Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Drug War and the Destabilization of Central Asia

(Pictures to come later.)
The Drug War and the Destabilization of Central Asia
            The United States’ view of Central Asia has always been through a narrow and short sighted focus. Rather than regarding the Central Asian states directly, relations have been seen as “means to an end”. This can be viewed in a period of eras. The Bush-Clinton era from 1992-2000 focused on ensuring political and economic stability, though they “view[ed] Central Asia mainly through the prism of its relations with China and Russia”, as Jeffrey Mankoff states – thus careful to engage in to close of an interest.[1] However, such economic schemes, such as the Silk Road Initiative, have by in large failed – being little more than, as Stephen Blank writes, a “bureaucratic contrivance.”[2] After 9/11, in the Bush-Obama era, ranging roughly from 2001-2014, there has been a focus almost exclusively on security, but always viewed the tinge of Afghanistan and Islamic radicalism, while failing to appreciate the potential for regional catastrophe if the Central Asian states were to grow even weaker.[3] As Weinthal and Luong write, this realpolitik approach may have worsened the long-term problems, especially with the US relationship to Karimov.[4] If these were the first two eras of US-Central Asian relations, then post 2014 and the drawdown of military forces in Afghanistan will require a re-evaluation of either strategy. Rather than engaging in “soft balancing” through a new “Great Games” by competing or acting unilaterally rather than collaborating with Russia and China, and rather than viewing Central Asia as only a battleground or staging area against Islamist terrorism, the United States must realistically approach regional stability, including dealing with criminality and corruption. [5][6]
One of the most prevalent issues of destabilization in Central Asia is its illicit drug trade, the essential shadow economy of Central Asia. This is an issue by which the United States may have greater sway in than either economic or political reform, but could affect them through its shockwaves. The illicit drug trade perpetuates corruption and may help fund terrorism – though certainly funds the ruling elites, weakening the state and negatively affecting legitimate growth.[7] As well, repressing the illicit drug trade may be more politically tenable than other investments. The United States, and indeed the United Nations, has a public face of being highly dedicated to continuing the drug war with a prohibitionist stance. Although this may change, it does not look likely in the short term.[8]  The question of whether this drug war, with production, distribution, and consumption as mala prohibita crimes, should even continue is unfortunately beyond the scope of this paper.[9] The political will, internationally, does not yet exist for mass drug legalization, nor does the framework presently exist in international law.[10][11] As such, the topic must be approached realistically – the idea of legalization will not be further addressed here. First, an overview of the scope of the drug problem must be elaborated upon, and an examination undertaken of overpoliticization of drug policy, which will remain the key problem in relevant US foreign policy, along with present corruption domestically, and the lack of cooperation between the US, Russia, and China.

The “Northern route” is the most significant drug flow through Afghanistan to Central Asia.[12] Much of the drug flow was through the Khorog-Osh highway.[13] The majority, however, is through Turkmenistan and roughly half through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. From Tajikistan, the drugs continue to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Through Uzbekistan, drugs are trafficked into Russia as well as the Caucasus via Kazakhstan. In recent years, Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan have moved from simply a transit country into a market for drugs from Afghanistan, as well as into its own production of opium, ephedra, and cannabis.[14] It is estimated that 30% of Afghan-produced opiates find their way into Western Europe, with 60% moving into Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Afghanistan accounts for 88% of the world’s opium productive.[15] The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates the total number of opiate users in the combined Central Asian regions being between 3.4 and 3.8 million people. Illicit drug use represents a public health hazard, beyond the addictive nature of opiates. Hepatitis C and HIV, given injective methods of opiate and stimulant use, spread rapidly. There is an estimated HIV prevalence among intravenous drug users from 7% in Kyrgyzstan, 4% in Kazakhstan, and 16% in Uzbekistan as well as Tajikistan. This prevalence is higher dependent on subregion. For example, 2% in Bishkek, to 13% in Osh. These rates have been on the rise. In western Siberia, there has been a 700% increase in the rate of HIV infections, theorized to be mostly amongst intravenous drug users. Younger individuals have been the most affected. In Uzbekistan, 8413 (64%) of 13,146 HIV cases have been among people aged 34 years or younger. Domestically, Central Asian states have by in large focused on the criminal/punitive model of reprimanding drug crime, rather than treating it as a medical issue.  In fact, opioid substitution therapy is performed only in Kyrgyzstan, and rejected in every other Central Asian state.[16] Internationally, efforts have been concentrated on the criminal element as well, which will be elaborated upon later in this paper. Only 11 percent of the budget for UNODC’s Central Asian program is dedicated to preventing drug use, whereas 88 percent is for fighting against organized crime, corruption, and terrorism. [17]
