The Other War That Should Be Stopped

The world's attention has been focused on the war on Iraq. But another war--this one UN-sanctioned--has been going on simultaneously: the war on drugs. In my view, every sensible person should want this largely ignored war to end as well. While the UN should play a role in leading Iraq toward a free and democratic society, it must also change dramatically its own course in the war on drugs and lead the world to a saner policy.

In 1998, to celebrate the 10 th anniversary of the adoption of the third Convention on Narcotic and Psychotropic substances, the United Nations convened a special General Assembly session to discuss the issue of illicit drugs. At the end of that forum, UN member states adopted a political declaration that mandated the UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) "to develop strategies with a view to eliminating or significantly reducing the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant, and the opium poppy by the year 2008."

On April 16 th -17 th , the international community will re-convene in Vienna to reckon with the results of the policies the UN has pursued. But five years into the program, one thing is clear: the results are grim. According to a UNDCP report issued in 2002 called Illicit Drug Trends , new markets for narcotics are expanding faster than old ones are being shut down. Drug dealers, like sharp businessmen everywhere, have gone out and found new markets. Eastern countries (the postcommunist world in Europe and the richer countries of Asia) are consuming more and more drugs, because the older markets of Western Europe and North America are saturated.

Across the world, narcotics trafficking is on the increase, not only because new markets are coming online, but also because new countries have taken up production. Moreover, new synthetic and chemical substances, which are more potent and often less expensive than the "classic" ones, are being invented.