‘Abandon the knee-jerk response on drugs’

Nigel Inkster and Virginia Comolli at the US launch of Drugs, Insecurity, Failed States

Violence related to the illegal drugs trade should prompt a rethink of global drugs policy, IISS Director for Transnational Threats and Political Risk Nigel Inkster and IISS Research Analyst Virginia Comolli said at the US launch of their Adelphi book, Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: The Problems of Prohibition, at IISS-US last week.

As Inkster and Comolli explained, the prohibition of drugs was originally intended to reduce social ills associated with drug use. However, because drugs fell into the class of goods that were easy to conceal during transport, the global ‘prohibition regime’ had not succeeded in its purpose. Rather, it has only served to create a lucrative and illegal drugs smuggling industry.

Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States focuses on countries where drugs are produced or transported, and Inkster and Comolli summarised their findings for the IISS-US audience. In producer and transit states, drugs dealers were ‘stakeholders in state weakness'; they wanted the state to remain weak, and they infiltrated the state through bribes and intimidation so that their illegal ventures could flourish. When states tried to suppress the drugs trade, criminal gangs in the trade struck back with violence that at times raised the threat of state failure. Such violence had occurred in a growing number of Latin American and West African states. Drugs violence had also complicated US efforts in Afghanistan, the world’s near-monopoly supplier of heroin.

In the face of mounting casualties from the’ war on drugs’, Latin American leaders have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to the global prohibition regime. At the launch, Inkster and Comolli argued that it was time for such questioning to come to the United States as well. They presented ideas from their book as possible alternative approaches.

The authors advocated that consumer countries shift from waging a ‘war on drugs’ to an approach more focused on public health. As they pointed out, this was the initial intent of US President Richard Nixon when he launched the war on drugs in the early 1970s, since he allocated a majority of the funding for healthcare. Inkster and Comolli also noted that suppression of the international drugs trade was supposed to be counterbalanced with an adequate legal supply of drugs. Yet, today insufficient legal drugs for medical purposes were accessible outside Western countries.

Both speakers called for an end to rigid thinking on the global prohibition regime, especially in the United States. ‘It’s time for the State Department to abolish its knee-jerk response to so-called “harms reduction” policies proposed by other states,’ said Inkster. Instead, the authors recommended that action on the drugs trade be linked to a larger security and development agenda, and that prohibition face an honest cost-benefit analysis.

Watch the US launch of Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States


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