The Doublethink of Victor Ivanov
The chief of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, Victor Ivanov (“drug czar?”) illuminated some interesting facets of the counternarcotics campaign in the war on Afghanistan. He claimed on the same day that 1) the US was not doing enough against drugs and 2) anti-drug operations were responsible for sending more heroin through Russia. The explanation is rather simple. Rather than continuing a wholly counterproductive policy of attacking poor, indebted opium farmers and expecting them to ally with America against the Taliban, the US has encouraged allies such as Pakistan to cut down on drug trafficking, which targets actual narcotics traffickers instead of the population.
Of course, the same principles underlying the war on drugs applying to Afghanistan as anywhere else – supply and demand. Traffickers simply switched their routes to the north and west, through Central Asia, Iran, and the Caucasus (Ivanov calls out Georgia, of course). Yes, heroin may kill 30,000 Russians a year, but as long as there 2.5 million heroin addicts in your country, they’re going to find a way to do it. The shift in drug trafficking routes that Ivanov complains of is due to the effects of counternarcotics policy, not its absence.
Nevertheless, his statements demonstrate the quiet interest of foreign powers in our Afghan presence. Russia, China, and India are all hoping to “free ride” off American and European military operations. None of these countries are interested in seeing Afghanistan become a haven for Islamic extremism and heroin production. It may be a multipolar world, but analyzing the criticism from men like Ivanov demonstrates the ways in which the US is still playing the role of the world’s policeman.