When the Bolivian narcotics police stopped us to search our jeep, my wife and I were driving down from La Paz on our way to the Amazon. Because we were entering rather than leaving the coca-growing area, and would hardly be smuggling the stuff to its source, I asked the narcos what they were looking for. "Precursores", they saidthe chemicals used by the barrel to convert coca leaves into concentrated paste. The search was clearly a useless formality; no worthwhile amount of the suspect chemicals could possibly fit into ourjeep. There was no point in complaining, and in any case we did not mind the break after the hair-raising descent from 15,000 feet by narrow, unpaved track. Then a canvas-covered truck came down the road. The driver briefly stopped to hand over a tightly rolled newspaper to one of the policemen, and sped off. As he did so, a canvas flap opened in the wind to reveal large, yellow barrels. The American with the patrol, dressed up in Vietnam-war camouflage with a Department of Justice-Drug Enforcement Agency badge pinned to his breast pocket, did not react when I sarcastically congratulated the policemen on their assiduous interest in reading the latest news from the capital.
Having spent a grand total of ten days in Peru, Richard Clutterbuck includes a section in Drugs, Crime and Corruption on the bribery of Peruvian army officers in one of the four chapters on that country (2.5 days of on-scene research per chapter). In it, he calculates that in 1994 the twostar general in command of the Huallaga valley Peru's major source of coca pastecould earn six years' worth of salary from a single US$15,000 "facilitation" fee for allowing one light aircraft loaded with paste to take off (and there were several flights per night). In a later chapter, on the world-wide distribution of cocaine, Clutterbuck presents a table showing how the price per kilo increases stage by stage from the Peruvian paste exporter (US$4,000 per kilo) to the London street dealer (US$100,000 per kilo) without tumbling to the obvious conclusion: if $4,000 per kilo merchandise can corrupt Peruvian army officers, how corrupting is the importer's $40,000 per kilo cocaine, or the distributor' s $60,000 per kilo?
Perhaps HM Customs and all British police are immune. But in the United States, hundreds of small-town sheriffs in areas where drug flights are wont to land have swimming pools with all the trimmings in their backyards, uncounted thousands of plain policemen add greatly to their retirement savings, more DEA agents than the one I encountered in Bolivia are routinely paid by both sides, while District Attorneys, Federal prosecutors and judges too have been engulfed by corruption. In a trade whose major protagonists routinely travel about with attache cases filled with neat bundles of $100 bills, many if not most encounters with the Law go no further than the separation of the attache case from its owner.
Nor is it likely that in the whole world only US law-enforcers and Peruvian army of ficers can be bribed (Clutterbuck' s $500 billion per annum for all drugs world-wide is perhaps an over-estimate, but not absurdly high) It is more reasonable to assume the exact opposite, ie, that corruption is roughly as widespread as the attempt to police the drug trade. It is only rarely, however, that dealings so inherently discreet come to the surface. In Mexico, clamorous murder trials have incidentally revealed that the drug trade was efficiently protected by high of ficials of the Salinas government; in Budapest, any tourist can see Lebanese money-changers at work in the heart of town, entirely unmolested by seemingly oblivious policemen as they turn local-currency drug revenues into dollars; in both Karachi and Bombay, every child knows that the biggest drug-dealers are as immune from the local police as Al Capone ever was in Cicero; nor are Paraguay and Thailand the only countries where known drug bosses can serve as cabinet ministers, or where cabinet ministers serve drug bosses more or less openly in exchange for cash.
That is the first effect of drug prohibitionism on the workings of police forces, courts and governments world-wide: a tide of corruption at every level, from street cops to cabinet ministers. With it, there comes a degree of incapacitation, for those who protect the drug trade for their cut of its routine profits cannot dutifully pursue all the other crimes that traffickers occasionally indulge in, from arrned fights over sources or markets to over-eager debt collection (but mostly the trade prospers peacefully enoughin Beverly Hills, as in Mayfair and Via Montenapoleone, it is downright genteel).
The second effect is to multiply the work-load of police forces, courts and prisons across the world. That sellers can often purchase immunity is of no help to those of their customers who steal, housebreak, rob, pimp or prostitute themselves to pay for their drugs (though the trade would hardly be so prosperous if it did not have a great number of gainfully employed or even aMuent consumers for whom drugs are no more than a minor luxury). In the United States, the entire criminaljustice system is notoriously and grossly overloaded by the annual intake of hundreds of thousands of such demand-side offenders, in addition to the mere handful of supply-side importers and wholesalersand huge numbers of street-dealers. Under the new "three strikes and you are out" Federal law that the world's greatest democratic politician recently saw fit to sign, life sentences are now mandatory for third convictions, even for simple theft. That law should gradually transfer hundreds of thousands of non-affluent habitual users to Federal penitentiaries. But it seems that some feel that not enough is being done: the head of the White House Drug Enforcement Policy Office has recently announced that his office would focus much more than before on marijuana. That is undoubtedly a shrewd bureaucratic move: it expands the DEA's customer base, so to speak, from a mere 4 million or so cocaine, crack and heroin users to the tens of millions who sometimes use marijuana. In few countries do puritanism and bureaucratic urges so fatally converge to maximize the criminalization of society by drug prohibitionism, but everywhere the futile comedy is daily played out, as police forces proudly announce arrests and seizures that keep drugs expensive.
