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March 21, 2000

A Review of the Annual Certification Process

The Honorable Rand Beers
Assistant Secretary of State
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Department of State

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the President’s narcotics certification mechanism with the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. This is a straightforward procedure. Every year the President must certify that the governments of the major drug producing and transit countries have cooperated with the U.S. -- or taken adequate steps on their own -- to meet the goals and objectives of an international standard that most countries have signed onto, the 1998 UN Drug Convention. If the President does not certify a government, it is ineligible for most forms of U.S. assistance, with the exception of humanitarian and anti-drug aid. The U.S. is also obliged to vote "no" to any assistance loans in the multilateral development banks for countries denied certification.

The certification process is a statutory requirement. In 1986, the Congress -- frustrated by what it perceived at the time as reluctance on the part of the State Department to take effective measures against the governments of drug source and transit countries -- introduced the drug certification process. It required the executive branch to identify the major drug producing and transit countries and impose sanctions on those that 1) do not cooperate with us -- or take adequate steps on their own -- in meeting international drug control goals, or 2) that represent a vital interest to the United States. The Congress in effect has asked the Executive Branch to answer a simple question: Since the drug problem so directly affects the U.S. and its citizens, are funds that we provide to source and transit countries appropriate and cost effective when weighed against counternarcotics cooperation? Every year since 1993 the President has gotten everyone's attention -- both at home and abroad -- by being forthright in judging each country's degree of cooperation in our collective effort to stop the production and flow of illicit drugs.

As a public diplomacy instrument, the drug certification process represents an important departure from traditional bilateral diplomacy. Where traditional diplomacy relies on confidentiality and private communication, public diplomacy calls for openness and transparency. The certification process is the closest thing we have to full public disclosure of the U.S. Government's objective assessment of the international drug situation. And on the international scene, full disclosure is always sensitive, since no government likes to see a spotlight on its weaknesses.

The underlying premise of the certification process is that the drug trade is potentially so destructive to all of us that we must deal with it in a straightforward fashion. We cannot confront problems unless we identify them, and sometimes those problems reveal painful truths. That applies as much to the United States as to any other country affected by illegal drugs. We try to identify our own shortcomings and remedy them. We expect others to do the same.

Let me take a moment to answer the criticism that the certification process invokes a double standard, since some claim it does not hold the U.S. to the same level of accountability. Obviously we cannot certify ourselves without being accused of bias; but that does not mean we are evading public examination. It should be evident to most governments that the President of the United States cannot make so important a public declaration without being certain of and accountable for his facts. There is also abundant evidence of the continuing strong commitment of the United States to attack all aspects of the drug problem vigorously. So by the certification determinations, the United States is presenting itself to the same international public scrutiny it visits on the rest of the global community.

In addition, by issuing a high-profile determination, the President is in effect holding up the credibility and objectivity of the U.S. Government for international public scrutiny. If the determinations are factually incorrect, we will be the first to correct the record. But seldom has a country objected to the veracity of the statements in the President's determinations; they have only objected to their being made public -- which is the whole point of the process. In that regard, the hue and cry over the application of this policy is, quite frankly, a testament to its effectiveness.

Prior to the March 1 deadline for certification, we see countries introducing legislation, passing laws, eradicating drug crops and capturing elusive drug kingpins. The timing is no coincidence. These countries know that their actions will have an impact on their certification decision. They also know what the U.S. expects from them.

Over the past several years, we have made the administration of the certification process more transparent. Each spring after the decisions are announced, our embassies give a formal demarche to each country, explaining the prior year's decision and setting benchmarks for the coming year. The benchmarks become the standard by which the country is reviewed in the following year's process. Throughout the year, the embassy goes back to the government to discuss progress and barriers in meeting the benchmarks. When the President finally makes his decisions on March 1, there should be no government taken by surprise.

