We Fucked Up The End Game.

After forty years of ‘The War’ on illicit drugs what have we discovered in relation to power, social harm and the relationship between the global and the local? 

“Therefore to have servants is power; to have friends is power: for they are strengths united. Also, riches joined with liberality is power; because it procureth friends and servants: without liberality, not so; because in this case they defend not, but expose men to envy, as a prey. Reputation of power is power; because it draweth with it the adherence of those that need protection. So is reputation of love of a man’s country, called popularity, for the same reason” (Hobbes, 1651).  Social harm (inequality, discrimination and poverty) and power has been at the fore of many global and local social policy decisions made by states, governments and institutions throughout the 20th century. The War on drugs via laws and policies was initially intended to make this world (and America) a safer place to live in.  This essay examines the War on Drugs, UK Drug policies and selective research which will consider and make use of concepts, evidence and policy and highlighting their affect on society at a local and global level.  This essay also discusses how the concept of the War on Drugs is entangled, linked and married to social welfare, crime control and criminal Justice and is used as a powerful tool by politicians and policymakers when defending the just cause of war.  This essay asks the question is today’s war on drugs a modern day ‘Vietnam’ waged by nation states upon it’s people and after forty years of ‘The War’ on illicit drugs how much has society at a local and global level benefited from it? 

The defining literature.

The policy document used in this essay is the UK Drugs Strategy 2002 which opens up the debate whereby the Secretary of State (2002) states “The Drugs Strategy covers numerous areas of policy, but the clear overall aim must be to reduce the harm drugs cause.  Key to this aim is a clear focus on reducing problematic drug use educating and protecting the young.  Further expanding services, improving quality and building lessons learnt about what works will achieve this.” As opposed to Gyngell (2006-2010) who states “The previous “labour governments drug policy priority was to get as many ‘problem drug users’ (heroin and crack cocaine addicts) into treatment as [fast] as possible to reduce drug related crime and other harms associated with their drug use (Gyngell, 2006-2010).”  Critical authors such as Shiner (2003) suggest that “the UK constructs its drugs policy on a medical basis which considers levels of harm, perceived dangerousness and propensity to addiction.  While American reforms campaigned for a more British approach, in the world of realpolitik the process of transatlantic policy transfer appeared to be working in the opposite direction. … According to Stimson (1987) the character of British drugs policy changed so profoundly during the 1980’s that it could be meaningfully characterised in terms of a war on drugs.  The outcome of this was an emphasis on punitiveness (Shiner 2003).”  Similarly Dorn and South (1990) state that the UK drugs policy favours a punitive and social control approach to individuals who abuse drugs.  Dorn suggest that the markets are better organised and even if there is not a monopoly of a few suppliers there is in fact a more professional and organised approach to the supply of illicit drugs.  Whilst Ballantyne (2007) considers how Opiates were a common sight in chemists, doctors and opium dens at the turn of the century but it was only when they became regulated by “‘The Drug Enforcement Act in the UK (1920) and the Harrison Act in the US (1918)’” where they stigmatised and in a similar way to the later introduction of prohibition a highly lucrative and profitable illicit drug trade emerged.  The bigger question may be whether regulations have succeeded at all in controlling drug misuse, but the more immediate question for doctors in the US and elsewhere is how they should control their own prescribing so that interference by regulators does not discourage appropriate medical use of opiates (Ballantyne, 2007).”

Alternatively Michael C. Ruppert (2004) fascinating book explores and illuminates via investigative journalism how the globalisation of the planet, global economies and the dealings of governments are inextricably linked with the legal and illegal supply of drugs.  This marriage not only causes social harm and violence but demonstrates the hypocrisy of criminal justice and the flouting of the rule of law at a local and global level.  This topic has been addressed in policy terms in Schaffer (2001) who states that “nation states do ‘the minimum’ required to meet their obligations.” When considering policy in relation to the course themes it is relevant to clarify that DD301 Course Materials (2009) are organised around three themes of ‘power’, ‘harm and violence’ and ‘relations between the local and global’ and are used to consider how “there is a strong argument, therefore, that a conception of crime, without a conception of power, is meaningless; in particular , a social harm perspective allows us to explore wider considerations of responsibility for economic and geographical inequalities, injustices and exclusions and requires analysis of the role of government and corporations in their perpetration; the global free-trade market has produced a series of ‘uncontrollable’ economic forces that have shifted power, influence and authority away from the nation state and towards ‘external’ transnational capital.  This has placed fiscal and political limitations on the type of welfare, social policy and criminal justice policy that individual states can support (Companion 1, pp. 16-18).”

