Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Security experts discuss ending the war on drugs

There can be no question that global security is fundamentally compromised by the world’s commitment to the war on drugs. Could this fact be instrumental in bringing an end to the global prohibition?

As has been demonstrated by the recently launched Count the Costs campaign, the war on drugs detrimentally impacts on numerous policy areas – Crime, Development, Security, Health, Expenditure, Stigma and Discrimination, Human Rights and the Environment. Some of these policy paths have been well-trodden by reformers; others have witnessed almost no footfall. Whilst all of them have the potential to engage policy makers, the question we have been asking is, which of them has the potential for the most engagement and concern? We have come to the conclusion that demonstrating the negative impacts of the war on drugs on security, and bringing security and intelligence agencies into the debate, has substantial untapped potential tomove the debate forward. When current and former military and intelligence personnel critique the war on drugs or indeed, explicitly call for reform to the status quo, formerly uninterested policy makers are likely to pay attention.

Up until relatively recently it had been received wisdom that drugs, crime and insecurity were inextricably linked. As the reform agenda gains traction, it is increasingly understood that the drugs/crime nexus is created, not by primarily by drug use/misuse, but in substantially part by the the prohibtionist policy environment; the war on drugs itself.

In 2008 even the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime conceeded in a discussion paper that prohibition had created a series unintended negative consequences, including 'vast' criminal market. However, there is relatively little engagement in the public debate with the fact that, along with the vast criminal market there are whole regions of the world whose national security is fundamentally compromised by the war on drugs.

There have been lone voices – for example David Passage (former director of Andean Affairs at the US State Dept), Eliza Manningham Buller (former Director General of MI5), and there is some literature. Notable amongst them is Chasing Dragons. But now the security issue is emerging, blinking into the sunlight. In October 2010, (entirely by coincidence) NOREF, the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) both ran workshops exploring the connection between drug trafficking and security.

Papers from NOREF are available here, here and here.

Transform took part in the IISS project, which consisted of two workshops and will culminate in an IISS Adelphi publication. The first workshop involved an exploration of the security issues for key geographical regions involved in production and trafficking. As a contribution to the discussion, Transform (and PhD student Emily Crick) produced a paper exploring drugs and security using the International Relations theory of Securitisation. This theory helps demonstrate that there are in fact two drug wars being fought – one ostensibly fighting against ‘drugs’ and ‘drug abuse’ because of their ‘threat’ to mankind; the other, fighting against organised crime (whose power is based on the opportunities created by the primary securitisation) because of the ‘threat’ they present to nation states (see previous blog on securitisation)

Workshop 1, 5 October 2010: Participants and agenda

A wide ranging discussion explored the scope of the drugs and security connection, including contributions from Dr. Mohammed Zafar Khan, Former Deputy Minister, Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics, Sanho Tree from the Institute for Policy Studies, the Colombian Ambassador to the UK, and others. The discussion effectively took place on two levels with some engaging wholeheartedly with the question of the impact of prohibition upon security and others remaining in their comfort zone by effectively giving country reports of security impacts.

The second workshop was intended to provide participants with the opportunity both to critique the status quo and to engage in some blue skies thinking around the impact of ending the overwhelmingly security oriented approach. To help facilitate dialogue Emily Crick presented a critique of the securitised approach and Danny Kushlick of Transform demonstrated the various policy options that are made available under a de-securitised regime of legal regulation and control. (The Transform/Crick papers on securitisation and de-securitisation are being disseminated to intelligence agencies, security/strategic think tanks and the military both in the UK and beyond)

Workshop 2, 19 April 2011: Participants and agenda.

It attracted participants from a wide range of countries, organisations and agencies, including representatives from the UK (Serious and Organised Crime Agency, FCO), Russia, China, and Mexico. Many participants found the blue skies element challenging (as you would expect from officials who spend their lives working within the prevailing paradigm of prohibition).

Despite being invited the Americans were notably absent from the workshops – a glaring gap, given the US’s deep and abiding commitment to maintaining the status quo.
There are many potentially fruitful policy veins that remain untapped. For example the development world has been reluctant to involve itself in the reform agenda. But members of the security field appear only too willing to get stuck in and are to be congratulated for doing so.
There are those who have expressed concern that engaging in the security agenda has significant risks, not least of which is that it could further solidify the security-oriented regime and discourse. We are not naïve enough to forget that some significant security and intelligence fiefdoms are predicated on and resourced by the commitment to a global war on drugs. Indeed for some it is their very lifeblood. However, our experience thus far is that some in the security and intelligence world are willing to play their part in exposing the tragic irony of the overwhelmingly negative impact of the war on drugs on national, international and human security.


