The Context of Enforcement: Lessons Learned from a Quarter Century of Drug Control

Address to the 25 th International Drug Enforcement Conference 

Madrid, 8 May 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great honour to address this 25 th anniversary of the International Drug Enforcement Conference.


A Century of Drug Control

There are some good reasons to celebrate, whatever the time perspective. 

First, the long term:  the first drug control efforts began (almost) a century ago when an International Opium Commission was convened in Shanghai (March 1909). At that time, world opium production was estimated to be around 30,000 metric tons. A century later, today, we are down to around 7,000 metric tons - a drop of 75%.  At that time there were 25 million opium addicts in China alone: there are now 13 million in the world -- a 50% reduction.    

Second, the medium term: over the past 25 years, namely during the life span of your Association, the international drug control system established by the United Nations was put in place.  It has now (almost) universal adherence.  This multilateral effort was established for a good reason:  during the post war period things had threatened to get out of control once again, as addiction rates had moved much higher in North America (early '60s) and Western Europe (since 1968). 

Third, the short term:  ten years ago, in response to the fear that rising drug addiction could spread out of rich countries and into the developing world, UN members states took a fresh look at drug control and set targets for reducing supply and demand by 2008.  We refer to this process as UNGASS, as it was launched by the General Assembly that met in a special session dedicated to drug control.

Where do we stand as mid-2007?  These efforts are converging and starting to pay off.  Thanks in large part to your work the world drug problem is being contained.  Yes, I would like you to remember this ''c'' word, containment :  this is the main message that I would like to leave with you.

What do I mean by containment?  No, the world drug problem is not solved.  Nonetheless, we have robust evidence that, on average and on the global scale, the drug problem has stabilized - whether we talk about cultivation, production or consumption.  And it has done so for practically all major types of illicit drugs.

Since IDEC started its meetings a quarter century ago, this is the first time such a strong statement can be made.  To back up my words with evidence, let me stylize the present-day drug situation, paying attention to the role of law enforcement. 

World Drug Situation as of today

A /  First, cocaine. Over the past five years a strong, sustained decline in coca cultivation has taken place.  Not so for the actual output:  after an initial dip earlier in the decade (down to 700-800t), world cocaine production has increased again (to 900t/y) because of higher yields and improved processing.  Let's recognize it: evil minds are at work, looking for productivity improvements even in the deadly business of illicit drug making.

So far, forced eradication has been the key factor in the decline of coca cultivation:  in Colombia alone eradication has cut coca cultivation in half since 2000.  Not everybody is convinced of this approach, and the debate goes on whether eradication is effective or not, and why. Our data shows that the destruction of crops is effective in two ways.  First, ex post:  it reduces the acreage of land under cultivation.  Second, ex ante:  it is a deterrent to farmers of illicit crops.  It's a preventive measure.  

Yet, eradication has its limits.  In the recent past aerial spraying in Colombia has run into diminishing returns because of the difficulty of destroying coca fields fragmented in size, dispersed on steep mountain slopes, embedded in protected national parks, and grown in proximity to international borders.  Therefore, as a complement to forced eradication, I believe we should make farmers responsible for the voluntary eradication of their illicit plants - whether we talk about Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, or even Afghanistan.

In other ways, eradication is effective if adequate in size, protracted over time and complemented by incentives that promote crop substitution, and more generally develop infrastructure, health-care, education and security.  This makes farmers less dependent on illicit crops and more resilient against pressure from criminal groups and insurgents.

UNODC encourages funding partners to provide more development assistance to Andean farmers so that eradicating poverty, eradicating coca and eradicating insurgency go hand in hand.

By enforcing the law, you are also helping to save the planet - a popular subject at a time when global warming has become a global threat. Coca cultivation and cocaine production are destroying tropical forests - the lungs of our planet. By stopping this deadly business, you not only save lives of drug abusers, you prevent the destruction of fragile eco-systems.

Another leading indicator of the success of drug enforcement is the dramatic rise in cocaine seizures. The interception rate has almost doubled from a quarter of coca production in 2000, to almost half in 2005 despite higher cocaine output due to greater productivity.  As a reaction, cocaine routes are being re-arranged:  drug seizures and related violence in western and southern Africa, Central America and Brazil are rising dramatically.  We have to cope with these shifts as well.

Even greater is the challenge to reduce demand for cocaine. A quarter century ago, when this Conference was established, cocaine was the Yuppies' drug of choice, across the Atlantic.  Following a crack epidemic in the 1980s and the robust law enforcement deployed to contain it, demand for cocaine in North America has declined, offset by an alarming rise in Europe, where addiction levels are among the highest in the world - not least in our host country Spain. More attention to prevention and treatment, and a more critical portrayal of coke-snorting celebrities, would help reduce demand.