What is the war what is the war on drugs?

“War is a phenomenon which occurs only between political communities, defined as those entities which either are states or intend to become state. Classical war is international war, a war between different states... Certain political pressure groups, like terrorist organizations, might also be considered “political communities,” in that they are associations of people with a political purpose...” So, what is statehood?  Max Weber suggests “A nation is a group which thinks of itself as “a people,” usually because they share many things in common, such as ethnicity, language, culture, historical experience, a set of ideals and values, habitat, cuisine, fashion and so on. The state, by contrast, refers much more narrowly to the machinery of government which organizes life in a given territory. Thus, we can distinguish between the American state and the American people…” (Orend, B. 2008).  This essay suggests that the very concept of society in democracy must involve the diversity and impartiality of governance by the state over ‘all’ citizens. Furthermore, Clausewitz (1874) suggests that war is “the continuation of policy by other means… war is about governance, using violence instead of peaceful measures to resolve policy (which organizes life in a land) [and war is defined as] an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will (Clausewitz, 1874).” Richard Nixon created the concept in the public psyche that a drug user was the epitome of all that was wrong with society, the sole perpetrator of much of the causation of social harm and the main violator of the many facets of crime and criminality related to and with drug use.  In the early seventies the ‘war on drugs was seen as a viable way of addressing social harm at local and global level, public perception was not as informed as it is today, and this enabled the power of the state to construct an enhanced collection of self serving political policies alongside a continues subliminal rhetoric fuelled by media which condemned the drug user into the socially and morally repugnant label of ‘criminal.’  The idea of a ‘war’ is to inflict as much violence upon the enemy for as short a time as possible to inflict maximum damage resulting in the annihilation of the threat but the state needs to be wary of declaring war on its own citizens as Machiavelli states “For, although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives (Machiavelli, 1532).” 

Nixon cleverly declared this war on drugs on the population of America to further his political ambition and this essay suggest that the statement that follows by William J. Casey signed and endorsed by Nixon belays the consideration of the citizen, be it global or local to the injustice of state sanctioned violence on its own population:

“Freedom is a precious commodity.  The amount of freedom you enjoy is a result of the amount of vigilance you invest.

My actions may be recorded as criminal condemning countless Americans to drug dependency.  I don’t care.  All wars produce casualties.  Generally the more violent the war.  The shorter the length.  My choice was either to stare down a protracted cold war guerrilla insurgency in Latin America or use the means available to finance and wage a war of short duration for democracy.  The tool is cocaine.  The trick is to understand that the drug user had the freedom to make a choice.  They choose the drug.  I choose to use their habit to finance the democracy that all Americans enjoy.  To keep those Americans safe from the communist threat knocking on our back door in Latin America.  For a change the drug user will contribute to society.

I declare under penalty of perjury that the above facts are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief (Dowbenko, 1999).”

This chilling ‘lawful’ statement “my actions may be recorded as criminal condemning countless Americans to drug dependency.  I don’t care.” suggests that Casey’s actions may be considered criminal but also highlights a shift from the cause of crime to the label of criminal was made fifteen years after Richard Nixon declared his war on drugs.  This 1986 declaration is at odds with current recognised policy and the UK drug policy of (2002) clearly states that “work at community level will be expanded with a clearer focus on reducing drug related crime, empowering individuals and communities and regenerating neighbourhoods.  We will address the major gap identified in the strategy – aftercare.  Those leaving prison or treatment need help back into the community and employment if they are to remain free from drugs.”  This essay suggests that he actually declares war on America, his own political community/electorate and the moral justness of war so widely used today was not substantiated then and is still not today as the state was actually trying to eradicate opposition the ‘Vietnam war’ by targeting social protest in the form of firstly hippies, then the black panthers and ultimately the youth of America who he originally said he was trying to protect.  The fact that the Cold war and provision of freedom from communism by the American state opens up a complex and inextricably linked association behind the politics, power, social harm at a global and local level justify the reasons of Wars in different countries, in this case Afghanistan.  This essay considers the idea that getting involved with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was a strategic move which allowed ‘justification’, policies, funding and political gain of a continued war on illicit drugs condemning the world to a perpetual set of social harms and creation of criminal justice systems both locally and globally that not only devastated communities but fed the power of the state via the industry of war. In 1980, a US senator Charlie Wilson initiated a response to the soviet invasion of Afghanistan which started out with funding of CIA operations at $1 million but increased the CIA budget for its Afghan operation to an unprecedented amount – In 1983, he won an additional $40 million, $17 million and in 1984, CIA asked Wilson for $50 million more.  “Wilson succeeded in giving the Afghans $300 million of unused Pentagon money before the end of the fiscal year.”  When the soviets left defeated in 1994 Wilson could not get $1 million to build schools and aid with infrastructure he famously said “we came and we achieved great thing but we fucked up the end game (Wikipedia, 2013).”  It is important to recognise the war on drugs is not simply about production and control of opium in Afghanistan but that is being fought at many different levels in countries across the globe; more recently in Mexico and Columbia and this leads this is to consider if the war is being won. 

