Surgical Strikes in the Drug Wars

Smarter Policies for Both Sides of the Border

More than a thousand people die each month in drug-dealing violence in Mexico, and the toll has been rising. In some parts of the country, the police find themselves outgunned by drug traffickers and must rely on the armed forces. Meanwhile, the United States suffers from the widespread abuse of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and cannabis; violence and disorder surrounding retail drug markets; property theft and violent crime committed by drug abusers; and mass incarceration, including half a million people behind bars for drug offenses and at least as many for crimes committed for money to buy drugs.

Current policies, clearly, have unsatisfactory results. But what is to replace them? Neither of the standard alternatives -- a more vigorous pursuit of current antidrug efforts or a system of legal availability for currently proscribed drugs -- offers much hope. Instead, it is time for Mexico and the United States to consider a set of less conventional approaches.

Most of the illicit drugs consumed in the United States come through or from Mexico, and virtually all the revenue of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations comes from sales to the United States. Thinking of this as a single shared drug problem suggests a shared responsibility for controlling that problem. In the conventional telling, Mexico's role is to limit illicit exports, while the United States should act to shrink demand and domestic production, relying on the standard drug-control triad of enforcement, prevention, and treatment.

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