Nations More Willing To Concede `Rights' To Fight International Drug War

THE issue of sovereignty looms large in the war against drugs. Colombia, for instance, has wanted no part of United States plans to patrol its coast with aircraft carriers. Yet United Nations officials say they see an increased willingness to compromise on such ``rights'' by both governments and drug-growing farmers in the face of the common drug threat.

Margaret Anstee, coordinator of all United Nations drug-control programs, notes that Switzerland and Austria, both traditional guardians of bank record privacy, signed a 1988 UN narcotics convention eliminating bank secrecy limits in drug probes. Other countries, she says, are cooperating legally.

``Nations are beginning to understand that the threat to their sovereignty [from the drug problem] is perhaps more dangerous than making some concessions,'' Ms. Anstee says. ``The problem is too big for any country, however powerful, to deal with alone.''

William O'Hara, senior program officer of the UN Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC), says he notices a willingness by farmers to see the big picture. Witnessing drug abuse by their own children and the adverse impact on the community's social structure, he says, many farmers would like to stop growing drugs. ``We are convinced that many want to get out of it and will accept less money, but they want ... guarantees that they won't be back at square one, unable to feed their families, two years later,'' he says.

Guarantees are tough to come by. The three UN drug-control agencies fight a $500 billion business with a $74 million budget.

The bulk of that budget - $70 million for operational assistance used by UNFDAC to help with everything from law enforcement to crop substitution - is made up entirely of voluntary contributions from governments. Only $4 million of the regular UN budget goes to the other two UN drug-control agencies.

``Absolute peanuts,'' says Anstee. By her office's tally, another $33 million is needed over the next two years just to carry out existing mandates.

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