How Can We Use Diplomatic Solutions for Reducing Drug Trafficking?

Many Flags
(Photo by Laszlo Ewa Studio/

Let’s talk about diplomacy—a word that gets lost in translation too many times to count. More specifically, let’s talk about diplomacy and how the U.S. could use a diplomatic methodology to reduce drug trafficking from foreign nations.

It’s something of an understatement to say that the international drug trafficking crisis is a controversial topic which is particularly relevant today. The United States is struggling with what might be its worst drug problem ever and Americans are very tense about the subject right now.

And they should be. It’s a huge issue. But rather than getting muddied up in the politics of the issue and its various debates (which doesn’t lead to understanding the issue), I’d like to focus on diplomacy. Here I think we can find common ground. Here I think we can all agree that more diplomacy is always a good thing.

A Story from Myanmar

When was the last time you heard mention of the nation of Myanmar? It’s probably been awhile. I know it was for me. Myanmar does not necessarily get international media recognition regularly.

Myanmar is a middle-sized country in Southeast Asia. India and Bangladesh border the nation to the west. Thailand and Laos are the country’s eastern neighbors, with China to the north. At this time, the state is currently the home of about 54 million people. Myanmar is sometimes referred to as Burma.

Addict smoking opium on the street in Myanmar.
(Photo by Laszlo Mates/

For the last sixty years, Myanmar has not been all that splendid a place to live, and I say that with zero prejudice or privilege. From 1962 to 2011, the nation was more or less locked down by allegedly oppressive military rule. (That’s BBC’s description of it anyway).

Gradual liberalization began in 2010, followed by free elections in 2015, and shortly after that, installation of a new government led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016. Life was about to be different in Myanmar.

But then, new military operations formed in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, created to crack down on alleged terrorist activity. This controversial effort from a brand new government caused about half a million Myanmar Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. The United Nations called it a “Textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Once again, Myanmar appeared to have fallen under military control (and this may have been the new government’s intentions all along). International tensions have risen since then. But I’d like to focus on one thing that I feel this beleaguered nation is indeed doing right. I’m speaking of course of the Myanmar international drug control policies and their diplomatic efforts in this sector.

In all of the plight, military coupes, violence, and harsh dictatorships, Myanmar became a cesspool of drug use and addiction. A lot of residents of the beleaguered nation saw substance abuse as being one of the only ways to escape the brutalities of their day-to-day lives. Statistics for addiction, drug use, drug crime, and drug production all started to creep up rapidly.

Let’s also note that, from the eyes of an international drug trafficking cartel, Myanmar sits in a strategic location between China and the Middle East, both of which are geographic locations for mass opioid production and disbursement. Myanmar is also a port nation, having ample access to the Bay of Bengal. That and other factors have led to international trafficking into and out of the country for decades. This too has only exacerbated the country’s drug problem.

Let’s take a look at some of the nation’s policies on international drug trafficking control and diplomacy:

  • In Myanmar, the federal government understands that tackling drug trafficking is a global effort which then requires global contributions from all neighboring nations. (Because of our massive resources and considerable strength, our policies in the U.S. almost always take a “We can do this on our own” stance).
  • Myanmar drug trafficking diplomacy includes sharing information and best practices with neighboring nations. Delegates from multiple countries meet, strategies are discussed, and agreements are made on how to reduce both supply and demand, how to increase rehabilitation and treatment efforts, and how to best collaborate on international policy.
  • Speaking of demand—Myanmar is a leading example of demand reduction and how to use this strategy. Here we can learn much from them, because the United States is usually quite set in its ways on addressing supply reduction (War on Drugs dogma) far more than demand reduction. In Myanmar, national and local governments and even communities make a concerted effort to get residents to see why they must stay away from drugs. Education and public discussion is a big part of this.
  • Myanmar drug trafficking diplomacy includes efforts with other nations to conduct cross-border activities with law enforcement representatives from Myanmar and neighboring nations. Such efforts create “boots on the ground” cooperation with other countries to stop drug supplies at their source, regardless of which country those sources happen to be in. Essentially, law enforcement teams from all of the local nations work together to curb drug trafficking.
  • In Myanmar, there is an encouragement for non-government organizations to get involved in reducing international drug trafficking, often on multi-lateral levels. The nation is more than well aware that the drug problem is something that the federal government cannot address on its own.
Myanmar city view.
(Photo by GlebSStock/

That’s just a brief look at some of what this country is focused on in reducing international drug trafficking through diplomacy, demand reduction, and international cooperatives. A statement of their goals from their documentation describes what the nation hopes to accomplish in the next few years. “Increase the effectiveness of border management. Increase the effectiveness of cross border and transnational criminal justice. Seek and share information and best practices from/with international partners. Seek support from international partners that is aligned to this policy, including the contribution of financial, technical, diplomatic, and knowledge resources.”

What Can We Do to Improve Our Lot?

Myanmar is not perfect. Far from it. The country has some of the worst drug statistics imaginable—particularly in producing drugs, (a serious issue they are working to address). Furthermore, the nation still struggles with creating freedom and democracy for all. It’s hard to tell which ruling regime was better than the other. It reminds me quite a bit of what’s been going on in South America for decades.

But militarized government or not, I can’t help but be impressed with the country’s strong diplomatic approach to drug trafficking, and their staunch efforts to educate and inform their citizenry on the harmful effects of drugs.

Here are my takeaways of how we in the U.S. can learn from Myanmar’s efforts:

  • We need better diplomacy with our neighboring nations. This includes Mexico and Canada. But we also need to increase diplomatic efforts with China and the Middle East. Some of the heroin used in the U.S. comes from the Middle East (though it is often brought in through Mexico). And Mexican drug cartels have poppy fields of their own that the cartels cultivate to produce heroin.
  • We also need to reduce the demand for drugs within our borders. The truth is that if we don’t cut down the demand for narcotics among the American people, then drug cartels in foreign nations will always find a way to get drugs into the U.S., and American addicts will always find a way to get hold of those drugs. The Myanmar people attribute any positivity or improvement in their abstinence statistics to demand reduction more so than any of the more military or law enforcement efforts taken. That says something.
  • We also have to find a way to shift our nation’s focus to one where we address the reasons why people seek out drugs in the first place. This will take considerable educational efforts, a shift in focus as a society and culture, and a major change in how we deal with difficult scenarios (difficult life crises being the main reason why most people turn to drugs in the first place).

For More Information… is a hub of valuable information on drugs, current events, addiction, rehab, helpful resources, and so on. For additional reading, I recommend exploring more of our articles that have to do with opioids, as opioids are the top drug found in international drug trafficking scandals.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from addiction, take a look at this article. And if you want to learn more about the Narconon program and how we can help you and your family, click here.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAD, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.