All said, whether we talk about cocaine supply, or demand or trade, the notion of containment is appropriate -- at the global level the coca market has stabilized.  It is now everybody's task to see that it is reduced. I will say more later on how this can be achieved. 

B /  The opium story is different, with lots of good - and not so good - news.  A quarter century ago, the world's opium was supplied by the Golden Triangle: Thailand, Burma and Laos. That region is now virtually opium free, with the exception of Myanmar (Burma) that only supplies local markets. The Golden Triangle has moved west, with Afghanistan having acquired the virtual monopoly of illicit opium production, and with Pakistan and Iran having an equally uncontested supremacy of its trade.

Oddly, in today's Afghanistan opium has defied the traditional market forces of supply and demand. We estimate world-wide demand for opium to be equivalent to around 4,500t. In 2006, a bumper opium crop enabled production of over 6,000t:  as a consequence, prices are falling and purity rising, but not to the extent and at the speed one would expect. That said - and this is breaking news - our latest figures suggest a 72% increase in heroin prices in Pakistan in April 2007 over March: the security situation seems to be changing in the border region, and the police have destroyed the drug market in Peshawar.     

Still, there is a mystery that we need to solve. Since last year, in the world there are about 1,500t of opium in excess of demand, for a value (at West Asia prices) of over one billion US dollars. These drugs are being stockpiled somewhere:  what for?  Warehoused by traffickers, fearing a crack-down?  I doubt it, as this year we are likely to see another major surplus production.  Are there emerging heroin markets that we don't know about?  I doubt this as well, as we would have detected them by now.  Are (some of) the drugs in the hands of terrorists or insurgents, to fund violence in the region and beyond?   We need to find out, the sooner the better.  Do help us.

So, is Afghanistan defying the notion of containment, reported earlier?  Yes, but only to an extent.   The Afghan opium problem is concentrated in the south -- where security has broken down and where the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorism and terrorism supporting the drug trade is stronger than ever.  In other words, the ever-increasing opium cultivation in Afghanistan is less a narcotic issue and more a matter of insurgency.

To prove the point, let me stress that in the centre and north of Afghanistan opium cultivation is likely to decrease this year, to the point that as many as 1/3 of the country's 34 provinces may be declared as opium free by our Office this Summer. This could result in an opium-free belt across Afghanistan, from the border with Pakistan in the south-east to Turkmenistan in the north-west.

How has this been possible?  Just as I said about Colombia:  through a balanced use of sticks (eradication) and carrots (assistance). On the one hand, opium-free provinces are being rewarded (though not fast enough). On the other hand, law enforcement (eradication) is becoming more robust. Slowly, the previous risk/reward imbalance in the Afghan drug economy is being redressed.  

I am glad that anti-narcotics and anti-insurgency are now seen as two aspects of the same problem, by NATO and by the Coalition members. I also applaud the UN Security Council's decision (December 2006) to add drug traffickers to their al-Qaeda/Taliban most-wanted list. These measures will end drug lords' impunity:  do assist the Security Council to identify, prosecute, extradite and punish those who are profiting from the drug tragedy of Afghanistan. 

Many of Afghanistan's drug problems cannot be solved within the country.  Its drug enforcement capability is still weak, its borders long and uncontrolled, the police untrained and out-numbered. As a result, Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's opium but seizes only 5% of it (for Colombia, the respective ratios are 80% and 35%)

Should we despair?  No.  I have seen a vast improvement over a short period.  In 2003 the Governor of Badakhshan described a raid a few days before my arrival.  This is what he told me.  A team of 22 agents had just tried to carry out a raid:  21 of them were illiterate; they had to hitch-hike to get to the location and had one hand gun to share.  I promised to help, others also intervened.  Things are changing.

We must become more aggressively imaginative about the future.  Here are some examples worth mentioning.

Five different types of things flow freely across Afghanistan's borders:  drugs, precursors, money, weapons and insurgents.  Dealing with weapons and insurgents is a task for NATO and Afghanistan.  The rest is our task.  At UNODC we have launched a border control initiative between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to help stem the flow of precursors, drugs and money.  It will strengthen both the hardware (infrastructure) and the software (joint intelligence) of Afghanistan's South- Eastern borders. We are engaging the three parties and finding donors.  Your help will be much appreciated.

The Paris Pact is an increasingly operational mechanism for containing the trafficking of opiates from Afghanistan. This mechanism was created to help you.  If you think it can be improved, please let us know.

We are also trying to improve counter-narcotics intelligence sharing north of Afghanistan, by opening the Central Asia Regional Intelligence Centre (CARICC) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this fall.  Help us here as well.

We have promoted a similar regional arrangement in the Gulf, and hope to inaugurate the Gulf Centre for Criminal Intelligence (GCCI) in Doha later this year.  This should plug another gaping hole in West Asia, through which drugs flow into Saudi Arabia, Iraq and then westward.

