A ministerial meeting held in Paris on 10 May 2011 about Transatlantic Cocaine Trafficking was not the first time G8 ministers met on this issue, but it did highlight the prominence of the issue on the forum’s growing ‘to do’ list. The meeting symbolizes a new era of international cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking.

In the past, some countries—like the US—have selectively pursued unilateral action against drug movers. Whereas American policies appear to have yielded some intended results, a declining cocaine market in North America may simply represent a shift in the locus of consumption to new problem spots. Since 1998, the European cocaine market has gone from being four times smaller than the American one to being almost on par with it. A G8 partner in the effort, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, thinks that cocaine sales alone generated about $84 million USD in profit in 2009. West and North Africa’s proximity to Europe has made it the logical channel for narcotics from South America and in some places, violence has risen as gangs wage war for market dominance—Central America is the case in point here.

Given the globalization of the trade, stifling it requires broad-based international cooperation and contributions—the kind Mancur Olson said would be difficult to achieve—an understanding that the G8 and its associates may quickly come to, considering any implementation of their action plan by states is solely voluntary. Despite this, there is reason to believe that the meetings on this issue earlier in the month and the G8’s general characterization of the problem as a priority may have positive outputs.

President Sarkozy has done well to increase the salience of the issue by framing it within an ever-expanding conception of security threats. Linkages have been made between the illicit drug trade and terrorist groups. States qua states have inherent incentives to address these threats, which are destabilizing, untaxed and contribute to the rise of parallel “Darkside” authorities and criminal networks. The interior ministers’ meeting itself was attended by key countries comprising suppliers, intermediaries and consumers in the industry, as well as the important international organizations, signaling at minimum a symbolic readiness to cooperate on the issue by the relevant players.

Commenting on globalized markets, Keynes famously marveled at how a Londoner could sip his tea in bed while ordering by telephone, “the various products of the whole earth,” or “adventure his wealth” in any corner of the world by the same means. For most readers, I would imagine the image of Keynes’ Londoner buying Latin American cocaine through a West African proxy does not elicit the same wonders of globalization as the previous one. Time will tell whether the G8 and its associated groups can be an effective remedy to what appears to be that unfortunate reality, or whether the issue will take a back seat to more important ones – the next few days might be instructive.

John Zelenbaba is a Research Assistant at The Centre for International Governance Innovation. He is a fourth-year undergraduate student in Political Science and Economics at the University of Waterloo. 

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.