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ILLEGAL DRUGS AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
Diane Leduc, James Lee
Political and Social Affairs Division
Revised February 2003
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ILLEGAL DRUGS AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
Trade in drugs of abuse such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines (synthetic stimulants) has long been a frustrating feature of the international scene.(1) After attempting for years to combat the drug trade on an individual or bilateral basis, nations have belatedly come to realize that coordinated international action is the only effective way to restrain the trade and, in addition, that social and other broad action is the only means to reduce incentives to participate in it.
Drugs have played an important medicinal role in human society, and “harmless” drugs such as caffeine are widely and legally used in all parts of the globe. The international trade in drugs has a long history; imperial Britain, for example, shaped the 19th-century opium trade by selling Indian-produced opium to China in exchange for tea and silk, and fought “Opium Wars” to defend its right to do so.(2) In the early 20th century, the United States, Britain and other countries began to change their position on drug use, although, as the history of prohibition shows, their concept and acceptance of “dangerous” drugs was not identical to our own.
With the largest affected population and the largest budget for combating the problem, the United States has traditionally taken the role of leading “victim nation” of the drug trade. It has long been the most active in combating the trade, both alone and bilaterally with other countries. U.S. action has generally focused on enforcement, with some 60% of anti-drug funds devoted to criminal law enforcement and 30% to treatment. President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” in 1972, but it was only in the 1980s that the Reagan and (especially) Bush administrations engaged in such a high-profile “War” in earnest. In the 1980s, South American cocaine displaced Southeast Asian heroin as the major drug threat to the United States. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed National Security Directive No. 221, making drug enforcement a national security priority. Between 1980 and 1990, U.S. federal spending on drug control rose (in constant dollars) from $1.5 billion to $6.7 billion, and the number of adult arrests for illegal drug sale or manufacture in the United States increased from about 103,000 in 1980 to more than 404,000 in 1989. (Arrests for illegal possession also increased, from about 368,000 to more than 843,000 per year over this period.)(4) The United States also increased its anti-drug cooperation with other governments, sending drug enforcement and other agents to countries in Latin America to concentrate on the cocaine trade, and to Thailand, France and elsewhere to combat the heroin threat. While the casual (or non-addicting) use of drugs declined as a result of these increased measures, hard-core drug users, who account for some 80% of drug users in the United States, continued to use drugs at much the same rate.(5) In the words of Lee P. Brown, then Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (and widely referred to as America’s “Drug Czar”), “in the United States we have made great progress in reducing casual, or non-addictive, drug use. Now, chronic, addictive drug use is our greatest concern.” In Brown’s opinion, nations must take an integrated approach to fighting the international drug problem. This would involve law enforcement, education, treatment and economic development.(6)
The Clinton administration initially reduced the funds devoted to the office of the “Drug Czar” and put more emphasis on reducing the domestic demand for drugs. By 1996, an increase in the rate of drug abuse among teenagers and others, however, allowed Republicans to charge during the election campaign that President Clinton was “soft on drugs.” In fact, when Clinton named widely respected Army General Barry McCaffrey to replace Lee Brown as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the fall of 1995, he gave the office cabinet rank for the first time and substantially increased its staff.(7) In the spring of 1996, Clinton had also announced a new National Drug Control Strategy, the first priority of which was “to get young people to reject drugs.”(8) As The Economist has pointed out, drug abuse seems to move in natural cycles, like the economy; the Clinton administration’s mistake had probably been failure to anticipate the turn of the cycle and work adequately against it.
In its quest “to stem the flow of drugs to the U.S.,” the American government continues to provide financial assistance to countries that make an attempt at crop eradication and the like. Notably, in 2000, it signed a comprehensive $1.3-billion assistance package in support of Plan Colombia and the Colombian government’s efforts to “address the array of challenges it faces – its efforts to fight the illicit drug trade, to increase the rule of law, to protect human rights, to expand economic development, to institute judicial reform, and to foster peace.”(9) Moreover, in 2001, the United States proposed to fund also the Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI), a program intended to expand counter-narcotics programs begun under Plan Colombia and to help support law enforcement and alternative development in countries of the Andean region threatened by drug trafficking.
In February 2002, President George W. Bush unveiled a new National Drug Control Strategy, based on three core principles:
stopping drug use before it starts;
healing America’s drug users; and
disrupting the market [for illegal drugs].