Is the war being won – the yes camp and the no camp? 

Are Drug users victims of their environment or of their own personal vice or have they become a politically motivated post war tool that is manipulated to feed social and welfare policies, crime control and criminal justice at local and global level.  During Nixon’s administration the idea was formed that addicts/abusers had a moral choice if they partook of drugs and the rational decision making is the basis of the forming of criminal laws against society’s expectations.  If the basis of founding these laws are poorly informed at conception then how are they still in operation today.  There is much discourse across political dialogue surrounding the many policies involving rehabilitation, methadone, needle sharing and more specifically early intervention involving:

“Vulnerable children and ‘those at risk of criminality’, including those whose parents are in prison and/or among the 300,000 problem drug abusers, are to be ‘actively case managed’ by Children’s Trust social services staff and youth justice workers from ‘the earliest possible point’. Universal checks on every child throughout his or her development to help ‘service providers’ identify those most at risk of offending throughout their development, including at 11 when they go to secondary school. Preventative programmes to tackle social exclusion, drugs and alcohol abuse. (Source: The Guardian, 28 March 2007 Boo2 p 128 Early intervention).” 

This been used in policy for years but what are the actual success rates.  Gyngell (2006-2010) states that the previous “labour governments drug policy priority was to get as many ‘problem drug users’ (heroin and crack cocaine addicts) into treatment as [fast] as possible to reduce drug related crime and other harms associated with their drug use”.  “The conviction that harm reduction treatment is a pragmatic and ‘evidence based’ public health policy…that must be extended to the entire ‘problem drug using population’ has driven an unprecedented investment into treatment over the past 10 years.”  The current UK policy states that “we believe drugs policy should primarily be addressed to dealing with the 250,000 problematic drug users rather than towards the large numbers whose drug use poses no serious threat either to their own well being or to that of others… the annual economic cost of class A drugs in England and Wales are between £10.1 and £17.4 billion.  Problematic drug users account for around 99% of these costs (Secretary of State, 2002).”  The figures are staggering but do they give proper representation of the true scale of the ‘problematic drug user’ especially when more recent research demonstrates that at least 10% of the UK’s population suffers from ‘addictive personalities’, a medical condition whereby people become addicted to ‘anything’ be it drugs alcohol, chocolate or religion.  Russell Brand presented to the UK Home Affairs Select Committee in 2012 that out of ten people taking drink or drug for the first time at least one will become addicted because of this medical disorder, “this condition of addiction is a health issue as opposed to a judicial and criminal issue and that there should be complete abstinence from state sponsored opiates such as methadone (Brand, 2012).” 

Therefore, the figures used in the policy suggest that there is an alarming problem costing the country economic damage but by criminalising it further the costs of criminal justice, policing, courts and prisons making the figure significantly higher.  Consider a drug courier who gets caught with 1K of  Cocaine entering the UK at cost of £12,000 per kilo, with an upper end street value set by HMC&E of £84,000, receives a twelve year prison sentence where the custodial part of the sentence alone costs £500,000.  Stephen Mason (2009) states that “the problem with the War on Drugs is that it creates far more harm than it eliminates. If drugs can’t be kept out of prisons, how can you possibly keep them out of a mostly free society? The “War” won’t go away because by now it’s become a major industry. It creates jobs on one side of the law and provides the opportunity for huge financial rewards on the other.” The Schaffer library considers “major cultural shift in attitudes to drugs and their use has occurred in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years. Social attitudes towards drug use have become more nuanced and sophisticated, not only among the young… among adults aged 16-59 twice as many as not regard cannabis as less harmful than alcohol – but the great majority do regard heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and tobacco as particularly harmful. If anything, more people aged 45-59 years saw cannabis as less harmful than alcohol than did those aged 16-24. (http://www.druglibrary.org.)  Ultimately making laws and declaring wars that cannot be justified or enforced only serves to negate public opinion and perception of the state, especially in today’s global information age and introduces Tony Ward’s (2004) notion that “…any political decision can be considered harmful to someone (Ward, 2004)”

What harm does it cause society?

