Latest U-Boat Threat

Another set of interesting posts to ponder together this week.

Sunday’s NYT Magazine ran a fascinating feature on semi-submersibles used by Colombian cartels to bring cocaine close to the US, where it is offloaded to speedboats for the final leg. The sub itself is then scuttled (it’s made out of wood and fiberglass for the most part).  Despite this, the economics tell the tale:

But because of their ability to elude radar systems, these subs are almost impossible to detect; only an estimated 14 percent of them are stopped. And perhaps as many as 70 of them will be made this year, up from 45 or so in 2007, according to a task-force spokesman. Made for as little as $500,000 each and assembled in fewer than 90 days, they are now thought to carry nearly 30 percent of Colombia’s total cocaine exports.

Nobody knows, of course, how much cocaine moves into the country — estimates for 2006 total about 1,000 metric tons — and a successful sub run brings in upwards of $200 million worth of the stuff.  What’s more interesting, narco-sub technology seems to be evolving at a rapid pace, with larger ships, sound and IR suppression, and possibly true subsurface capabilities.  Sounds like a thriving business to me, and our failure to end it has led to a movement to legalize drugs in this country.

On the other hand, an opinion piece in today’s WSJ claims that “progress in Colombia provides clear evidence that the war on drugs is winnable”:

Between 2001 and 2007, the U.S. government’s estimate of the maximum potential production of cocaine in Colombia dropped 24%. There is no certain method of translating that into drug profits, but even conservative estimates show that a 24% reduction equaled hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. There is now evidence that the combined effect of reduced production and increased seizures dropped the available Colombian cocaine supply to the U.S. from 2001 to 2007.

The problem with this is that both can be correct:  Maximum drug production undoubtedly did fall, but production appears to still be well within levels that the cartels find lucrative.

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