Friday, October 10, 2008

Drugs: The Anti-Drug

. Friday, October 10, 2008

The PSA above is infamous for its, er, lack of subtlety. But there is an underlying issue at stake: one of the unintended consequences of the convergence of the War on Drugs with the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan is that we have incentivized poor Afghan farmers to grow poppy. It is easy grow, has quick yields, and many farmers have no other viable alternative. It's either grow poppy or live in even greater destitution. And so Afghanistan now produces 93% of the world's opium supply. The illicit opium trade generates an estimated $4bn in yearly exports in a country with an official GDP (PPP) of $35bn. Much of this opium money finds its way into the hands of the Taliban, who use it to fund their insurgency. It is clear that a direct means of fighting the Taliban is to cut off their funding. To that end, NATO forces will now begin to directly attack opium production facilities in the hopes of destroying crops. If the history of the War on Drugs is any indication, this new strategy tactic strategy will have lackluster success at best (see: Colombia).

So what to do? Christopher Hitchens proposes a new strategy: if you can't beat 'em, co-opt 'em. In other words, rather than trying to shut down the drug trade, buy the opium and use it in the production of prescription painkillers, of which there is a global shortage, particularly in the developing world. In fact, Turkey has government-controlled opium production, and it sells its crop to the U.S. and other countries for the development of medicines. There are issues of policing, but if the U.S. is willing to pay a high price than the Taliban, then we may be able to weaken the Taliban, improve the security and economy of Afghanistan, improve the standards of living for some of the most destitute people on earth, increase access to pharmaceutical drugs in the developing world, and lower the global costs of the same drugs, and (potentially) prevent the loss of life that a NATO attack might occur. In fact, much of the success of the Anbar Awakening can be attributed to the shift in U.S. policy from fighting local leaders to (ahem) bribing them. Perhaps it's worth trying something similar in Afghanistan. We may improve the security situation and the local economy in one fell swoop, while reducing the global supply of illicit street drugs, thus raising their price and reducing the quantity demanded.

Yes, this is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky view. Yes, there are certainly complications, not least of which are domestic political feasibility issues. The Canadian government is one dissenter from this view. A summary of their arguments is here. But alternative scenarios are even less rosy. For more in-depth analysis in support of making the illicit Afghani drug trade licit, see Poppies for Medicine, a years-in-the-making study conducted by the Senlis Council, which examines feasibility issues and proposes an economic and policy model for enaction.


Benjamin Thomas Sutpen said...

I find it difficult to simply throw together the Taliban and terrorism like that. Seems like another of those unfortunate, to say the least, sweeping claims that throws together people that might or might not have a lot in common (left-wing revolutionaries during the Cold War all being Communists, or Saddam being linked to Islamic terrorism).

Kindred Winecoff said...

i don't think i did conflate the Taliban with terrorism. i called them insurgents, which they are. i said that they are challenging the security and stability of the Afghan state, which they are. but i never called them terrorists.

Drugs: The Anti-Drug




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