But there is also a third effect, on the largest possible scale. It was the American-inspired "French Connection" struggle against the Marseille heroin labs that shifted the business to Sicily, enormously increasing the Mafia's revenues and power. It was the American-supported struggle against cocaine production in Colombia that induced both the Cali and Medellin cartels to provide seeds, loans and technical aid to the exvillager urban slum-dwellers of Lima who returned to the land to grow Peru' s coca. And it was the harassment of Peru's growers and traffickers at the behest of the US govemment that made Bolivia a major exporter of paste (the legal, domestic trade in unprocessed leaves is far less profitable). Most recently, the damage inflicted on the Medellin cartel has primarily served to expand the market of the Cali cartel. The US taxpayer has therefore successively enriched the Sicilian Mafia, many Peruvians, some Bolivians and lately the Cali cartel, and instead of receiving a cut of their profits, has then had to pay for the DEA's inflated budget.
It would be very odd if the world's great believers in the power of the invisible hand somehow believed that only in the case of drugs demand will not evoke supply, ensuring that there is never true suppression, but only displacement. Of course, it is no such delusion that propels America's blatantly futile yet widely destructive "war on drugs", but rather the puritan urge to punish whatever can be punished by first being delegitimized, including of late cigarettes and rich foods (by medical intimidation), nude bathing (by county laws, in Florida) and office hanky-panky (by easily successful sexual-harassment law-suits). What is truly odd is that only in the Netherlands, for all its own Puritan antecedents, is the totally exploded theory of drug prohibitionism (repression reduces crime) openly resisted by a rival theory of monitored toleration, which does assuredly minimize the collateral criminality of poor buyers. That police world-wide should be unmoved by the Dutch experiment is perfectly understandable: it greatly reduces work-loads, opportunities to expand staff, promotions and bribes. That politicians world-wide should be just as indifferent is no mystery either, for it is very hard to be antiprohibitionist without appearing to be pro-drugs. What does require explanation is the conspicuous silence of intellectual leaders. Of the many who will readily address all other societal questions, only a handful are willing to oppose the theory, practice and consequences of drug prohibitionism.
One exception is Richard Clutterbuck, even if his status as an intellectual leader is dubious unlike his fully established reputation as one of the British Army's intellectuals-in-uniform, before his retirement while still rather young, yet already in the rank of a major-general. Since then, Clutterbuck has pursued a three-part career in the American style, combining straight academic university affiliations, professional consulting work for commercial as well as government clients, and a great deal of writing, including no fewer than sixteen books on every form of violence except conventional warfare: terrorism, guerrilla, riots and revolutionary politics, large-scale crime and "industrial conflict" including the media coverage of the same. All his books seem to have a mixed reputation among specialists. Unfailingly sensible and well informed, often shrewd, Clutterbuck is as careful in presenting his often recondite facts as he is relentlessly unoriginal in their interpretation. Perhaps the phenomena he has chosen to study contain no great abundance of profound truths that await discovery, but certainly he has not uncovered them.
In this bad good bookcrudely written, poorly organized, yet filled with useful facts, simplistic in many of its particular analyses, yet both original and very persuasive in its conclusionsRichard Clutterbuck has individual chapters on the Andean producing countries (Bolivia and Colombia as well as Peru, but the Golden triangle and the "Golden Crescent" of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan are compacted into a single chapter along with the Turkish and West African transit routes); on the different drugs (cocaine, crack, heroin, cannabis and the synthetics); on money-laundering and the largely futile attempts to stop it by controls that greatly complicate honest transactions; on the United States, on the Mafia, on drugs and crime in Russia and Eastern Europe; on Italy and Germany as markets, and on the Dutch experiment, and finally on the UK in detail, with separate chapters on drug-trafficking, law-enforcement and the mixed record of suppression and medicalization. It is only after all these meanderings through far-away countries of which he knows little, and through all the cliches familiar from countless newspaper stories (expendable Nigerian condom couriers, BCCI, big-deal police ops that leave no dent in the traffic, etc) that Clutterbuck comes to his conclusions.
It is then that hurried incursions into far too many themes abruptly give way to a lucid and methodical examination of the alternatives to prohibitionism, whereby legalization is carefully distinguished from defacto tolerance and legalization under licensing, with the advantages and limitations of each sensibly assayed. At that point, Clutterbuck dutifully presents the arguments against licensed legalization, but that is the alternative he finally and most persuasively recommends. In arguing that the UK should be the "test-bed" for his remedy, Clutterbuck points out that Britain is still enough of an island to confer adequate isolation from continued prohibitionism elsewhere. Zurich' s "needle park" experiment, as Copenhagen's before it, was disastrously swamped by out-of-town consumers and peddlers, while the still notable success of deliberate non-enforcement in the Netherlands is diminished by drug tourists and their suppliers.
In the same judicious way, Clutterbuck draws parallels with the licensing of alcohol (while noting the differences) to arrive at his detailed and most persuasive explanation of how licensing could be implemented in practice. In the United States, Newt Gingrich recently surprised some of his more fervid admirers and shocked not a few by recommending even harsher repression... or else legalization. So perhaps there is hope after all.
Edward N. Luttwak is Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.