THE world's narcotics traffickers are increasingly well financed, organized, and flexible. So if the war against drugs is to succeed, the international community must respond with greater determination in a more coordinated and innovative way. Both the demand for drugs and the supply must be reduced. That is the message of the 1990 annual report of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
The United Nations agency says narcotics traffickers now often link up with one another as well as with terrorist groups and criminal organizations. Guerrilla fighters in Latin America, for instance, protect traffickers and coca growers in exchange for arms and money.
A pattern emerging from drug seizures suggests that traffickers in South America and Western Europe may have used each other's routes last year in a joint effort to smuggle heroin to North America and cocaine to Europe.
As crackdowns occur, drug production and transit routes often shift, says the board. Stricter controls in the US and in Latin nations have led to greater use of Canada for transit. Some Colombian traffickers have moved operations to the Amazon region, encouraging Brazilian Indians to cultivate the coca leaf. Ecuador has become a crucial transit point for getting drug processing chemicals into Colombia and for shipping drugs to the US.
In Africa, the board notes, the narcotics problem now touches every country. As monitoring and penalties increased in West Africa, traffickers turned to countries in central and east Africa.
New air service linking Angola, Nigeria, and Mozambique with South America is cited as a reason for more cocaine trafficking in those countries.
In Europe, where heroin and cocaine seizures are sharply up, increased enforcement at airports has spurred greater use of roads by traffickers. The UN agency is concerned that Eastern Europe may become more vulnerable to drug problems as trade and people exchanges increase. The report also says Soviet traffickers are becoming better organized.
The UN agency also calls for countries to use technology more effectively. Experts say a space-borne, sensing device could detect illegal drug crops in remote areas. Recent herbicide advances would allow environmentally safe destruction of crops, they say.
There were many signs during 1990 of a growing global determination to get a firmer handle on the narcotics problem. These ranged from the Cartagena Agreement, in which the US pledged $2.2 billion over a five-year period to bolster Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia in their drug fighting efforts, to the special session of the General Assembly, which for the first time last February emphasized the strong need to curb drug demand as well as supply.
The need to cut demand was underscored again at a special spring summit of industrialized nations in London. The Dublin Group, formed last summer by several European nations, the US, Canada, and Japan, is working on a more coordinated effort.
The UN itself may well be of more help in the drug fight. In response to a Dec. 21 General Assembly vote, the three narcotics agencies in the UN secretariat will soon be made into one UN International Drug Control Program.
``We've pushed very strongly for a restructuring of the UN narcotics effort and think greater coordination and consolidation will come out of it,'' says a US narcotics official who requested anonymity.