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How The Impact of Globalization on Illicit Drug Trafficking Has Affected International Security

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Table of contents

  1. Trade Liberalization and Its Impact on the Drug Trade
  2. International Investment
  3. Effect on International Consumers
  4. Resources

The exponential growth of the drug trade during the 1950’s in South America was heavily influenced by the rapid globalization happening in the world. There were two main cartels that controlled the drug trade in Mexico and Columbia. The Guadalajara cartel controlled most of Mexico’s cannabis and soon after cocaine trade. It was headed by Felix Gallardo and his business partners. The cartel that had control of Columbia’s trading routes was the Medellin Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar who had started selling cocaine and even ran for president. According to Peterson Institute for Economics, globalization is the growing interdependence between countries with their cultures and economies. For the illegal drug trade across the world this had a positive effect on it growth and relevancy. In terms of international security it was impactful, it resulted in billions of dollars and resources spent to attempt to stop it. “It can be argued that the apparently successful global securitisation of drugs constitutes one of the greatest threats to international and human security.”

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Globalization has resulted in the easier flow of goods, services and movement of people across borders. This brings along an evolution in technology as a consequence which means that transnational activities have become easier, faster and cheaper. Although the economic growth and interdependency has been positive, the rapid growth had not been supported by governing bodies and this allowed an opportunity to organised crime to spread across borders. “Consequently, when combined with the breakdown of political and economic barriers after the end of the Cold War (which provided access to global transportation) globalization has had the negative effect of facilitating the expansion of transnational crime such as global terrorism, people and drug trafficking, immigrant smuggling and money laundering”. Most of the world’s cocaine is produced in the Andean region of Columbia but the markets targets has changed over time. The shift is due to the fact that supply and demand are the biggest role layers on the drugs success. The easier mediums f transport and drop in prices has seen a balloon affect in the 21st century. Substantial achievements in reducing the area used for coca cultivation through the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia, coca cultivation in Colombia decreased by 58% between 2000 and 2009. However, it then increased considerably in the 6 Plurinational State of Bolivia (doubling to 75% of its 1990 peak) and to a lesser extent, in Peru. These changes are consequences of globalization and shows the liberalization and change of shape of narcotic trade. To understand the link between globalisation and the growth of the narcotic trade it is crucial to understand the change in law for trade and the effect that trade liberalization has on illicit drugs being sold.

Trade Liberalization and Its Impact on the Drug Trade

According to Claudia Costa Storti and Paul De Grauwe the decline in retail prices for cocaine is a result of the cut in a concept called “intermediation margin” which is the difference between the retailers and the producer’s price. The cut can be explained by globalization. The harder to do jobs that have a high risk (such as smuggling and selling) have become easier from the evolution of transport and more free cross border trading laws. The less risk jobs such cultivation have become easier. Tools to cut and produce the drug has improved the efficiency of growth and this impacts the trade positively as more product can be transported to the consumer. Communication between the parties have improved and moreover, new financial systems have allowed money laundering to occur more easily therefore allowing cartels and drug traffickers to go undetected despite many authorities efforts to crack down on the problem. All these factors contribute to the cost of the current drug distribution patterns.

“The open-borders effect of globalization allowed millions of poor and low skilled workers to engage more easily in transporting and distributing drugs. Most of these workers were willing to take the risks involved because they had little to lose, while others were attracted by the still relatively high intermediation margins of the drug market.” This means that there would always be a surplus of workers ready to do the high-risk jobs required by the drug cartels.

International Investment

Money laundering exceeds over $1 trillion a year. Investments contribute a big role to networking and the laundering of funds in the drug trade. Banks are offering offshore accounts and find it hard to verify every transaction made by all the accounts they hold. This allows an opportunity for criminals and drug traders to use this loophole to operate and conduct their sales. “It is hard for banks to verify that all wire transfers, checks and other financial transactions are “clean”. There is no doubt that illegal drugs is an international security problem. Many third world countries ad fragile states are being exploited in the involvement from producer to consumer. Globalization can be proved to have impacted this again. Illegal human trafficking in third world countries have become a major problem for international security because of the ease of access to different methods of transportation. Many citizens that live in third world and fragile states are used to transport the drug to the industrialised countries where low levels of wellbeing among the youth are common. “It can be argued that the apparently successful global securitisation of drugs constitutes one of the greatest threats to international and human security.” – Danny Kushlick, 2011.

