Drug markets, security and foreign aid

Originally published in September 2013screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-12-10-51

Key Points:

Through the delivery of aid, some countries have tried to export their preferred drug control policies and have leveraged the recipients’ need for aid to influence their policy approach.

The approaches adopted in many aid agreements seem to be insulated from the advances in the global debate about alternative drug policies and harm reduction and remains heavily focused on law enforcement.

Counter-narcotics aid can become a tool to divert attention from ineffective domestic strategies, and to refocus international attention towards the challenges faced by drug producer and transit countries.

Even if aid projects benefitting drug law enforcement were continuously effective, it would not prevent a shift or adaptation of the drug market, and it would not decrease demand in consumer countries.

The negative consequences of the aid investment in traditional drug policies, such as displacement (the so-called the balloon effect), the fragmentation of drug trafficking organisations, and turf wars, have increased levels of violence in some countries, while not substantially affecting drug supply.

The investment in foreign aid for fighting the drug market and reducing violence in other countries is, at times, a difficult measure to explain to voters: the line between an investment in security and reckless spending is a fine one in the public eye.

While long-term measures, such as prevention (including institution building, social programmes and public health measures), and harm reduction- market management, tend to be cheaper and are arguably more sustainable and beneficial over time, short- term measures, such as a traditional law enforcement dominated supply reduction approach, has a more immediate and easily quantifiable impact and is therefore politically attractive.

Policy makers need to go beyond their focus on drug law enforcement and consider holistic approaches to supply reduction policies, particularly in the realms of social policy, public health, and justice.

To increase the effectiveness of aid, donors should improve the absorption of funds by carefully selecting appropriate recipients and strengthening aid distribution structures in the recipient country.