Vanderbilt Law Review


Sandi R. Murphy

First Page



The illicit drug trade is gigantic. The United Nations reports that the annual value of the illegal drug trade worldwide is 250 to 300 billion dollars.' The United States leads the world in illicit drug consumption and suffers a myriad of drug-related problems. The majority of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin consumed in the United States through out the 1980s was supplied by six Latin American and Caribbean countries. These countries, like the United States, are plagued by drug-related problems. The governments and citizens of both drug producing and drug transit countries are increasingly victims of crime, violence,and corruption.

Attendant to these increasing problems is a plethora of media coverage that has sensationalized the drug issue. Studies have linked this media "hype" to political agenda setting by both candidates for public office and the press itself. Manipulating the drug issue for political ends is not a new tactic,' but the practice culminated in the 1988 presidential race, which provided an ideal forum for the "get tough" on drugs theme."

Not surprisingly, the American public ranks the illegal drug trade as its number one concern and the most important foreign policy issue facing the United States. For example, a June 1988 national poll showed that eighty-seven percent of the American people considered drug trafficking a "very serious" problem in Central America. The American mood toward drug control has reached the point of militancy,and the United States government has been urged to declare war on drugs.

The targets of this "war" have most often been drug suppliers rather than drug consumers. Public opinion polls show that most Americans support drug policies that seek to limit the supply of drugs coming into the United States rather than to curb the American demand for drugs. The present supply-side enforcement policy has led the United States to "force draft" foreign countries to fight the drug war on their own soil. Despite marginally successful diplomacy, unprecedented levels of funding,'" and strong public, media, and political sup-port for the supply side anti-drug effort, the United States does not appear to be winning the war on drugs.

This Note examines the United States drug control policy. Part II focuses on the supply-side, bilateral enforcement policy. Parts III, IV,V, and VI, in the context of American domestic law, give an overview of the United States aid leveraging system and of the major bilateral control programs such as the militarization of law enforcement, prosecution of foreign traffickers in the United States, and crop eradication. This overview analyzes the legal and extralegal arguments raised by foreign countries against the programs and the diplomatic tactics pursued by the United States in response.

Parts VII and VIII conclude that many of the diplomatic tactics and the programs they support have been counterproductive and pro-pose alternative policy options. In Part IX this Note concludes that no amount of supply-side law enforcement will prevent drugs from entering the United States. The American public may have been persuaded to support militant policies by promises of an impossible achievement.