Michael C. Ruppert (2004) considers how the globalisation of the planet, global economies and the dealings of governments are inextricably linked with the legal and illegal supply of drugs.  This marriage not only causes social harm and violence but demonstrates the hypocrisy of criminal justice and the flouting of the rule of law at a local and global level. How much does the United States spend fighting the war on drugs? The annual US budget is approximately $12.7 billion, with 65% spent on “source control,” or supply control, and 35% going toward treatment and prevention (about twice as much is spent on treatment than prevention), disruption of the supply market consists of $721.5 million will be spent in the Andean region, $297.4 million for counter-narcotic programs in Afghanistan, and $152.4 million targeted at customs and border-patrol operations Office of National Drug Control Policy (Wikipedia).  Ruppert (2004) states “the amount of money generated by the drug trade, if it is known with any accuracy, is probably one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world” (Rupert, 2004, p.57).  Even though Afghanistan is recognised as the main source of opium and the current war in Afghanistan today mirrors what happened with Wilson’s War in the eighties as troops prepare to withdraw whereby:

“Twelve years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is heading for a near-record opium crop as instability pushes up the amount of land planted with illegal but lucrative poppies, according to a bleak UN report.  Poppy cultivation is not only expected to expand in areas where it already existed in 2012 … Opium traders are often happy to provide seeds, fertilisers and even advance payments to encourage crops, leaving farmers who do not have western or government agricultural help very vulnerable to their inducements. At the same time the more powerful figures in the drugs trade, from traffickers to corrupt government officials, who take over half the profit from each kilo of opium, have shrinking opportunities to earn money from NATO or international aid contracts – and may be preparing a war chest for upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. If this year’s poppy fields are harvested without disruption, the country would likely regain its status as producer of 90% of the world’s opium. Afghanistan’s share of the deadly market slipped to around 75%.  Eradication programmes that do not provide farmers with benefits such as healthcare and education, and support growing other crops will just push the Taliban or other insurgent groups that do tolerate or encourage poppy production, he added http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013.” 

The indelible image of a bemused Afghani soldier and Afghani farmer in the middle of field is a simple scene but portrays a difficult and complex set of issues.  The farmer states “instead of beating my plants, why don’t you beat me? For God’s sake, give us food and you can take all of this.” (The Open University, 2009d) suggests the farmer and the soldier are unaware at a local level how the power play at global level results in harm and violence between two countrymen fighting over a source of income.  One has orders (the state controlled by global relations) to destroy the crop; the other sees his only source of income being destroyed. This is a complex dynamic as the poppy has always been a culturally specific, secure farming commodity which thrives in an otherwise non-arable and barren environment.  Therefore, at grass roots level the farmer will sell his harvest to the highest bidder – be they legal or illegal – and in recent times it has become abundantly clear that, as the legal control of opium affects global relations, then, whoever has a monopoly on the harvest controls these markets and can then influence power relationships globally. 

This war is not limited to Afghanistan there are also the Mexican and Columbian drugs wars to contend with when combined this is a war being fought on frightening scale at a local and global level and the scale of social harm is difficult to ascertain.  The Mexican problem has been rising significantly over the years and what once was something that consisted of a few nasty gangs has now become a global enterprise ruled over by extreme violence.  Even though there are many atrocities carried out by the cartels, gangs, individuals and states one of the most disturbing issues raised in this research is that the fact that the war on drugs has caused developing countries to implement policy controlling the use of what we in the global north consider everyday pharmaceutical morphine usage as they have become a black market commodity where countries already suffering from social detriment are unable to receive the most basic of healthcare needs. Dr Russell Portenoy (2009) states “Some countries have simply created such a complex system of record keeping and transportation of drugs that the average hospital, the average clinician, can’t get access to them. And in those countries the government would say we’re not limiting access, we’re just controlling distribution (The Open University, 2009d).” Rupert and the course material both suggest that “there are two types of money generated by the drug trade … all stages of growth, manufacturing processing wholesaling and retail trade [and] funding law enforcement, court systems and prisons; prison construction alone costing $30billion dollars a year (Drake, Muncie and Westmarland, 2010, p.50).”  The American experience teaches that over aggressive regulations that ignore legitimate needs for opiates compromise doctors’ ability to treat pain. Ballantyne (2007) states “As the pendulum has swung here between medical underuse and overuse, patients have been harmed. Now that it is becoming clear that the outcome of chronic opioid treatment is often poor, studies are urgently needed to investigate who benefits and under what conditions.  The bigger question may be whether regulations have succeeded at all in controlling drug misuse, but the more immediate question for doctors in the US and elsewhere is how they should control their own prescribing so that interference by regulators does not discourage appropriate medical use of opiates (Ballantyne 2007).”

