Organised crime, illicit drugs and state vulnerability

Executive summary:

The power of criminal networks over the international drug economy has been growing in a number of regions, including parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, west Africa, and Russia and Central Asia. The human, social and institutional costs of this phenomenon are immense. The dangers include: the corrosion of vulnerable states as drug money is used to establish control over institutions; the perpetuation of internal conflicts in countries such as Burma and Afghanistan; and a reduction in the authority of international institutions such as the United Nations. This nexus between organised crime, illegal narcotics and the weaker members of the international community is a major problem for states, regions and global governance alike. But to find better ways to address the issue depends on two things: grasping the scale of the failure of the dominant existing prohibitionist model (summarised in the ill-fated notion of a “war on drugs”), and understanding the interrelated dimensions of what is at stake. This was the starting-point of a major workshop held in Oslo in October 2010 under the joint auspices of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre (NOREF) and the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella (UTDT).

In this report on the workshop, Juan Gabriel Tokatlián of the UTDT presents a digest of the key ideas, propositions and conclusions of the international experts who attended the workshop. The discussion voiced criticism of the prevailing approaches to illicit narcotics and concern over the spreading threats to the more vulnerable states in the world order, while seeking new policies that could match the increasing complexity of transnational organised crime. On this basis, the core propositions outlined at the workshop referred to flaws in the international drug regime; the increasing military involvement in drug policy as the issue becomes defined in security terms; violations of human and civil rights as a result of the “war on drugs”; and the hollowing out of institutions as organised crime corrodes or even captures the state.

The recommendations included policies that avoid damaging side-effects and unintended consequences; a wider policy mix that puts social considerations at the centre; new forms of regulation; a focus on peace, sensitivity to local cultures, and the involvement of civil society; and the need for a pragmatic and evidence-based approach. It is hoped that these conclusions will become part of the effort to articulate and implement a shift towards better ways of tackling the major and many-sided aspects of the phenomenon under review.