Beyond public health, the criminal aspects of the drug problem are enormous. According to Aleksandr Zelitchenko, a retired Kyrgyz police colonel and coordinator for the European Union’s Central Asian Drug Action Program in Kyrgyzstan, corruption poses a greater risk than the public health crisis. Although the extent of the drug problem is mostly measured in drug seizures, the records are unreliable. Measures of yield have been historically off, and even Turkmenistan has not provided data on seizures since 2000. In Kyrgyzstan, Zelitchenko estimates that the actual number of illicit drug users is probably around 100 thousand.[18] In addition to seizure data, one can conclude that drug-related criminal activity is growing worse through an examination of how drug-related crimes feature. According to Kairat Osmonaliev, “…in the early 1990s, each 23rd crime was related to drugs, but by the end of the 1990s, each 10th crime registered was directly related to illegal drug circulation.” Organized crime is steadily increasing. Central Asia’s corruption and reliance on clientele socio-politico forms of interaction do not help in this; low legal salaries give rise to the temptation to take cuts of the enormous profits of the drug business. For example, the Department Head of the DCA in Zaravshan Valley was arrested with 30 kg of heroin in 2004. Even worse, the Tajik ambassador to Kazakhstan was caught twice transporting drugs, including 62 kg of heroin.[19] Although these drug syndicates have not yet grown in comparable power to South American counterparts, this may actually complicate enforcement through a small chain of distributors. Central Asian leaders are keen to link Islamic terrorism with the drug trade, in part legitimized by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s involvement in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan before 2001. According to Sebastian Peyrouse, however, the baseline linkage between terrorism and drugs is “based on a very simplistic reading of the Afghan situation.” A lack of profitable crops outside of poppy fields complicates the situation in Afghanistan, coupled with “warlords and patronage mechanisms.” In addition to the mislinkage between Islamic terrorism and the drug trade, Central Asian states are keen to paint themselves as victims of an Afghanistan “spillover”, diverting attention from their own responsibility. Securing porous borders is not as simple as establishing a few checkpoints with barbed wire. Writes Peyrouse, “Every entry into Central Asian territory can be negotiated (by buying a false passport, bribing a border guard to forego a document check, and so on).” It requires political will to secure the borders – a will that is substantially lacking.[20] CAEC, the Central Asian Organization for Economic Cooperation, attempted to include discussions on regional security, particularly which of drug control. Within CAEC, the IDCC – the Interstate Drug Control Commission – was formed. However, IDCC has done little more than provide lip service to the idea of enforcement, with little in the way of real results.[21] To focus on all of the domestic problems with Central Asia’s drug enforcement is beyond the scope of this paper, but they deserve mention as they are inextricably linked. Nevertheless, Central Asian states have been shown to act on combatting the drug trade under international pressure, giving foreign policy a voice in encouraging compliance.[22]
Although the Central Asian states have adopted virtually every major narcotics treaty, most efforts at international pressure have been conducted bilaterally. There has been a significant missed opportunity in dealing multilaterally and involving the international community in combatting the Central Asian drug issue, representative of the over politicization of the issue. With the drawdown in Afghanistan, there are fears that dealing with the supply side of the issue will now be significantly more difficult, in spite of US claims to the contrary. Russian attempts at convincing NATO and the UN Security Council to act against Afghan drug production were unsuccessful. The plan, dubbed “Rainbow-2”, would have been a large scale poppy eradication program, partnering CSTO with NATO, in addition to UN sanctions on Afghan landowners who authorize the cultivation of opium.[23] According to Viktor Ivanov, director of the Federal Drug Control Service in Russia, stated that he believed “a joint operation… by NATO and CSTO wherein CSTO could focus upon the transit states and NATO would have to destroy the poppy fields in Afghanistan…. would be accomplished in a week.”[24] NATO refused, fearing that this would worsen the image of the organization in Afghanistan, along with a lack of alternative sources of revenue for Afghan farmers. This attempt at hitting the focal point of supply remains Russia’s objective.[25] Contrawise, a plan known as CACI, the Central Asian Counternarcotics Initiative, seeks to build support for law enforcement agencies by establishing counternarcotics task forces in each of the five Central Asian countries, communicating across boundaries. Then-assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, William Brownfield, stated to RFE/RL that the plan would help in preventing a boost in the flow of opium poppy after the 2014 drawdown in military power. The plan would have been funded by the State Department, purchasing equipment and paying for training. However, the plan is essentially dead in the water.[26] According to Elena Chernenko, writing for Kommersant, unlike the plan of attacking supply directly Moscow was less than enthusiastic about CACI, and it felt that the plan was little more than a cover for the US to increase their footprint in Central Asia.
