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By Jose Sousa-Santos
Four years ago I stood in front of a top-level security conference and warned that we have just a few years to get on top of the problem of drugs being trafficked through the Pacific region or it could turn into a semi-narco region, controlled by criminal syndicates.
In the four years since I gave that speech, things have gotten worse.
The region is being eroded by criminal organisations and drugs. We are seeing larger hauls of cocaine and crystal methamphetamines being trafficked through and seized in the Pacific and while it was once the thoroughfare for these drugs, the Pacific is now also the destination.
The lower cost of drugs in South America and the higher cost of drugs in Australia and New Zealand result in the perfect storm. The spill-over effect into local communities has been immensely damaging. Pacific countries have seen significantly increased crime, increased instances of sex in exchange for drugs and increased drug usage. The criminal landscape has developed much faster than the responses by the Pacific and its partners including the emergence of regional indigenous criminal syndicates capitalising on this emerging local market.
Unless concrete efforts are made to address this threat, drug cartels will take control of the region, impacting governance, enabling corruption and the infiltration of law enforcement, customs and defence, and crippling the region’s tourism industry – a critical revenue earner for many Pacific economies.
Nobody wants that, especially not the Pacific islands but also Australia and New Zealand, who don’t want to exist in such close proximity to a region ruled by drug cartels.
We still have time to stop this problem from becoming endemic to the region. But time is running out and Australia and New Zealand need to take some responsibility for this problem, which is partly of their own making.
In the last few decades the region has seen the emergence of what I call the “Crystal Road”, the illicit corridor of narcotics, particularly crystal methamphetamines and cocaine, from Asia and Central and South America, through the Pacific, to the coveted Australian and New Zealand markets.
This, coupled with the return of deportees with criminal convictions to Pacific countries from Australia, New Zealand and the United States without community links, languages or cultural knowledge, who often turn to crime, has further entrenched crime in the region.
If we are to succeed, Australia and New Zealand need to take responsibility and partner with Pacific island states to take decisive strategic action, including improved intelligence sharing; a review of Australian, New Zealand and United States domestic policy settings around deportees; supporting the development (but not taking the lead) of inter-Pacific island law enforcement and customs operations and responses; stronger engagement by Australian and New Zealand intelligence and law enforcement agencies with their counterparts at the point of origin for drug trafficking; and greater understanding of the role traditional power structures have in creating and sustaining resilience.
If we don’t do this, not only are we not being very good neighbours, it also shows that, despite the rhetoric of the Australian “step-up” and the New Zealand Pacific “reset”, governments in Canberra and Wellington are only interested in the Pacific region as it impacts their interests and national security. The two nations cannot afford to simply triage the Pacific by focusing on the symptoms. The root causes must be addressed.
Australia, United States and New Zealand need to take responsibility for an issue that has been created not only by their drug markets but also by their deportee policy. It is time the partners of the Pacific did their part in the heavy lifting to address this threat, before it is too late.
Jose Sousa-Santos researches transnational crime in the Pacific at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University in New Zealand and is the managing director of Strategika Group.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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