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Pacific Overtures

A multinational effort to fight drug trafficking and other crimes in the Pacific is expanding with the aid of the United States. The U.S. military’s Pacific Command and Coast Guard, working with Australia, Papua New Guinea and other nations in the region, is helping establish another in a network of crime units to track and intercept shipments of drugs and other contraband with the potential to destabilize the region.

The Micronesia Regional Transnational Crime Unit began operations last month to promote the sharing of information and intelligence to stem the flow of drugs, particularly methamphetamines, throughout Asia and the Pacific. The effort includes funding for training, new computers and new communications equipment to support sea patrols on the watch for smugglers. It is the sixth unit in a regional effort that includes Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. It complements other efforts, including a new U.S.-Palau ship-rider agreement, which will permit joint maritime law enforcement operations between the two nations.

The region’s vast size and uneven law-enforcement capacity make it a ripe target for criminal elements that operate across borders.

"The bad guys typically look for paths of least resistance, where rule of law is weak," said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, commander of Joint Interagency Task Force West. "It is an opportunity for them to exploit, and that’s what we are working to prevent."

Drug smuggling and use is an increasing problem in the region, where economic development has been slow to happen. A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for example, found that in 2007 Micronesia and Papua New Guinea led the world in marijuana use, with twenty-nine percent of the population smoking pot or ingesting one of its derivatives.

The U.S. is committed to helping countries develop strong information-sharing protocols to bolster law enforcement capabilities across the region. These, in turn, support good governance and discourage and impede transnational criminals.