NEW YORK — AS the scourge of illegal narcotics continues to spread, so has the conviction that it is every nation's problem.
"It's no longer considered the North-South conflict that it was a couple of years ago," says Herbert Schaepe, secretary of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, in a phone interview from Vienna. "Producer countries have become consumer countries and consumer countries have become producer countries. There is a concensus that this is now a world problem."
One coming chapter in this decidedly more cooperative phase of the war on drugs will take place in the United States in late February. Top leaders of the US, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela will confer.
"It's being billed as Cartagena II [the sequel to the Colombian summit held two years ago]," says Benjamin Banta, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (NDCP). The agenda will include such issues as law enforcement, intelligence sharing, substitute crops, and environmental concerns, he says.
Several other examples of increasing global cooperation are cited in the annual narcotics survey released recently by Mr. Schaepe's UN board. These range from the European Community's decision to set up a European Anti-Drug Committee to a growing number of signatures on the three major UN narcotics treaties. The latest 1988 convention, which calls for tough measures including curbs on money laundering and extradition of accused traffickers, took effect in a record three years.
Yet the bulk of the new UN report's findings on illegal drugs, now a $500 billion-a-year business, are grim. Production remains high. Though surveys show that abuse of certain drugs in some countries has stabilized or declined, trafficking and marketing have expanded into new regions.
Cocaine distributors, for instance, facing a somewhat saturated market in the US, are turning more to Europe. The opium poppy, long the province of South and East Asia, now grows in Colombia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa as well.
The report says traffickers have deftly seized the advantage to develop new transit routes in civil war situations such as that in Lebanon and parts of Africa and in the looser political and social climate of the new Eastern Europe. Nations producing or crossed by illegal drugs often develop drug-use problems of their own. Vienna's Mr. Schaepe points to Pakistan, which used to manufacture heroin for others, as an example of this "spillover effect." He says heroin abuse in Pakistan is "much worse" than in
Gregory Grant, director of a special narcotics project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says such drug transit and market shifts pose a serious foreign policy challenge for the US as it tries to export democracy and development.
Developing nations that are hard pressed for cash and getting less foreign aid may be tempted, says Mr. Grant, to rely more heavily on the lucrative drug trade.
Yet the UN narcotics board suggests that many nations are getting tougher on illegal drugs. Cocaine seizures in Europe, for instance, doubled in 1990. "The quantities seized have increased incredibly during the last year, showing a tremendous law enforcement effort," says Schaepe.
The UN report warns, however, that too much of what is seized is finding its way back into the illegal drug market.
Though cocaine use in the US fell 70 percent in the last half of the 1980s, a National Institute of Drug Abuse survey in December showed some increase in 1991, particularly among those over age 35 in the inner city. "It's a blip back up," says Mr. Banta, "but basically the trends have all been going down. Casual use is down tremendously - and that's where the addicts come from."
Schaepe says he is somewhat discouraged that no single winning strategy in the anti-drug fight has emerged. As the report notes, the Netherlands, for instance, takes a relatively tolerant approach to small scale marijuana dealing in cafes, hoping to keep young people away from any contact with criminal drug networks. Sweden, by contrast, takes a tougher enforcement approach. The two are among the few nations in Europe where drug-related deaths are declining.
Peter Reuter, an expert on international drug trafficking with the Rand Corporation, says nations can learn from one another's tactics but that there is no real need for uniformity, since the problem is a domestic one.
He says he remains skeptical about the effectiveness of most global drug-fighting efforts such as crop substitution programs. They make illegal drugs riskier and more expensive to produce, he says, but may not affect supplies that much. The gap between the price paid the farmer and the street price for cocaine is so large, he says, that coca refiners in Latin America can easily pay farmers more and persuade enough of them to stay in business to meet US and European demand.
The UN drug control agency report concludes that most nations need to do a far better of coordinating their own domestic fight against drugs and that stronger, innovative answers are still needed at the international level.