"Зачем создавать что-то новое, если в этих странах уже действуют структуры ОДКБ? Почему бы американцам просто не присоединиться к ним, если они действительно хотят бороться с наркотрафиком? Почему они настаивают на двусторонних диалогах с центральноазиатскими республиками, демонстративно игнорируя интересы РФ в регионе? Ответов на эти вопросы мы не получили, отсюда и сомнения в истинной подоплеке предложений США",— пояснил "Ъ" один из российских переговорщиков в Вене. "Это новый инструмент проникновения в Центральную Азию, способ усилить военно-политическое влияние США в регионе",— категорично заявил "Ъ" другой член делегации РФ.[27]

This fear of US-Central Asian bilateral talks is not a new one. In addition, Russian diplomats have raised the valid concern that CACI does nothing to actually solve problems of corruption in law enforcement. According to a February 2012 report by RFE/RL, CACI has not been “rejected” but “blocked.” Ultimately, the US wants to deal with the drug problem by attacking demand in Central Asia, but Russia wants to deal with supply in Afghanistan. Both want the other’s help, but both have very differing strategies.[28] This is an example of Russian fears – whether legitimate or not – of the United States attempting to circumvent Russia’s geopolitical influence. Although there may be hope with the European Union improving relations with the Central Asian republics, they have traditionally had a distant relationship.[29]
Obviously, the bilateral nature of CACI did not help to alleviate these fears. As Aleksandr Zelitchenko recommended, Russia has a vested interest – more than the United States – in combatting narcotics. Not involving CSTO, thus, is an immediate mistake. Dealing unilaterally instead of regionally and involving interested powers, as well as neighbors, is a mistake. Having a narrow focus on security measures rather than attacking the problem at the source of demand is costly, and may be less effective. The fault lies with both sides, regardless of motivation. Resolving the drug crisis in Central Asia will take significantly more than bombing poppy fields or setting up stricter border security. Acts must be taken to counter both demand and supply, along with international pressure directed to shift domestic views on how best to approach drug policy, in addition to corruption – a fundamental understanding of how the drug trade benefits the elites, rather than too narrow of a focus on Islamic fundamentalists earning funds through the drug trade. Although the United States and Russia share skepticism with each other’s plans as being a threat to sovereignty and livelihoods, much of this paranoia is misplaced. Both nations have a keen interest in regional security, but the US prefers to act unilaterally.[30] There is no easy or quick fix. However, if Central Asian countries can be convinced that it is in their long term national interest, including the ruling elites, then much of demand – and future supply – may be resolved. Unfortunately, it may already be too late to strike the heart of the problem in Afghanistan for US foreign policy makers. This task may be left ultimately up to both the Central Asian states, and Russia, given the United States’ waning interest in Central Asia. It may be that a new “Great Game” is not so much the worry, as US absence entirely.[31] Still, Central Asia is unable to deal with the drug problem by itself – but a balance must be struck between sovereignty, and international assistance.[32]

[1]               Jeffrey Mankoff. “The United States and Central Asia after 2014.” CSIS. Pg 11. January 2013. Web. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[2]               Stephen Blank. “AWOL: U.S. Policy in Central Asia.” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst30 Oct. 2013. Web. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[3]               Jeffrey Mankoff. “The United States and Central Asia after 2014.” CSIS. Pg 11. January 2013. Web. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[4]               Pauline Luong and Erika Weinthal. “New Friends, New Fears in Central Asia.” Foreign Affairs. Pg 1. March/April 2002. Web. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[5]               T.V. Paul. “Soft Balancing in the Age of U.S. Primacy.” International Security. 2005, 30.1. The MIT Press. JSTOR. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[6]               Jeffrey Mankoff. “The United States and Central Asia after 2014.” CSIS. Pg 11. January 2013. Web. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[7]               Timothy Krambs. “Drug Control in Central Asia.” Foreign Military Studies Office. Pg. 5. U.S. Army.> 7 Dec. 2013.
