July 10, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review—anticipated this week because of the summer publishing schedule—Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at the dramatic increase in the amount of cocaine and other illegal drugs trafficked through West Africa, especially the small former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau.

According to the recently released World Drug Report 2007 from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), while levels of illegal drug production, trafficking, and consumption have remained virtually stable worldwide, they have skyrocketed in West Africa. UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa has even described Guinea-Bissau as a country on the way to becoming a “narco-state.” United States Drug Enforcement Administration sources echo these concerns.

Citing the weakness and corruption of Guinea-Bissau’s government as well as the country’s geographic characteristics, Dr. Pham notes “it is not hard to appreciate why South American drug cartels would happen upon Guinea-Bissau” as an alternative to more direct routes to Europe which are under increased scrutiny. And while the primary destination of the West African traffic is Europe, criminal networks are also beginning to use Africa as a transshipment depot drugs destined for the lucrative U.S. market. Furthermore, the column warns, “as bad as the drug problem is, perhaps worse from the security point of view is the connection between narcotics trafficking and terrorism”—the fact that the explosives used in the Madrid train bombings of 2004 were purchased with hashish being a case in point.

Ironically, until recently Western nations have indirectly contributed to the problem through their neglect of countries like Guinea-Bissau. The United States, for example, shut down its embassy in Bissau, the capital, in 1998, while Guinea-Bissau has no diplomatic representation in Washington. Hence the column concludes:

As if strengthening local governance capacity, promoting economic development, countering transnational terrorism, and securing access to natural resources were not enough of an agenda for America’s increased engagement in geostratically significant Sub-Saharan Africa, it now appears quite certain that the comprehensive mission of the new Africa Command will also have to include working with the relevant civilian federal agencies and international partners as well as appropriate nongovernmental organizations to fight a “cold war” of containment against international narcotic traffickers before things heat up in the new drug depots of West Africa .

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “The Security Challenge of West Africa’s New Drug Depots,” click here.