This latest strategy is intended to “emphasize a balance between supply and demand reduction efforts.” It represents attempts at prevention and treatment, and thereby at reducing the demand for drugs. Much emphasis, however, remains on reducing the supply of drugs, that is, stemming their flow into the United States from outside, and apprehending and punishing dealers and users. Finally, underlining the United States’ determination to pursue the fight against drugs (and drug trafficking), as much as $19.2 billion was set aside in the 2003 budget for “drug control.”(10) At the same time, according to The Economist, “the official estimate of retail drug sales in the United States is $60 billion, making America easily the world’s most valuable market.”(11) For its part, the U.S. Congressional Research Service further estimates that more than 13 million Americans still buy illicit drugs on a regular basis (that is, more than once a month) and that the economic costs associated with drug abuse in the United States could well add up to as much as $110 billion.(12) Meanwhile, arrests (and sentencing) for drug violations continue to grow almost unabated; the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 1984 and 1999, the annual number of defendants charged with a drug offence in Federal Courts increased from 11,854 to 29,306.(13) Other sources, moreover, estimate that between 1970 and 1999, adult drug arrests more than quadrupled, from 322,300 to 1,337,600, while juvenile arrests doubled, from 93,300 to 194,600.(14)
Since the scope of the drug abuse problem varies from country to country, states have traditionally addressed the issue individually. In the words of The Economist, “The attitude of most electorates and governments is to deplore the problems that the illegal drug trade brings, view the whole matter with distaste, and sit on the status quo – a policy of sweeping prohibition.”(15) A number of politicians in Latin America and elsewhere have argued that close international cooperation to address the drug trade would endanger national “sovereignty.” Because Europeans have long claimed that most drugs were only “passing through,” stopping the traffic was given a low priority.
The United States took the lead both in addressing the drug trade itself and in signing bilateral agreements with other nations to combat it; however, real international cooperation began only with the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which banned a wide range of drugs. This convention was amended and strengthened by a protocol in 1972. In addition, the UN agreed to the Vienna Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971 in order to control trade in hallucinogens and amphetamines (psychotropic substances had not been included in the 1961 Convention). Between them, “these three Conventions regulate the legal production, distribution and supply of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes and make illegal all other such activities.”(16) Also in 1971, the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC) was established; the United States, Germany, Sweden and Norway have been leading supporters of this body. In 1984, the UN General Assembly unanimously requested the preparation of a draft convention to complement the 1961 Single Convention (as amended) and the 1971 Psychotropic Substances Convention. A UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was adopted and prepared for signature in late 1988. This convention reiterates that it is concerned with reinforcing and supplementing the earlier conventions, and “strengthening and enhancing effective legal means for international co-operation in criminal matters for suppressing the international criminal activities of illicit traffic.”(17) As of May 2002, 166 countries and the European Union had become parties to the Convention.
The UN has continued to address the drug trade issue at the broadest level. In December 1995, the General Assembly adopted a seven-part resolution calling upon states to intensify actions to promote effective cooperation in this area.(18) In April 1996, the 53-member Commission on Narcotic Drugs, established by the UN in February 1946, recommended a special session of the UN General Assembly in 1998 on new strategies to combat the international drug trade and its effects.(19) The importance of that issue to the global community was underscored when the proposed Special Session on the World Drug Problem was held in New York in June 1998. At that time, 185 member states adopted – and signed – a Political Declaration (on the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction), which begins by stating that:
Drugs destroy lives and communities, undermine sustainable human development and generate crime. Drugs affect all sectors of society in all countries; in particular, drug abuse affects the freedom and development of young people, the world’s most valuable asset. Drugs are a grave threat to the health and well-being of all mankind, the independence of States, democracy, the stability of nations, the structure of all societies, and the dignity and hope of millions of people and their families.(20)
After identifying weaknesses in six main areas (controls on precursor chemicals, amphetamine-type stimulants, judicial cooperation, money laundering controls, demand reduction, and alternative development), signatories to the 1998 Declaration pledged to significantly reduce both the demand for, and the supply of, illicit drugs by the year 2008. They also agreed to three main objectives:
All participants agreed to develop national strategies on illegal drugs, to be put in place by 2003;
All participants agreed to work for “significant and measurable results” in reducing illegal drugs consumption by 2008, with a 50% reduction informally taken as an indicative target;
States where illegal production has taken place committed themselves to a total elimination of production, also by 2008. Alternative development was acknowledged as the only long-term solution to the problem of illicit narcotic cultivation.(21)
More recently, in December 2000, UN member states met in Palermo, Italy, to adopt yet another convention, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The “Palermo Convention” is accompanied by two protocols, one on the trafficking of persons, the other on the smuggling of migrants. It is meant to promote international cooperation in order to “significantly reduce illegal and exploitive transborder activities” and will, it is hoped, also serve as a valuable tool in the fight against transborder drug trafficking.
In 1991, the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) was established to coordinate UN drug control activities and to serve as the focal point for the UN Decade against Drug Abuse (1991-2000). The UNDCP subsequently continued its activities, expanded the scope of its efforts and increased the number of projects it oversees. While international cooperation has traditionally focused on enforcement, some move toward complementary action has taken place. In March 1993, delegates at the 36th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted a resolution calling on governments to give priority to preventing drug abuse and to treating and reintegrating drug abusers in society. This new focus on reducing demand was seen by many countries as a complement to the traditional focus on enforcement, and as an important part of a balanced strategy to combat drug abuse.(22)
The UNDCP’s budget is now about US$160 million a year – slightly less than in the late 1990s – and a substantive portion of that budget goes towards reducing the supply of drugs through alternative development. Apart from the general decline in regular budget resources that is affecting all parts of the UN, 90% of the UNDCP’s funds come from voluntary contributions by seven governments and the European Union. This raises questions about both the nature of future expertise and the international “ownership” of the UNDCP.
The end of the Cold War brought several important changes in the international drug trade, as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in Eastern Europe caused an increased flow of people and goods from these areas to the West. According to the RCMP,