Building connectivity against drugs and crime…

Building connectivity against drugs and crime…

Criminals have access to an intricate web of networks and resources; if we are to combat them we need a response based on our own networks.

Although we would like it to be otherwise, criminals are smart and sophisticated, but above all else, they are highly adaptive. The displacement or “balloon” effect, where operations are quickly switched from one geographical area to another, is very real.

In the second half of the 1970s Iran was among the biggest opiate producers. Following the revolution, in 1979, production moved to Pakistan and following reduction measures, it re-emerged in Afghanistan. Those involved in the trade had shown themselves to be highly skilful at adapting to an evolving situation.

Countering illicit drugs and crime is a health and drug demand problem, as well as a law enforcement and supply challenge. But, to tackle the supply side, constant pressure needs to be applied everywhere at the same time. This raises the question: how can we succeed against the criminals when they have networks spanning entire regions, as well as vast proceeds at their disposal.

In the Eastern hemisphere, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) opiate strategy is being carefully re-thought to help answer this question. There is a need. Global proceeds from illicit drugs amount to some US$320 billion dollars annually. Part of these profits flow from opiate trafficking, which UNODC estimates is worth around US$68 billion annually. Some 75 per cent of the world’s opiate supply is provided by Afghanistan.

Together with the Northern and Southern routes, a well-trodden route out of Afghanistan is the Balkan’s route, which moves between 60 to 65 tons of heroin valued at some US$13 billion into West and Central Europe. Although heroin seizures are at a ten-year low, the Balkans route’s continued importance is shown by Turkey’s seizure of 13.3 tons in 2012. One of the highest in the world.

South Eastern Europe is also much more than simply a transit route for opiates; with 117,000 drug users this combined market is equal to the larger markets elsewhere in Europe and is valued at around US$500 million. Cannabis herb seizures have also doubled in the region from 23 tons in 2011 to a decade-high 48 tons in 2012.

UNODC’s approach is to recognize that, just as the criminals have established their networks, the international community needs to use its own to ensure greater cross border cooperation, information sharing and tracking of crime proceeds.

Across Europe and Central Asia, centres such as the Central Asian Regional Information Coordination Centre (CARICC), the Gulf Criminal Intelligence Centre (GCIC), the Joint Planning Cell (JPC), the Southeast European Law Enforcement Centre (SELEC) and others, are combining their strengths to create a “Network of Networks.” The new network will establish new links and strengthen already existing ones, while building greater momentum to tackle illicit trafficking and crime.

These agencies and other organizations meet in Istanbul tomorrow,, at a conference hosted by the Turkish government, to discuss the coordination of their efforts.

Networking the networks is also part of a wider inter-regional drug control approach linking UNODC’s global, regional and country programmes, including those in the Gulf and East Africa, to halt the flow of Afghanistan’s illicit drugs through closer cooperation among regional bodies.

Of course, these are the first steps in the strategy, but UNODC is hopeful that the work today will help create a bright constellation of centres that, by being closely connected, will have a greater impact on illicit drugs and crime. In their ability to adapt quickly, the criminals have always had an edge, it is time we took away their advantage.

*Yury Fedotov, is UNODC Executive Director