Drugs, security, and risk
How do drugs affect security? To answer this question I first need to find a concept of security that takes drug problems into account, since traditional concepts of security tend to focus on states and their military capabilities alone. With regard to the production, trafficking, and consumption of drugs all kinds of actors above and below the level of the state play a role, and the impact of drugs is evident at different levels of analysis (individuals, domestic groups, states, one region, or more regions). Further, drug problems manifest themselves in many ways. To understand the impact of drug production, trafficking, consumption, and anti-drug-policies on security, it is useful to expand the traditional concept of security it into the military, political, economical, societal, and environmental sectors.
The complexity of drug problems
The complexity of a phenomenon such as drug problems becomes evident when we open a newspaper: In general, the more complex the phenomenon, the more sections of the newspaper will contain news about it.
Any section of a newspaper might contain articles on illicit drugs:
The politics section may inform readers about new multilateral and bilateral law enforcement efforts against drug smugglers.
The business section may report on the latest money laundering scandal related to the illicit drugs trade.
The general news page may report on a grandfather and the hundreds of cannabis plants that the police found growing in the basement of his house.
The sports page may cover the doping of a sports star.
The local section of the newspaper may describe an increase in property crimes committed by drug addicts.
Our newspaper may cover different aspect of drug problems: the various stages (production, trafficking, consumption); the various sectors affected by the illicit trade of drugs (the military, political, economical, and societal), and the various types of drugs, derivates of cannabis, coca, and opium, as well as synthetic drugs).
Drugs and security
There are few publications by governments and international organizations that deal with international security without mentioning organized crime.
A couple of examples illustrate the many challenges posed by drug production, trafficking, consumption, rug-related violence, and corruption:
The economics of violence
In 1997, the United Nations estimated the annual value of the illicit drug trade at USD400 billion, or roughly 8 per cent of world trade. Most of the profits go to the traffickers, who often use intimidation, violence, and corruption to protect their business activities.
Financial and foreign policies aspects
The US government estimated that illegal drug use cost the country USD160 billion in 2000, of which about USD 15 billion were health costs and USD110 billion were
Numerous insurgents, extremist groups, and governments have financed themselves in the past through drugs, and many still do. The drug trade, a cause and consequence of political instability, is in many cases linked to other forms of crime, such as money laundering and the trafficking of arms, human beings, and diamonds.
In some countries, the consumption of drugs has assumed epidemic proportions. Pakistan, for example, has many as two million heroin addicts, many of whom die of overdose or AIDS, which is spread through the use of contaminated springs.
Actors in the drug economy
One reason for the differences in the constructions of risk causes is the large number of actors participating in the illicit for drug problems.
The following list presents an overview of groups participating in the drug economy:
- Regular consumers
- Occasional consumers
- Street-level dealers who take drugs themselves
- Street-level dealer who do not consume drugs
- People who sell drugs wholesale
- Small-scale cross-border smugglers, e.g. those who swallow drugs (“body-packers”)
- International traffickers who smuggle large quantities across borders
- Rebels fighting governments
- Paramilitaries fighting rebels
- Governments fighting any group that challenges their authority
- Peasants who produce coca, poppy, or cannabis
- Professional chemists who produce drugs in large laboratories
- Individuals who produce small quantities (“mom and pop laboratories”)
- Lawyers and economists who offer their services to traffickers
- Corrupt officials, members of the legal profession, law enforcement officers, and military personnel
Reducing the complexity
A comprehensive policy that would be, one that addresses all aspects of drug problems, and would need to focus on all actors listed above. It would also need to take into account the reason why groups of actors participate in the drug economy. However, human beings tend to deal with complexity by reducing it to a manageable few key
topics, that is to say, policy-makers, the media, and the general public tend to focus their discussion of drug problems on one or a few groups of actors. But the conclusions drawn by non-participants about what motivates these groups to participate in drug production, consumption, or trafficking may be very wrong.
In order to understand the causes of drug problems we can look either at the individual or at social structures. Thus, to gain an understanding of drug problems, we can combine causes that relate to the individual (micro-causes) with larger social causes (macro-causes). In general terms, at the macro level, we might decide that supply and demand are the main factors enabling the industry. At the micro level, we might conclude that a high demand for drugs result from illness, moral decay, or irresponsibility, while supply can be explained as a result of the poverty of peasants or of traffickers’ greed for power and money.
