans across the world. For drug policy to be reformed in the U.S., it must keep in mind that success will occur if efforts are combined to work hand-in-hand with other members states in the international community to combat this growing issue. Effective international cooperation will yield better results.

More research must be conducted to explore alternatives steps to combating drugs, as the current approach has seen negative impact in key areas of development. The issue of transnational drugs and crime should be a top priority in the agenda of many countries around the world. Some solutions may lie in decriminalization, shifting more attention to treatment and prevention, and as Minister Caballeros suggested, creating structural changes aimed at producing work and education options in countries affected by these issues in order to stop the need to traffic and consumer drugs. Further discussions and collaborations are needed to develop more effective methods of combating drugs and crime, as international coordination and action will be better equipped to address these transnational issues.