WHEN Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley proposed the formation of a multinational antidrug strike force at a recent TransAfrica dinner, he received two standing ovations. Members of TransAfrica, a lobbying group for Africa and the Caribbean, agree on the need for international cooperation.
Mr. Manley, speaking earlier to reporters, said the idea needed fleshing out, but that such a force could be patterned after the United Nations peace-keeping force. Soldiers would be selected from countries that would be politically acceptable to the host nation and would be mobilized only at the invitation of that nation's government.
Manley's idea is not new. The prime minister of Malaysia mentioned it two years ago. Members of United States Congress wrote it into last November's antidrug bill. The US ambassador to the Organization of American States, the bill says, is to discuss the idea with other OAS members, and the secretary of state is to report to Congress on ``progress toward establishing such a force.'' (It will be considered in drug czar William Bennett's strategy on drug abuse, due out in September, according to his office.)
But Manley is believed to be the first leader of a Western Hemisphere nation formally to suggest a multinational force. He says he has discussed this idea, and others regarding greater sharing of intelligence and training in intelligence-gathering techniques, with members of the British Commonwealth, and got a favorable response.
In theory, the multinational-force idea deserves consideration, but it would be exceedingly difficult to carry out, say officials at the State Department, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the UN, as well as outside specialists.
While UN peace-keeping forces are designed to serve as a buffer between warring parties, an antidrug force would be actively engaged against the nationals of the country involved. This could threaten that nation's sense of sovereignty.
In Senate testimony June 7, Mark Dion, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics Matters, detailed some key questions: Which countries would participate in the force, and who would man it, police or soldiers? Would the UN organize such a force, or would a regional body like the OAS be more appropriate? How would the command structure work, and how much control over the force's activities would contributing countries have?
Rens Lee III, an expert on drugs in Latin America, adds another question: What would such a force would be empowered to do? Arrest people? Spray fields? He says that ``putting together such a force would be an art in itself,'' considering first-world/third-world tensions. On the question of command, he says that if there was too much host-country involvement, it would be vulnerable to corruption, which he calls the No. 1 obstacle to effective drug operations.
Another factor to consider, a senior DEA official says, is that each country's situation is very different, so it would be difficult to put together a force that could be broadly applied.
There is also the question of adequate funding, a longstanding problem for the UN's various peace-keeping operations.
But the biggest obstacle could be getting nations such as Peru, Colombia, or Bolivia - the source of most US-bound cocaine - to accept the idea, no matter how well thought out. A Peruvian diplomat, speaking for himself, rejected the idea out of hand: ``We think we can handle it ourselves. Even if the plan on paper said that there would be troops from other countries, it would still be seen as a North American force. The only country that could give equipment is the US. And if you send in troops for drugs, you could start sending troops for other things,'' such as the Sendero Luminoso rebel movement.
A Bolivian diplomat was more circumspect, but he immediately cited the principle of nonintervention and said he was waiting for a new UN convention on drugs to be completed. Two years ago, the Bolivian government suffered much grief for allowing US troops to participate in a drug-eradication sweep. Analysts do not believe Bolivia will repeat the experience anytime soon.
Still, all analysts and officials interviewed applauded Manley for speaking out.
``This is a very interesting proposal, but it needs more time to mature,'' says Francisco Ramos-Galino, director of the UN's Division of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. He suggests, as did the State Department's Mr. Dion in his testimony, that nations should try to make better use of the existing mechanisms for joint action against drugs, such as the UN Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC) and regional organizations like the OAS. ``Within the Caribbean, there could be much greater cooperation of law enforcement agencies,'' Mr. Ramos-Galino adds.
As the cocaine cartels expand their sights on the European market, governments there have stepped up programs to help producer and transit nations combat drugs. Britain recently launched a major initiative with the US in the eastern Caribbean. And Italy has now replaced the US as the No. 1 donor to UNFDAC with its 1988 pledge of $300 million. UNFDAC works with law enforcement officials in-country, and also helps drug-producing nations in the third world set up crop-substitution programs.