[8]               Jamie Doward. “Leaked Paper Reveals UN Split Over war on Drugs.” The Guardian. 30 Nov. 2013. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[9]               Free Legal Dictionary. “Mala Prohibita.” The Free Dictionary. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[10]             Activist Post. “UN Drug Czar: States Can’t Legalize Marijuana Under International Law.” Activist Post. 21 Nov. 2012. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[11]             Sergej Guneev. “Putin Criticizes States Legalizing Soft Drugs.” RIA-NOVOSTI. 5 Jun. 2013. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[12]             UNODC. “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia: A Threat Assessment.” UNODC. United Nations. Pages 23, 68. May 2012. <>. 7 Dec. 2012.
[13]             Kairat Osmonaliev. “Developing Counter-Narcotics Policy in Central Asia.” Silk Road Studies. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. January 2005. PDF Pg. 23. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[14]             Timothy Krambs. “Drug Control in Central Asia.” Foreign Military Studies Office. Pg. 16. U.S. Army.> 7 Dec. 2013.
[15]             Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. “Drug Traffic from Afghanistan as a Threat to European Security.” Parliamentary Assembly – Council of Europe. 24 Sep. 2013. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[16]    International – Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Abstracts and statistics from other studies).”Common Sense for Drug Policy.>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[17]             Sebastien Peyrouse. “Drug Trafficking in Central Asia.” PONARS Eurasia. Sep 2012. Pg. 4. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[18]             Richard Weitz. "Kyrgyzstan: A Look at Central Asia’s Drug War.” Eurasianet. 29 Feb. 2012. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[19]             Kairat Osmonaliev. “Developing Counter-Narcotics Policy in Central Asia.” Silk Road Studies. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. January 2005. PDF Pg. 26-28. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[20]             Sebastien Peyrouse. “Drug Trafficking in Central Asia.” PONARS Eurasia. Sep 2012. Pg. 3. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[21]             Kairat Osmonaliev. “Developing Counter-Narcotics Policy in Central Asia.” Silk Road Studies. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. January 2005. PDF Pg. 68. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[22]             Timothy Krambs. “Drug Control in Central Asia.” Foreign Military Studies Office. Pg. 4. U.S. Army. <> 7 Dec. 2013.
[23]             Alexander Vatutin. “Rainbow-2 Anti-Drug Plan for Afghanistan.” Voice of Russia. 6 Sep. 2011. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[24]             Fergana International Information Agency. “Viktor Ivanov...“ 3 May 2012. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[25]             David Brunnstrom. “NATO Rejects Russian Call for Afghan Drug Removal.” Reuters. 24 Mar. 2010. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[26]             RFE/RL. "Russia Said To Block U.S. Drug Plan Amid Wariness Over Central Asian Influence.“ Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 12 Feb. 2012. <>. Dec. 2013.
[27]             Елена Черненко. “Антинаркотическую инициативу заблокировали в Вене.” Коммерсант. 17 Feb. 2012. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[28]             RFE/RL. "Russia Said To Block U.S. Drug Plan Amid Wariness Over Central Asian Influence.“ Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. 12 Feb. 2012. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[29]             EEAS. “First Eu-Central Asia Security Dialogue…” European Union. 13 June 2013. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[30]             T.V. Paul. “Soft Balancing in the Age of U.S. Primacy.” International Security. 2005, 30.1. The MIT Press. JSTOR. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[31]             RFE/RL. “The SCO, Security, and a New ‘Great Game.’” 11 Sep. 2013. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.
[32]             Reid Standish. “The Three Evils of Narco-Policy in Central Asia.” Registan. 7 Sep. 2013. <>. 7 Dec. 2013.

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