Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky
It is a pleasure and honor for me to address this important conference of the European Cities Against Drugs. Your organization has a reputation for its strong, consistent position against drug abuse and against attempts to normalize, legalize and "reduce the harm" of illegal drugs. I commend the European mayors and municipal officials for taking the initiative in this effort. The harmful effects of drug abuse and the economic and social consequences of drugs and their trafficking are most evident in the world's cities. This is not a theoretical or academic exercise for you; you know the practical effects of drugs on the quality of life in your cities, and your struggle to deal with them is a part of your electoral mandate as well as a fact of daily life. Your commitment to dialogue and the sharing of best practices is of great importance.
Let me also say that it is significant that you asked me to participate in this conference. As the largest drug market in the world, the United States has a special obligation to work with Europe and to cooperate in the worldwide struggle against the scourge of drugs. I remember well that, during my tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters, we sought to broaden our cooperation with Europe. We established the Dublin Group within which we sought to coordinate better our national efforts and to learn from each other. This continues to be an important goal on both continents. As modern, industrialized democratic countries blessed with high standards of living, we are both the targets of drug traffickers and the magnets of demand which attract illegal drugs.
With this in mind, let us take a look at where we stand in the war against drugs. Notice that I do not hesitate to call it a "war." War, I believe, is an apt image since it requires of us a mobilization of all our resources and citizenry against a purposeful and strong enemy. As is the case with most difficult issues, we can see both progress and retrogression in this struggle. In the United States we made significant progress in the eighties and nineties. From an estimated high of some 25 million regular (at least once a month) users in 1979, our efforts at both supply and demand reduction more than halved this population of abusers by 1992, when according to the same surveys, we had about 12 million abusers - still, far too many, but at least indicating a favorable trend. Then unfortunately in the mid-nineties we experienced an increase in drug abuse, most disturbingly among our teenagers. Much of this, I believe, can be laid at the doorstep of our political leadership which de-emphasized and sometimes trivialized the use of drugs and gave out the wrong signals to our populace. Talk of whether our President inhaled or not and his own downgrading of the Drug Czar's office and deprioritizing the issue carried a consequence and, I think taught us a lesson. The lesson is that leadership counts, in both a positive and negative sense. And, I believe we have learned the lesson - or at least part of it - since the worst part of our retrogression seems to have been overcome and we have begun to stabilize our situation. What this has also taught us is that the war against drugs is not one in which we can declare victory or rest on our laurels. Complacency and lack of resolve and political will can easily reverse any gains we make.
In many parts of the world, unfortunately the picture is not positive. The UN reports almost 200 million drug abusers worldwide, with a quite disturbing increase in the developing countries which can ill afford yet another impediment to their economic, social and political development. Drug abuse and trafficking are estimated to engender at least $500 million in income to criminal organizations each year with several times than figure in social and economic costs to the world. The cost of illegal drugs to the world's social capital is immense.
As the American market receded somewhat during the eighties and nineties, drug trafficking organizations began to target Europe more specifically than in the past. Cocaine producing criminal groups were particularly intent on getting a foothold here, fortunately, thus far, with a minimum degree of success, as heroin continues to be the drug of choice. I will not presume to tell you of your own situation - this will undoubtedly be a focus of the next two days. Suffice it to say, that the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that drug use increased in Europe in the late nineties. Most significant was the rise in abuse in Central and Eastern Europe particularly among youth. Wider availability of drugs seems to have exacted a toll in these important countries in transition. There is little doubt that the effects of increased drug abuse and trafficking have made less effective our common efforts to help construct democracy and market economies in this region.
While the overall picture internationally might seem to some to be rather negative, there have been a number of more hopeful developments over the past decade that leave room for optimism.
First, there is no doubt that there is greater recognition of the drugs problem and the danger that it poses to our societies. When I first entered the struggle against drugs in the late eighties many countries were in a state of denial. My own country had gone through this stage but had a wake-up call in the seventies when we began losing so many promising young people to drug abuse. From an organizational respective, we are now better positioned to wage war on drugs. Groups like yours, as well as organizations of parents, communities, and religious bodies, as well as national governments are, I am convinced, more aware and capable of fighting drugs. And, as this conference demonstrates, cities and localities are working together with more frequency.