Effect on International Consumers

The increasing diversity and intensity of the influx of new people from around the world are one of the main ways globalisation has had a large impact on drug markets. To prove this European drug markets can be used to show this. Many of the plant-based material and chemicals used in prior production is produced outside of Europe and are smuggled into the continent. Each vehicle and foot path is a chance to bring in the illegal product and with exponential growth of vehicles in use (such as planes, cars, ships etc.) has made it much harder for authorities to stop and identify the guilty parties. “The port of Rotterdam receives 30 000 sea vessels and 110 000 inland vessels every year and is Europe’s largest, and the world’s eighth largest, container port”. Another area that shows the impact of globalisation on the narcotics trade is air passenger traffic that has increased in Europe and globally. It is estimated that the number of annual passengers coming into Spain (South American entry to Europe) has increased from 166million in 2004 to 196 million in 2014.

Another area that globalisation’s impact on narcotics markets can be seen by looking at changes the chemical industry has undergone in the past 20 years. The precursors used to manufacture most of the traditional illicit drugs are generally made legally by legitimate firms and then only channelled to illicit ends, new psychoactive substances are predominantly produced in Asia, particularly China and to a lesser extent India. Firstly, the global chemical industry has experienced a huge expansion and growth during the last 20 years and is still continuing to grow. Chemicals are now produced in most countries around the world and global production of the chemicals industry almost doubled between 1990 and 2010, it grew quicker than global GDP. Secondly, international trade of chemicals has grown even more than their manufacturing, thirdly a massive part of international trade of chemicals is built up on re-exports, emphasising the role played by other intermediaries. This means that more chemicals are traded between more countries through more intermediaries than ever before, this results in the jobs of authorities being harder as more networks are created and can go unnoticed.

The drug trade has grown immensely in the last 100 years and it can be said that it is directly linked to globalisation. The easier access to almost every product and service across the world has allowed major drug cartels like the Guadalajara cartel and Medellin cartel to move illicit drugs across the world without being detected. The use of desperate people from poor countries has been made easier with human trafficking on the rise as well as violent transnational organised crimes. The international expansion of financial institutions have made it hard to track every transaction and therefore illegal funds can be moved around easier recently. The rapid growth of industries has allowed illegal substances to reach consumers globally as trade liberalisation has made it possible and international security is struggling to keep up with the world becoming a smaller place. I chose this topic because it interested me in seeing how the drug trade is still growing rapidly even though law enforcement and security forces have developed modern technologies and methods to confront the problem and put a stop to it. They have been tracking and investigating the problem for many decades now and have struggled to find a solution to the increasing problem.

The topic I’ve chosen was very hard to find sources to work from because a lot of the statistics were outdated or the articles and journals that were found did not relate to the topic chosen but rather the side effects of drugs and its effect on us as individuals. Many sources were not credible for the fact that they were often an opinion of the writer and what the write/author predicts about the future in terms of global security. The sources that were found credible had a lot of information that could be extracted and helped in understanding how each area of the drug trade was effected by globalisation and what it means to international security. A lot of the statistics that was needed were there and are accurate because they come from international companies that specialise in this area of research.

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What fascinated me was how each individual that plays a role in illegal trafficking has to adapt to changes in law and policies around the world. The use of hiding techniques and the patterns of globalisation that allows these drug cartels and all parties involved to be successful from evading the law. Upon research it became very clear that many pieces of information on this topic could lead to the wrong idea of how dangerous the illegal drug trade is. It makes third world countries seem like there is no control in any of them and moving people (human trafficking) and drugs is easier than it seems. These articles and written pieces also make the idea of tackling the drug trade an easy task but it in fact it actually depletes many resources and money to completely eradicate the problem as a whole.


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  3. Davis, K. (2019). A short history of Mexican drug cartels. [online] San Diego Union-Tribune. Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
  4. OpenDemocracy. (2019). International security and the global war on drugs: The tragic irony of drug securitisation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
  5. Kolb, m. (2019). What Is Globalization?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Jul. 2019].
  6. (2019). Narco Terrorism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
  7. Petcu, C. (2019). [online] Available at: http://file:///C:/Users/HP-450/Downloads/CristinaPetcu-GlobalizationandDrugTrafficking.pdf [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
  8. Porter, E. (2019). Globalization and the narcotics trade. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jul. 2019].
  9. Teague, a. (2019). The Drug Trade In Mexico. [online] oxford research encyclopedia. Available at: [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
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