Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2014

Dialogue of the Deaf: Scholars, Practitioners, and the Drug War in U.S. Foreign Relations

Peter Andreas

September 2013

Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University


In this paper I offer some Washington-focused reflections on the scholarly-policy divide in the drug war debate, drawing from more than two decades of observing and occasionally participating in what often seems to be a dialogue of the deaf — or perhaps the problem is not lack of hearing but not liking what one hears. Academics, I argue, have little discernible influence on the Washington policy debate on international drug control except at the margins (in technical aspects of crop substitution schemes, and so on). To the extent that scholars are involved in the foreign policy drug war debate — and there are plenty of disciplinary factors inhibiting this — it is primarily as outside critics rather than as trusted advisors. So to the extent that they have a receptive audience, it is more in the broader public sphere than in the halls of Congress or in the drug war bureaucracy. Their policy influence is therefore more indirect and more difficult to measure, though this does not mean it is necessarily unimportant.