These centres - linked with INTERPOL, EUROPOL, SECI and national agencies - will help improve the odds of containing the threat to health and security posed by Afghanistan's opium. The road ahead is quite long: with your help we will go far.

C /  There is important news regarding synthetic drugs.  Over the past few years, the alarming increase in the production of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) of the 1990s seems to have levelled off, though the relative decline of old producing centres was partly offset by new processing in eastern Europe, southern Africa, Central America and parts of Asia. 

These production trends mirror the situation of demand:  stable overall, declining in some mature markets (like Europe), but rising in new ones (developing countries). In Europe the ecstasy market is maturing, as demonstrated by growing awareness of associated risks, and by the raising number of young ATS addicts seeking treatment. These are recognizable indicators pointing to a slow-down in abuse. 

Nevertheless, we should all heed the terrible damage that meth can do to public health as witnessed, for example, in the United States and South East Asia.  The resulting law enforcement challenge is enormous, because of availability of precursors, simplicity of manufacturing and short trafficking routes.

But even with meth - not long ago labeled by us as public enemy number one -containment is working.  In the past couple of years, steps have been taken, especially in the US, to fight it forcefully, with tough new laws to control trade in precursors. Mexico has also cut the import of these chemicals to reduce diversion.  Better cooperation between law enforcement agencies (for example, project PRISM) is showing results. 

Public awareness is also growing. In societies where a high percentage of young people believe ATS is dangerous (northern European countries, for example), addiction levels are low. The more people - particularly young people - learn about the dramatic reality of synthetic drugs, the more likely they are to stay away from them. 

D /  Cannabis is the world's most widely grown and widely used illicit drug.  In this case, the notion of containment is hard to prove.  Though reassuring numbers regarding both demand and supply are coming in, I urge you to channel more economic and logistical resources to fight this drug.

Above all, we have to oppose the benign neglect of this drug because of its greater and ever growing destructive power.  When I completed my PhD in Berkeley a few years before your Conference was established, the local flower children smoked joints whose THC content was 2-3%. 

Things have changed since then.  As new, more potent strains of cannabis have become available, progress is being made to combat its use.  In the Netherlands attitudes (and policies) are changing regarding marijuana coffee-shops.  Or consider the opinion reversal by the British newspaper The Independent.  Ten years ago this newspaper launched a campaign to decriminalize cannabis. This past March it publicly apologized for that stance, and called for greater prevention and treatment. 

On the supply side, containment of cannabis production is difficult as it grows in the wild - all over the world.  Yet, some progress is being made, as the major producers are cutting back. Cannabis herb production has declined in Mexico, partly due to stronger eradication efforts. Morocco, the world's biggest cannabis resin producer, has slashed cultivation by half in the past few years (from 134,000h in 2003 to 70,000 in 2005), with no indications of a reversal in 2006. 

This progress is only partly offset by increases elsewhere, for example in Afghanistan and parts of Africa.  Especially nasty is the role of bio-technologies, that are increasing the THC potency and its yields by many multiples, with plants grown indoors -- in booby-trapped urban properties. 

Again, the key is to reduce demand and to inform people about the risks. In countries where young people are being made aware of the risks, cannabis use is either low (Japan and Northern Europe) or decreasing (Australia).  In other countries, law enforcement has caused lower consumption.  Lower seizures worldwide in 2005 may also point to a market slowdown. 

Lessons Learned from a Quarter Century of Drug Control 

Having given you an overview of the world drug situation and bearing in mind that this is your 25 th anniversary, what lessons can be learned from the past quarter century of drug enforcement?  Let me give you five comments.

First, drug interdiction is becoming more successful.  Interdiction rates for heroin and cocaine have almost doubled in the past decade. Cocaine seizures have been impressive of late:  in many parts of the world, shipments of several thousand kilos are being busted.  My congratulations to the Panamanian authorities, assisted by the US Coast Guard, for the massive cocaine seizure in March.  And to the Colombians for their major bust last week. And to the Belgians, who seized 45 tonnes of hashish earlier this year in Antwerp.  Also my thanks to our hosts, Spain, for their efforts to curb cocaine and cannabis resin entry into the Union.

Counter-narcotic successes are inevitably accompanied by remedial measures by narco-traffickers.  We need to operate more and better to stop the emerging drug flows - particularly cocaine - through Africa, and strengthen the continent's interdiction capacity. 

Second, inter-agency cooperation at the national level is getting stronger. Drug enforcement must be comprehensive, focussed not only on trafficking but also on stopping the smuggling of precursors and the laundering of crime proceeds.

