Defense Official Calls for More Cooperation Against Trafficking During Symposium Opening

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 02/14/2012


The only way for the world to counter the expanding international criminal drug trade is for nations to work together, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said during the opening of a transnational threats symposium in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13, 2012.

“Cooperation is the only way to counter the network of criminal organizations trafficking drugs,” said William Wechsler, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, during a keynote address for the Transnational Threats Symposium: The Illicit Commons. “It takes a network to defeat a network.”

Wechsler, who leads the department’s counternarcotics and threat finance policies and operations around the world, said a recent government assessment of the problem found that illicit trafficking had grown dramatically in size and scope. American success in interdicting drug shipments en route to the United States combined with expanding markets in different regions have forced smugglers to traffic drugs from South America, through West and North Africa, and into Western Europe.

Opening remarks by Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.) , Director of The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS)

But with strengthening links between crime syndicates and terrorist organizations, which use trafficking to fund their operations and provide logistics, Wechsler said the international movement of contraband has evolved into a clear threat to U.S. national security. Making matters worse, criminal organizations have begun using successful terrorist techniques while terrorist organizations have started using methods employed by organized crime.

He pointed out to the audience, which included 59 symposium participants from 32 countries in Latin America, West and North Africa, the United States and Europe, as well as representatives from international organizations, the enormity of the problem—a U.N. analysis found drug trafficking revenues equivalent to those seen in the global crude oil market.

“It’s a massive industry,” he said, “and as other societies move more of their people into the middle class, the problem will only get bigger.”

In his welcoming remarks, ACSS Director Ambassador (ret.) William M. Bellamy reinforced the need to explore cooperation between countries during the symposium.

“By definition, narcotics trafficking respects no international boundaries,” Bellamy said. “Drug traffickers thrive best where borders and seaports and airports are porous or are inadequately protected. They thrive where governments fail to cooperate across their common borders. And when it is a matter of narcotics originating in South America, transiting West Africa, and ending up in Europe the need for international cooperation becomes even more complicated and demanding.”

Opening remarks by William Wechsler, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats

Four U.S. Department of Defense academic centers—The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies—are cosponsoring the four-day seminar at the National Defense University on countering transnational threats and the illegal narcotics trade. Besides the drug trade, speakers will discuss threats posed by international terrorism, smuggling, and environmental and health problems within, between, and among the disparate regions dealing with trafficking.

Welcome remarks by Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau, United States Navy, President, National Defense University