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Countering Illicit Drugs Through Development Lenses: an International Cooperation Agenda In-The-Making?

Organised Crime
Policy Change
Deborah Alimi
Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne
Deborah Alimi
Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne

Evidence highlights the role organized crime plays in the political economy of societies, especially in developing countries, and in the exacerbation of vulnerabilities and development objectives. More specifically, emerging research documents the deleterious effects of illicit drug economies on essential development dimensions of societies, and how its record expansion and persistence can be related to contexts, variables, and risk factors going beyond substance availability and market dynamics (socio-economic marginalization, state presence, institutions, conflicts, poverty resilience...). In the last decade, there has been increased international recognition of the links between drug and development policies, and a shifting policy environment towards more development-oriented approaches to counter illicit economies. Not only, the 2016 UN Special Session on drugs outcome document (UNGASS) encourages the international community to develop greater policy coherence in that sense, but the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda integrates drug-related issues as specific targets.

Therefore, fighting illicit drug economies now demands a more nuanced set of public responses and questions further the rationale and modalities of international development strategies and cooperation. Historically, most of policy responses to drugs focused on controlling substance trafficking and abuse, rather than tackling its root causes or mitigating its effect on societies’ vulnerabilities. Despite some exceptions notably at the European cooperation level, development actors have tended to be left aside the global response to drugs and have not fully recognized the drug issue as an explicit priority, or considered the additional constraints such issue can pose to their action and strategies. While there is a political consensus, the fight against illicit drugs remains siloed and conceptual and practical questions arise around what a “development-oriented” response to drugs might be.

Based on around a hundred of interviews with specialized policy actors, observations of international policy discussions between 2012 and 2017, and analysis of policy discourses undertaken in the framework of a doctoral research, this paper proposes to take stock of the recent dynamics through which the international community has build a momentum around the need for greater drug and development policy coherence and alignment. It draws upon approaches that apprehend the construction of public problems and diffusion of policy ideas through the voluntary mobilization of resources and interests in multi-leveled policy arenas. Considering three dimensions of policy idea development (framing, dissemination and space), it asks whether the conditions are gathered for that idea of coherence to be translated into concrete categories of interventions to fight illicit drugs beyond the UNGASS and SDGs moments of opportunity. Recognizing the role of knowledge in the construction of alternative policy ideas’ acceptability, this paper will elaborate on the policy and knowledge activities, and existing cooperation platforms where a development-oriented framework for illicit drug-related challenges is promoted and defined. It argues that although problems compatibility has been acknowledged at the international political level, the current cooperation opportunities for greater policy coherence on drugs and development may turn out sterile without the unlocking of a formal space or “organizational platform” for cross-sectoral policy making and emu¬lation of common policy ideas beyond sectoral borders.
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