Likewise, it is no surprise that the threat of public exposure has produced some amazing results, which have had a great impact on our anti-narcotics efforts overseas. For example, drug corruption works best in the shadows. The lower the visibility of a drug organization’s subversive operations, the greater its chance for success. It cannot withstand for long the spotlight of public scrutiny. The drug certification process offers an effective way of attacking such corruption, since it is the legislative equivalent of an international spotlight that we can focus on corruption. Section 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act requires the President to certify annually that each major drug producing or transit country has cooperated fully or has taken adequate steps on its own to meet the standards of the 1988 UN Convention, including exposing public corruption.

Unfortunately, there are also governments such as in Afghanistan and Burma that cannot be influenced by the certification process, and are increasingly falling behind in their efforts to attack drug trafficking. These two countries remain the largest illicit sources of opium and heroin. We continue to receive reports that the Taliban are actively involved in Afghani drug trafficking; in Burma, the government has declined to go after the powerful ethnic groups that control the opium trade. In these examples, the certification process and the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) serve to inform the international community of the situation in these countries, and to gain the support of other countries in calling for greater counternarcotics efforts by Afghanistan and Burma.

The purpose of the certification process is not to punish; it is to hold all countries to a minimum acceptable international standard of cooperation in meeting the goals of an international convention to which all but a small minority of countries are parties. In making the certification determination, we also take into account the fact that some countries face much greater obstacles than do others. In the early 1990s, the President’s “Statements of Explanation,” which accompanied his certification decisions, were often publicly critical of the counternarcotics performances of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia; yet, we knew that many of the law enforcement agencies in these countries were doing their best against difficult odds and with inadequate resources. So, it is with great satisfaction that we see today a continuing downward trend in illicit coca cultivation. The total coca crop remains at its lowest level in 10 years, even factoring in a sharp rise in cultivation in Colombia. Peru and Bolivia have made substantial annual inroads against coca cultivation, with respective cultivation reductions of 24% and 43% last year. Remarkably, among the many factors that contributed to their success was the determination to reinforce drug crop eradication efforts to remove the public annoyance of unfavorable annual certification reviews. Of course, the difficult situation in Colombia shows that political will and courage can only go so far without the proper means of material support – which is why we are engaged in supporting President Pastrana’s Plan Colombia. Admittedly, certification has been most effective in the Western Hemisphere, although it has clearly raised the profile of the narcotics issue in Nigeria, and in most major drug producing and transit countries in Asia.

The June 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on Narcotics confirmed much of what we have been saying through the certification process for many years. Specifically, that the drug problem is a threat to all nations, and that there is a common and shared responsibility to address this issue in an integrated fashion. The UN Special Session did much to mute the criticism of the substance within our certification process, in that it called for the creation of country-specific counternarcotics strategies, regional exchanges of information, and implementation of the multilateral counternarcotics conventions to which most nations are signatories. These issues are taking on particular relevance for European nations, which are now feeling the impact of multi-ton loads of cocaine from South America, as trafficking organizations begin to exploit the untapped demand for drugs in Europe.

Some opponents of the process argue that certification is an unnecessary tool that only serves to cause ill will in U.S. bilateral relationships. I concede that certification is at times a blunt instrument, but I believe that it serves a purpose -- which ultimately is to give governments in key drug countries the strongest encouragement to stop the drugs before they reach U.S. shores. Carrot and stick diplomacy works to our advantage in this case.

That said, the Administration also supports the OAS Drug Commission’s Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM). Designed to encompass all Western Hemisphere countries in addressing individual and regional counternarcotics performance, it provides a consensual forum for a frank exchange of views, evaluation and remedial action. Potentially, it provides a mechanism that could make our unilateral certification process in the Western Hemisphere an anachronism, particularly in light of the excellent efforts of certain key producing and transit countries. In April the OAS Drug Commission will convene the first meeting of country representatives to the MEM, at which time we will have a better idea of how rigorously this concept will be executed in practice.

The certification process, with all its flaws, has produced results. The strength of the certification process lies in its transparency. We want to assure all of our partners in the anti-drug struggle that we are not asking of them any more than we ask of ourselves. It is because of this partnership that collectively we have made significant gains against the drug trade. It is also through this partnership that nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa with increasing drug demand problems can commit themselves to supporting the counternarcotics efforts of the major drug producing and transit countries. And it will be this partnership that ultimately puts the international drug syndicates out of business.