Reasons for perceptions and their impact on policies
The construction of risk causes is influenced by various factors, three of which
Political opportunities influence risk constructions, for example, in bureaucracies trying to secure more funding by engaging in drug control.
The degree to which a particular problem “really” affects a society influences risk constructions. If significant sectors of a population were not affected by drug consumption and trafficking, for example, the government would find it more difficult to justify its tough law enforcement stance.
The values and cultural dispositions in a given society influence risk constructions. The construction of risk causes, on the one hand, and decisions about risk policies, on the other, are closely linked. Without being deterministic, we can say that the way causes are constructed facilitates some policies and excludes others. If, for example, supply is emphasized by a society as the main cause of drug problems, that society’s policy is likely to be on supply reduction. If people regard drug dependence as a social and individual illness, they will be more inclined to fund treatment and needle exchange programs than if they construct drug consumption as a criminal offense.
Side effects of drug policies
Side effects reflect the two basic issues in the drug policy debate: Should drugs be legal or illegal, and how should a government deal with drug production, trafficking, and consumption.
Side effects of prohibition
Prohibition creates black markets, since it drives previously legal industries underground. It criminalizes all those involved in the drug economy. Prohibition is the prerequisite for coercive state action, which in turn, has many negative side effects.
Side effects of legalization
Calls for legalization are advanced from many different groups, including, some of the political left, who denounce states for violating human rights or for using drug policies as a means to oppress minorities, and liberals on the political right, who fear state encroachment on individual liberties. The option suggested by those groups is to legalize some or all drugs. Others fiercely oppose those proposals and argue that legalization would make a bad situation worse: If drugs were legalized, prices would drop dramatically because entrepreneurs would no longer be able to charge a crime tax. Such a drop in prices would lead to much higher drug consumption rates. Researchers corroborate this argument, saying that governments would also find it difficult to control the online marketing of drugs.
In the media, in private circles, and in politics, strategies against drugs are the topic of passionate debates. The effectiveness and the consequences of drug policies have always been controversial, but developments in the past 20 years have further
eroded confidence about the ability of states to act decisively against drugs production, trafficking, and consumption. Drugs are a truly global phenomenon, the number of users is rising, and new chemical drugs are flooding the market. Despite aggressive anti-drug campaigns, drugs have, in some cases, become cheaper, purer, and more readily available than they were before. The relative ineffectiveness is due to several factors, including the side effects of policies.
Many drug problems can result from prohibition and its enforcement. Prohibition creates an illegal market that is highly profitable and therefore attracts many entrepreneurs who are willing to protect their interests trough violence and corruption. Enforcing prohibition artificially inflates commodity prices because traffickers and dealers risk confiscation of their goods, arrest, and death. Those risks are passed on to the consumers as what we might call “crime tax”.
Attempts to enforce laws are undermined by the fact that drugs are often produced in conflict-ridden zones where governments have little leverage over non-state actors. And even when policy succeeds in suppressing production and trafficking at one point of the chain, increased prices that arise from supply shortages, given the relatively constant demand, lead to relocation of production areas and trafficking routes. This has happened many times in the history of drug control.
A relocation of drug production and trafficking, rural poverty, and conflicts are not the only factors that challenge drug control. Other factors include the high productivity of the coca bush, the implication of state actors in the drug business,
contested or weak legal norms, disputes between state agencies over budgets and turf, developments in technology and transport, and economic globalization, all of which are beneficial to traffickers. Those factors make it difficult to enforce prohibition, and attempts to do so create numerous side effects. The corruption and violence engaged in by traffickers trying to protect their business are just two of those effects.
Drug policies can focus on supply or demand, coercion or cooperation. They can occur at the national level or at the international level. Drugs that are now illegal have not always been so but have been banned mainly as a result of US initiatives. Drug prohibition and attempts to implement prohibition have created problematic side effects. Moreover, there are many signs that international drug policies are ineffective in reducing the supply of drug in net production and transit countries.
Drug problems have an impact on individuals, domestic groups, states, and one or more regions. Further, they affect the military, political, economic, societal, and environmental security sectors. Drugs are a security risk because hostile actors, their damage potential, and hostile intentions are far from clear and therefore constructed. The way the causes and consequences of risks are constructed is important because perceptions influence political decisions. Of the many factors leading to often asymmetric constructions, the real drug problems in a given society figure prominently.
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