In conclusion, the war on drugs is a perfect example of how modern day nation states create the self perpetuating and inextricably linked process of criminal justice, punitiveness, politics of law and order and shape them to become a standard party political discourse.  It is this essays view that this tough talking soap box rhetoric is one of the most dangerous social harms to have come to the fore since Nixon declared a ‘war on drugs’ in 1971.  Upon closer analysis this so called just war is a legal use of force on its own population sand is originally contrived and fuelled by the abhorrence of populist media upon a percentage of the population of the USA snowballing from a containable local threat to a national moral dilemma culminating in a global industry. Dorn and South (1990) state that the UK drugs policy favours a punitive and social control approach to individuals who abuse drugs; where markets are better organised and even if there is not a monopoly of a few suppliers there is in fact a more professional and organised approach to the supply of illicit drugs; the UK would be better served if its policies focused more on the responsibilisation of drug markets and re-visited to be less repressive to already socially excluded sections of the community where strict policing strategies contribute to social harm (Dorn and South 1990).  This essay suggest that if the war on drugs has been going on for forty years it is therefore only natural to consider that there are winners and losers but what of the real cost to society when the true economic value of the legal and illegal trades are controlled, manipulated and enforced by the state which never fully divulges the cost of declaring war on its citizens. Why then after so much time and so much money and so much waste of life are there inequalities in these communities and why is there such an obvious drug culture especially when drug addiction is being exposed as medical condition affecting 10% population.  Is it then the case the war on illegal drugs has created a social underclass where a certain section of the community will always be ‘criminal’.

Words 4,385

A reference list.

Ballantyne, J.C. (2007) ‘Regulation of opiod prescribing: over-regulation compromises doctors’ ability to treat pain’, BMJ, 334, (21 April), pp. 811–12.

Brand, R. 2010 online ref


Clausewitz, Carl von. (1874) online ref http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1946/1946-h/1946-h.htm

Dorn, N. and South, N. (1990) ‘Drug markets and law enforcement’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 171–88.

Dowbenko, U. (1999) Online ref www.wahle.to/b/dowbenko.html (VI. Dead spooks Don’t Lie) accessed 22/04/2013.

Graham – Harrison, M. 2013 online ref http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013.

Green, P. and Ward, T. (2004) http://www.theacademiclibrary.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/title_display.cfm?

Gyngell, K. (2006-2010) ‘The Uk’s Treatment War on Drugs: A lesson in Unintended Consequnces and Perverse Outcomes’, The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice 2006-2010.

Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan online ref


Machiavelli, N. 1532 The Prince Translator: W. K. Marriott Release Date: February 11, 2006 [EBook #1232][This file last updated October 19, 2010].

National Drugs Strategy (interim) (2009-2016), Department of Community and Gaeltacht Affairs [Ireland]. Online ref – http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388/1/dcrga-Strategy-2009-2016.pdf

Orend, Brian, “War”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/war/&gt;.

Portenoy, R. 2009 The Open University (2009d) ‘Film 4:Control and regulation’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6(Accessed 21st April 2013).

Ruppert, M.C. (2004) Crossing the Rubicon, The decline of the American empire at the end of the age of oil, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada.

Schaffer, 2001, Library of Drugs Policy. Online ref http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/runciman/default.htm

Secretary of State, 2001 No. 3998 DANGEROUS DRUGS, The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, under the authority and superintendence of Carol Tullo, Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery office and Queen’s Printer of Acts of Parliament.

Select Committee on Home Affairs (2002) The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it Working?, London, The Stationery Office.

Shiner, M. (2003) ‘Out of harm’s way? Illicit drug use, medicalisation and the law’, British Journal of Criminology, vol. 43, no.4, pp. 772–96.

The Guardian, 28 March 2007 in Drake, D. and Muncie, J. (2010) Risk prediction, assessment and management in Drake, D., Muncie, J. and Westmarland, L. (Eds.), Criminal Justice: Local and Global (p.128), Milton Keynes, The Open University.

The Open University, 2009, Welcome Introduction, 2.2 Harm and violence DD301 Crime and Justice Available at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=143270&section=2.2.2

The Open University (2009d) ‘Film 4:Control and regulation’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6(Accessed 21st April 2013).

Wilson, C. 1983-1984 online ref http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson_(Texas_politician

About micsirwin

I'm an Author with a BA in Criminology and Psychological Studies and an MSc in Criminology. I've studied prisons from the inside and out. Challenging prisons and societies attitudes toward them. Board member of charity helping people into work after prison.
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