Since 2003, Russia has a Federal Drug Control Service that merged several related interdiction forces. In 2006, the United Kingdom consolidated its crime fighting forces under a Serious Organized Crime Agency.  Seven European countries are setting up a Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre in Lisbon, focussed on the Atlantic coast.  In the United States different agencies have teamed up for joint operations - DEA, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, state police and the Coast Guard.  In Italy, counter-narcotic operations are run by a central force that brings together national police, tax police and Carabinieri.  These different models of law enforcement cooperation are bringing important results.  Yet, more is needed. 

Third, because drug trafficking is a trans-national threat, it requires international co-operation, as pledged by states parties to the 1988 UN Convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

In a sense you, members of IDEC, are lucky:  you benefit from international drug control cooperation that is one century old (Shanghai 1909/Hague 1912).  International cooperation to counter trans-national mafia is much more recent:  it is based on the United Nations Convention against organized crime that was agreed upon only half a dozen years ago (the Palermo Convention, December 2000).  Even younger is multilateralism to counter terrorism, and this is a problem in itself.

The United Nations is working hard at promoting international partnership in all these areas.  UNODC has mid-wifed the counter-narcotic intelligence centres in Central Asia and the Gulf.  Time is ripe for considering such a model in the Andean and ASEAN countries as well.  In the interim, it may be a good idea to create in these two regions mechanisms like the Paris Pact, to improve cooperation against trafficking of cocaine (in the Andean) and amphetamines (in Asean). 

Fourth, the drug business thrives on instability. It is no coincidence that three of the world's biggest drug producing regions - in Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar - are out of the control of central governments.

The same applies to trafficking routes.  Invariably they cross through zones of instability and through regions where corruption lowers the risk of interdiction - just think of the Fergana Valley, the Andean jungles, the Gulf of Guinea, the lands of the Baluchis and the Kurds, the wilder areas of the Caucasus and the Balkans.  The challenge is to block these routes by increasing security, fighting corruption, and building law enforcement capacity - for example among border guards and port officials.

Let me give you a couple of illustrative examples, to show once again the long road ahead.

(a)         A few months ago, I visited a border crossing point along the Silk Road.  The sight was disheartening:  an area the size of 5 football fields, with 3000 truckers and their noisy rigs, 300 prostitutes, 3 policemen and a dog.  Is this drug control?

(b)        Or imagine the frustration of the Guinea-Bissau police, last month.  They intercepted a consignment of cocaine, and managed to pick up 635kg.  But 2000kg disappeared as police cars ran out gas while giving chase.

To plug holes exploited by traffickers, many states need technical assistance.  In Ecuador, Senegal and soon Pakistan, UNODC is working with the World Customs Organization and local port officials to improve container security. In other countries we are providing specialist training for controlled deliveries, or other forms of intelligence-led law enforcement.  Help us to help you.

More can be done, for example, by twinning countries, cities, ports and law enforcement agencies to improve drug control. Share your experience and knowledge with others, in countries just not capable of controlling their borders:  the closer controls get to the source of the problem, the cheaper and the more effective they are.

Fifth, drug control is a shared responsibility:  no state or sector of society can solve the problem on its own.

I can even prove this point, logically.

(a.) Dream with me that, thanks to your collective efforts, all drugs in the world could be seized: 1000t of cocaine, 600t of heroin, 500t of ATS etc. Well, when we wake up we would discover that as many tons will be produced next year.  In other words, your work is necessary but not sufficient.

(b.) Then, let's dream that farmers destroy all their illicit crops:  160.000h of opium, 100.000h of coca leaves, at least 500.000h of cannabis etc. Well, upon waking up we would discover that demand by the world's 25 million problem drug users will generate as much cultivation somewhere else in the world, and there will always be criminals to deliver.  In other words, eradication is also necessary, but not sufficient.

(c.) Therefore, I submit to you, the biggest challenge is also our ultimate dream:  drug treatment and rehabilitation of the 25 million serious drug addicts in the world and strong prevention to avoid further spreading of drug abuse.  Any and all supply reduction has to be met by equal demand reduction and vice-versa, or we are never going to get out of the vicious circle of one side of the drug market equation stimulating the other.  This should be our common dream. 

In conclusion, you have a heavy responsibility on your shoulders. And you are bearing it well.  But it is not fair to ask you alone to solve the drug problem:  it is a shared responsibility, within society and among countries. 

Nationally, the whole of society has a role to play in fighting drug abuse.  I call on everybody:  parents, peers, teachers, ordinary workers as much as role models, to steer people away from drugs in order to lead healthy and active lives.  Internationally, all states - whether countries of supply, transit or demand - must do their part to reduce the threat posed to security and public health by illicit drugs.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

We are indebted to you for risking your life everyday:  you are in the front lines of drug control.  I have celebrated your Silver Jubilee with some good news, regarding containment of the world drug problem.  Let's make further progress and reduce the size and severity of the drug problem, as we head towards your Golden Jubilee.

Thanks for your attention.