There has been a spate of articles about the futility of the so called War on Drugs. As someone who has never tried any illegal drugs but who is a strong opponent of the present policy of prohibition I have little to add to the general discussion save one point, which is never mentioned even though I would have thought it was both obvious and important. This is that one of the key reasons why the western powers are losing the so called War on Drugs is because at the same time that they claim to be waging this war they are also the patrons and allies of the world’s leading drug traffickers. A brief survey of recent history shows that this is the case.
The international drugs trade took off in the 1960s with mass imports of heroin into the United States sourced from the so called Golden Triangle of south east Asia. What very few know is that the people behind the cultivation of opium in the Golden Triangle were assorted criminals and gangsters who were able to operate with virtual impunity because they were being sponsored by the United States as part of the so called “third force” that was fighting the Communists in the Vietnam war. Later the centre of opium cultivation switched to Afghanistan where it took off in the 1980s. There the major cultivators and traffickers of opium and heroin were assorted criminals and gangsters who made up a large proportion of the so called Mujaheddin who the western powers were supporting because they were fighting the Soviets. These people were able to use the anti Soviet war as a cover and protection for their criminal activities. Later these same people formed the core of the so called Northern Alliance, which in alliance with the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001. The Taliban had tried to eradicate opium cultivation and heroin trafficking. Following their overthrow both resumed with a vengeance.
Further afield many people are vaguely aware that cocaine production and trafficking took off in Columbia in the 1970s and 1980s at a time when the right wing pro American Columbian government was fighting a counterinsurgency war against a left wing guerrilla movement known as the FARC and that this war has been continuing ever since and is continuing to this day. Some people also know that the government in this war is supported by right wing paramilitary death squads. Very few people know that the Colombian drugs cartels and the right wing paramilitaries who operate the death squads are the same people.
Turning to Europe, few people know that the major transit route for Afghan heroin into Europe is through the Balkans and specifically through Albania and Kosovo Fewer people still know that this route is largely controlled by various gangsters and criminals many of whom were involved in the Kosovo Liberation Army or KLA, which the western powers supported in the war against the Serbs in 1999. Repeating what has happened in Afghanistan, following the war some of these people under western protection are in power in Kosovo now.
These are perhaps the most flagrant examples but they can be multiplied. For example the proliferation of vicious drugs gangs across Central America in recent years is again directly traceable to US support for paramilitary groups in the struggle to defeat Communism that took place there during the 1980s.
I do not wish to suggest that the only people who engage in drugs trafficking are friends of the United States. It is an acknowledged fact that the FARC in Colombia is now also involved in the international cocaine trade. My point is that whenever there is a conflict between the so called War on Drugs and the geopolitical ambitions of the United States and of the other western powers it is always and invariably the geopolitcal ambitions that win out and that this is key to understanding why attempts to limit or control the spread of illegal drugs always prove so ineffective.
What is more disturbing still is that though the facts speak for themselves they are never discussed. I can remember vividly the heroin epidemic that hit Britain in the summer of 1981. Before 1981 heroin abuse in Britain was an insignificant problem limited to a very small number of relatively affluent people. It was during the heroin epidemic of 1981 that heroin penetrated the council estates and became a mass problem. Since then the level of heroin abuse has ebbed and flowed but remains embedded in British society to an extent that was unthinkable before 1981. Where heroin led cocaine followed and this too has gone from being a drug confined to wealthy Bohemians to becoming a drug of mass consumption. It is fair to say that Britain’s problem with hard drugs began in 1981.
It was obvious to me at the time that the cause of the 1981 heroin epidemic was the anti Soviet war that was being fought in Afghanistan. The source of the heroin that was flooding Britain was freely discussed and it was widely and openly acknowledged that it was coming from Afghanistan. Yet though the connection with the war was obvious it was never mentioned. The entire establishment including the government, the opposition, the police, the local authorities, the charities and the media combined to impose silence on the subject. The entire focus was instead on poverty and unemployment, which did play a role, and the supposed culture of hedonism and immorality, which did not.
If western governments give the War on Drugs so much lower priority than they do the pursuit of their geopolitical objectives then the War on Drugs cannot be won, should not be fought and is not worth fighting . It is absurd and wrong that billions should be spent on it and millions of people should be locked away to fight a War on Drugs that western governments through their allies and proxies are waging against themselves.