The U.N. says this year's opium output, which represents 93 percent of the illicit world supply, "exceeds global demand by a large margin," indicating a stockpile of thousands of tons. Despite their concerns that opium profits are helping to fund terrorism, U.S. and U.N. drug warriors seem intent on raising the value of that stockpile by curtailing production.
Even if theyre successful, they cannot reasonably hope to have a lasting impact on heroin availability. If cracking down on opium production in some Afghan provinces simply shifts it to others, cracking down on opium production throughout Afghanistan will simply shift it to other countries. That has been the general pattern during the last century of opium "eradication," which might more accurately be called opium relocation.
A decade ago, Pino Arlacchi, then the head of the U.N.s anti-drug program, declared that "global coca leaf and opium poppy acreage totals an area less than half the size of Puerto Rico," so "there is no reason it cannot be eliminated." For a less optimistic man, the fact that such a tiny percentage of the earths surface is needed to supply the world with heroin and cocaine would be cause to doubt the effectiveness of eradication.
Speaking of cocaine, in recent years, the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars on anti-drug aid to Colombia, with no discernible effect on prices or purity. Colombia, which still supplies about 90 percent of Americas illicit cocaine, has been helping to train Afghan police in anti-drug tactics, and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it provides "a good model" for Afghanistan.
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