Cover: An Overview of the Effectiveness of U.S. Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia, 2000–Present, and Recommendations for the Future

An Overview of the Effectiveness of U.S. Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia, 2000–Present, and Recommendations for the Future

Published Feb 11, 2022

by Daniel M. Gerstein, Bryce Pardo, Aaron C. Davenport, Irina A. Chindea

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Resumen de la efectividad de los esfuerzos antinarcóticos de EE.UU. en Colombia, 2000-2020, y recomendaciones para el futuro

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Despite recent counternarcotics efforts by the Colombian and U.S. governments, coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia have risen to historic heights, making Colombia the leading global source of cocaine since 2014. However, the broad partnership between the governments of Colombia and the United States beginning in 2000 was instrumental in preventing Colombia from becoming a likely failed state and in ending the insurgency.

The authors of this report examine the period in Colombia from 2000 to 2020 to assess the effectiveness of four key aspects of U.S. counternarcotics and security efforts in Colombia: eradication of coca; interdiction of cocaine, precursor chemicals, and destruction of facilities involved in drug production and trafficking; security and rule-of-law efforts to protect populations and support the development of institutions; and alternative development programs that discourage involvement in the drug trade by supporting viable, legal livelihoods.

The authors find that although hard-power techniques can be effective in reducing coca cultivation and trafficking, broader issues — particularly in rural areas — need to be addressed, such as building licit economies, extending institutions and infrastructure, and promoting societal well-being. In addition, counterinsurgency and counternarcotics efforts are more likely to be successful and sustainable over longer periods if the four lines of effort are designed to complement and support each other. The limits of prioritizing eradication and interdiction over security and rule of law and development are especially noticeable in rural communities. Looking to the future, the authors recommend an approach that would synchronize the four lines of effort.

Key Findings

  • The broad partnership between the governments of Colombia and the United States beginning in 2000 was instrumental in preventing Colombia from becoming a likely failed state and in ending the insurgency.
  • U.S.-funded capacity-building programs have assisted in transforming Colombian national capabilities in coca eradication; interdiction and law enforcement; investigations; and prosecution of criminal networks.
  • Colombian-U.S. efforts to extend a permanent security and state institutional presence and alternative development to rural levels have been far less successful.
  • A growing misalignment of goals between the governments of Colombia and the United States had occurred — however, U.S. support will continue to be vital for sustaining the hard-fought gains from the past 20 years.
  • The use of measures and metrics should be expanded to more fully address the broader nature of U.S. efforts to assist Colombia to accomplish the goals of the peace accord.

Recommendations

  • The United States should continue to support the Colombian government's counternarcotics and development efforts.
  • Whole-of-government approaches need to be implemented that include all stakeholders and build whole-of-society solutions.
  • Although reducing coca cultivation and continuing interdictions should remain key outcomes, future efforts should prioritize key peace accord outcomes, including rural policing, security, and law enforcement; infrastructure development; and health and education.
  • New measures and metrics should be developed for more fully assessing the broad nature of assisting Colombia in accomplishing the goals of the peace accord.
  • Data collection needs to be improved to ensure that inputs, processes, outputs, and outcomes are accurately measured and can assist in guiding policy decisions.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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