Of course, the task is made more difficult by the efforts of those seeking to legalize drugs. They are pouring millions of dollars into so-called research and grants to pro-drug organizations in an attempt to normalize the use of "soft drugs" with the clear purpose of changing the direction of the anti-drug effort. Money talks, and it is no coincidence that we hear more these days of "medical marijuana," needle exchange, heroin maintenance programs, decriminalization and "harm reduction." The message of the legalizers seeks to affect the perception of risk and social disapproval - the two main determinants in drug abuse.
A second positive development is that we seem to have broken down the barriers between supply and demand. This issue used to be posed as "either-or" (that is either attack supply or attack demand). What we have learned over the years that we must work on both sides of the problem. While the main thrust and objective of our effort must be focused on reducing demand for drugs, we know with certainty that our efforts will be undermined if drugs flow freely, without impediment onto our streets. We have come to understand clearly that only a balanced policy of prevention, education, treatment, law enforcement and overseas supply reduction and interdiction can bring good results.
Third, there is increasing recognition that illegal drug use is not a victimless crime. Every dollar or euro spent on illegal drugs goes into the pockets of criminals and their agents in a chain stretching from the streets of our cities to the poppy and coca fields of Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia and Peru. This money comes back to haunt us by bolstering the efforts of criminal gangs and terrorists on every continent to attack us at our most vulnerable spots and undermine our social fabric. And, a portion of the money our citizens pay in taxes goes to support our efforts to free drug abusers from the habits they have chosen.
It has also become increasingly clear that the entire illegal drug chain from field to street acts as a major barrier to world peace and stability. To skeptics let me note the following examples:
Since the spread of democracy and good governance is so key to world peace and stability - after all democracies are limited governments, responsible to their citizenry and rarely go to war with each other - the drug menace seriously erodes international security. And this menace is not just a threat to developing countries. In our own societies, drugs threaten our democratic institutions from within. If an enlightened, alert and vigilant citizenry is the foundation of democracy, drug abuse threatens the very heart of our system of governance. Getting high on drugs makes people go low on civic responsibility. The search for instant gratification is in direct conflict with the patient, persistent work needed to build and strengthen responsive and responsible government. When the drug trade rules our cities' streets, it undermines authority and takes unto itself the attributes of governance.
We must keep in mind the irony of the fact that those elements we view as the benefits of an increasingly globalized world help our enemies to do business as well. Open borders, the freer flow of people, goods and ideas all help to bring us together in a closer world community. But these same phenomenon make it easier for criminal networks to move drugs, illegal weapons and people around the world. We need, therefore, to find new ways to separate the benefits of globalization from its dark side.
As always, the question remains what can we do? What methods can we use together to bring down drug abuse and stem drug trafficking?
I believe one answer lies close at hand. It lies in the work we and those who came before us have accomplished in promulgating and passing the international drug conventions, in establishing UN, regional and national drug funded programs, and in the internationally accepted principles of the several special sessions of the United Nations.
The mission statement of European Cities Against Drugs states it very well. It sets the goal of a drug-free Europe. It calls for an offensive against drugs on all fronts. It urges adherence to the UN Conventions. It steadfastly refuses to accept a distinction between so-called "soft" and "hard" drugs and depicts those "coffee shops," open markets or open spaces as what they really are - places where drug abuse occurs and in fact is encouraged. And it recognizes the police and law enforcement agencies as allies of the prevention, education, and therapeutic communities in the war against drugs. If the wisdom of your charter were thoroughly implemented by all, certainly we would be on a straighter path to solving the problem of drug abuse and ridding our societies of its consequences.
As we do our work we must do it together. It is often said that it takes a network to defeat a network. European Cities Against Drugs is part of that network that energizes and mobilizes our communities, our institutions of civil society, our governments and our people. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Let me commend you, the members of European Cities Against Drugs, for ensuring that good men and women do their utmost to fight the evil of drug abuse.
I look forward to participating in the work to come. Thank you for inviting me and for your attention.