Governing The Global Drug Wars

LSE Ideas
October, 2012

lse-ideasSince 1909 the international community has worked to eradicate the abuse of narcotics. A century on, the efforts are widely acknowledged to have failed, and worse, have spurred black market violence and human rights abuses. How did this drug control system arise, why has it proven so durable in the face of failure, and is there hope for reform?

The report explores the “overwhelming” empirical data showing that the current system has failed. It argues that the human cost of pursuing many international policies renders them unjustifiable – from mass incarceration in the US and Asia, to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia, and violence dominating Latin America. It says that the failure of the global war on drugs is no longer a point of controversy, yet the UN and key governments continue to pursue ineffective policies  “driven by a mixture of bureaucratic and ideological inertia.”

It examines how the complex and opaque international drug control system evolved and why it continues to operate in the manner that it does. The reasons why some drugs have traditionally been the subjects of ‘war’, while others have become deeply ingrained in the mainstream economy are also explored. James Mills of the University of Strathclyde surveys the “questionable scientific evidence” which underpins cannabis being a controlled drug.

Examining the war against cocaine in Latin America, Paul Gootenberg of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, argues that international drug policy makers create larger and more violent problems than their policies resolve.

Former Swiss President, Ruth Dreifuss, evaluates Switzerland’s interaction with the international system, highlighting the pressure exerted on states trying to pursue policies outside the norm.

Other experts focus on human rights abuses, such as long incarceration for minor drugs offences and lack of treatment for addicts.  The International Narcotics Control Board is also criticised for its support for unscientific policies and its refusal to endorse best practice public health policies, particularly around HIV/AIDS prevention. The INCB is branded “the most closed and least transparent of any entity supported by the UN.”

President Santos, in his foreword to the report, says: “The time has come to take a fresh look and we invite world leaders, scientists and experts to start an open, serious and honest debate about this war. The time has come to think outside the box.”

He adds: “This report is a valuable contribution to this healthy and necessary debate. By re-examining the international approach to the drug problem from an academic perspective, we are nourishing the discussion and setting the conditions to find a new and more efficient strategy.”

The report finds:

  1. International drug control system, governed through the UN, has failed.
  2. System is facilitating systematic human rights abuses in pursuit of failed policies.

The report recommends:

  1. Reform of UN drug bodies, in particular the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), to improve oversight of funding and monitoring of basic human rights compliance.
  2. A systemic root and branch review of the goals and operation of the international drug control system.

Para ver este reporte en español, haga clic aquí.


Re-examining the Drug Problem Through a Fresh Lens
Juan Manuel Santos, President of the Republic of Columbia

Executive Summary
John Collins, Guest Editor

International Drug Control System

Reflections On a Century of International Drug Policy
William B. McAllister

Why We Make War on Some Drugs but not Others
David T Courtwright

Science, Diplomacy and Cannabis
James H. Mill

Appraising the Consequences of Policy
Joseph F. Spillane

Latin America
Paul Gootenberg

Diane Steber Buechli and Ruth Dreifuss

The United Nations
David R. Bewley-Taylor

Towards a Human Rights Framework
Damon Barrett

Overhauling Oversight: Human Rights and the INCB
Joanne Csete

This IDEAS Special Report will be launched at The Global Drugs War event.

For more enquiries please contact John Collins: Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo.