Saturday, February 18, 2006

Indian Reservations as Weak States

In Seeking Security in an Insecure World, Dan Caldwell and I note that "by failing to extend the rule of law over all of their territories, weak states may provide safe havens for terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, international fugitives, and other actors that are a menace to international society" (p. 124). The role played by weak states in international drug trafficking illustrates the point very well.

In Afghanistan, opium production is booming as a consequence of the inability of Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul to control the country's hinterlands where warlords and tribal leaders hold sway. In Colombia, narcoterrorists and revolutionaries who support themselves by trafficking cocaine have long operated beyond the reach of the government. And in Nigeria, corrupt officials and a weak central administration have made that country a major hub of drug trafficking in spite of the fact that few drugs are actually produced there.

Many of the same conditions that afflict weak states around the world--dire poverty, high rates of unemployment, weak law enforcement, and failing social services--are present on Indian reservations within the United States. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that reservations have become the newest hubs of international drug trafficking. According to this story in the New York Times, "large-scale criminal organizations have found havens and allies in the wide-open and isolated regions of Indian country." The comparison between Indian reservations within the United States and weak states around the world seems inescapable:

For traffickers of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, painkillers and people, reservations offer many advantages. Law enforcement is spotty at best. Tribal sovereignty, varying state laws and inconsistent federal interest in prosecuting drug crimes create jurisdictional confusion and conflict.

The deep loyalty that exists within tribes, where neighbors are often related, and the intense mistrust of the American justice system make securing witnesses and using undercover informants extremely difficult. And on some reservations, Indian drug traffickers have close relationships with tribal government or law enforcement officials and enjoy special protection that allows them to operate freely, investigators say.

At home and abroad, promoting good government, meeting human needs, and building capacity in weak states are all essential elements in any effort to address the problem of drug trafficking.