How Will Trump-Era Foreign Policy Impact International Drug Trafficking Cooperation?

The Trump Administration’s clear and distinct departure from decades-old foreign policy protocol has been the subject of headlines across the globe for the past two weeks. Regardless of where one may fall on the political spectrum, it’s fair to say that many world leaders are re-examining their relationship with the United States and wondering what the next four years might bring. In the flurry of stories on trade deals, military presence, protection agreements and immigration policy, one area of international relations has been noticeably absent from the conversation: the current cooperation of other countries to curtail over-the-border drug trafficking.

With globalization now a permanent reality, despite what some might still believe, we live in a world where a drug epidemic in one country can very easily spill over into its neighbor’s borders. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) readily admits that cooperation with international law enforcement agencies is critical to its overall mission of curtailing drug abuse and addiction in the United States. For over 68 years, since the days of the DEA’s predecessor, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, these relationships have been vital to controlling international drug distribution. Although the problem still certainly persists, it would be compounded exponentially without the assistance from the countries where these drugs very often originate.

The DEA now operates in nearly 60 countries, including Mexico, with whom the United States may well be heading toward a more strained relationship amid current political tensions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that Mexican drug cartels take in between $19 and $29 billion annually from US drug sales. As alarming as this figure may be, imagine how much larger it would be without ongoing cooperation between the United States and our southern neighbors. A 2011 congressional report showed that more than 70 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities, and submitted to the ATF for tracing, are shown to have originated in the United States. The report covers 29,284 firearms submitted in 2009 and 2010.

The reality is that seizures of certain types of drugs at the Mexican border have declined in recent years. While this is due, in some part, to increasingly lax marijuana regulations and a few other factors, cocaine seizures have declined considerably as well, going down by nearly half. US Customs and Border Protection estimates that over the last five years, cocaine seizures at the US-Mexico border have steadily decreased from 8,763 pounds in 2011 to 4,924 in 2015 Marijuana seizures have decreased from 2,518, 211 to 1,536,499 in that same period. It’s hard to discount the role that international cooperation plays in these declines.

There is, however, a great deal more work to be done, and this work relies heavily on cooperation, not just from Mexico; but all over the world. Last year, the amount of heroin seized at Mexican borders from totaled 8,237 ounces, a dramatic increase from the 6,191 ounces seized five years prior. Meth seizures have also increased, totaling 6,429 pounds in 2015 compared to 1,838 in 2011. The world is, perhaps, more connected than ever when it comes to drug addiction. Despite the global community continuing to fight an uphill battle against drug trafficking and subsequent addiction, it’s worth pointing out the immense progress that has been made, and that such progress could not have been made by any one nation acting alone.

It is unclear how foreign policy will change and evolve throughout the Trump presidency. What is clear, however, is that drug addiction is a complex global public health issue that requires collaboration and partnership between vulnerable nations. What is also clear is that in 2017, every nation is vulnerable.