Frank said...

This is good stuff guys - the reform movement is clearly gaining traction in an increasingly broad range of policy areas. Transform's recent focus on securitisation represents a maturation in the debate which is very exciting!

I would like to raise another policy area that i believe equals in importance those you have underlined: "Crime, Development, Security, Health, Expenditure, Stigma and Discrimination, Human Rights and the Environment". To this i would add Banking.

As the Guardian reported last year, Wachovia Bank was caught red-handed laundering a third of Mexico's GDP ($380bn) in drug-cartel cash. It is argued that drug cash like this is the only serious source of liquidity that banks have and, furthermore, that the temporary removal of this liquidity played a trigger role in the financial crisis in 2008.

Is it time we considered the role of Banking in the 'war on drugs' as on a par with the above policy areas? Surely Big Banks will have a huge influence on the long-term reform game if they have this much at stake? The Wachovia story also nods toward Banking's involvement in global security.

Keep up the good work!

Danny K said...

Hi Frank,

Excellent point, well made. One of the costs we have identified is financial. There will be a briefing focusing on economic costs, part of which relates precisely to the point you raise. Dirty money needs to be cleaned and given the profite to be made in money laundering, there are always willing participants. The scale of banking's involvement in this is staggering, but it is obvious that this must be the case, to handle the turnover of one of the largest commodity trades on earth.

Gart said...

Danny, I don’t know where you stand on this, but I wish people stop using “unintended consequences” every time they want to refer to or call the attention to the catastrophic consequences of prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs.

Anybody can see how ideologically charged the language used by the Prohibitionist camp is. It is intended not only to frighten and cynically manipulate people’s basic emotions, but also to misinform, confuse and more importantly, disguise the true consequences of Prohibition and the War on Drugs policies.

Reflecting on the way it’s used in the Prohibition debate, it seems to me that (the law of) unintended consequences has become now the provenance of military sanitisers, obfuscating management consultants , PR apologists and Prohibition ideologues. If you ask me, it stands alongside ‘collateral damages’ in their cynical attempt to explain away the horror and destruction of war as the result of circumstances beyond the warmongers’ control — something tantamount to absolving them of any responsibility for the outcome.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that every time the issue is raised the usual counterargument is that even though the consequences may be foreseeable, even inevitable, they are nevertheless unintended. Some will argue, still, that the fact that they are unintended does not mean they are good, right or excusable.

But that miss the point, entirely. Moreover, one should be forgiven for thinking that for those at the receiving end of the war on drugs policies, such distinctions are nothing but pedantic details. Let me put it this way, if I may. If you drop a bomb in a school with the intent to kill the teacher, but in the process you kill all the students in the school, too, you cannot say, Oops! I didn’t intend to kill the students. The fact that you know in advance that that will be the most likely outcome makes it invalid your excuse that it was unintended. More to the point, it obscures the fact that the act (dropping the bomb) is nothing but a criminal act, intended or not.

I do believe that by alluding to (the law of) unintended consequences one is diminishing the responsibility prohibitionist and war-on-drug-mongers have for the violence, corruption, destruction of democratic institutions, and what have you. Prohibitionist will, of course, argue that none of those outcomes form the basis of their policies, that if anything, their policies are informed by good intentions, that all is done for the greater good.

Gart Valenc

Gart said...

Those who missed the story of Wachovia Bank mentioned by Frank, here is the link:


It is not just banks. The corruption runs wide as well as deep, and touches every echelon of the US society: government officials, politicians, judges, you name it! You have to ask yourself: can the thousands and thousands of tons of cocaine — not to mention similar amounts of other drugs — that manage to enter the US year after year be explained by the ingenuity and industriousness of drug traffickers alone?

The reality is that a business that generates US320 billion a year, A YEAR, (and remember this is being going on for several decades) can’t be sustained on drug traffickers’ sheer luck alone. Their high success can only be achieved by developing a sophisticated network of, how can I put it, highly skilled and motivated entrepreneurs in drug consuming countries.

But you will be sorely mistaken if you think that the same corrupt practices are not equally rampant in our country. What is valid for the US is equally valid for all major drug consuming countries, like ours. We may think that we are paying a high price for the war on drugs, but in reality, it pales into insignificance when compared to the price drug producing countries like Colombia, Mexico and the like are actually paying.

As history has show us again and again, every war has casualties but also beneficiaries. I'm afraid, all in all, so far it has been a good war for us!

Gart Valenc

Gart said...
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