Speaking in Paris this weekend Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, urged NATO troops to bomb the drug factories in Afghanistan. Le Monde reports him as saying that “NATO troops are being killed with weapons bought from drug profits” and that the bombing of opium laboratories in Afghanistan could destroy 60% of the opium flow from that country and, as he points out “It’s also cost-effective for us.”
According to his CV , this top UN official has a degree in mathematical economics from Moscow State University, and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He is not pencil pusher but a highly educated, well, practiced and worldly economist.
As an economist he must be aware that supply needs demand. Afghan and Pakistan officials have for some time being privately lobbying for a more sustained program to reduce demand, particularly in the USA, but they have not been lobby for a campaign to bomb the neighborhoods where heroin is used, or the houses of known drug dealers in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, despite that fact that there are at least 3.8 million Americans who have used heroin and an additional 106,000 users added in 2007, the last year for which we have statistics, all driving demand.
Only a month ago Costa was reporting a decline of 20% in poppy cultivation over last year and praising the fact that the province of Nangarhar, the traditional heartland of the opium business was, this year, totally free from poppy cultivation. The reasons he gave for this turnaround? That local governors with the help of the local shuras and religious leaders were able to convince the farmers not to cultivate opium. He went on to say that “Only a very small amount of land was eradicated, only 5,000 hectares at a very high human cost – 77 people died, half of them civilian and half of them policemen – and also at a very high economic cost. We are therefore making a change towards our policy regarding eradication.”
One is sometimes staggered by the thoughtlessness of remarks made by those with power and influence, but one is more staggered that a UN official, could throw aside principles of due legal process, basic human rights and simple pragmatism to make such an incredible statement. One wonders whether, in his economic models, the life of an Afghan drug producer is somehow of less worth than that of an American drug user?