Photo via Gage Skidmore
As world leaders convene in New York City this week for the United Nations’ (UN) annual General Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump is once again attempting to flex his strong-arm style of international diplomacy, pushing scores of national representatives to sign a non-negotiable “Call to Action” to end the “scourge” of drugs on the global community.
According to The Intercept, which obtained a copy of the president’s “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem” late last week, the document calls for a “four-pronged strategy” in combating the spread and abuse of narcotics worldwide, specifically focused on reducing demand for drugs, reducing the supply of drugs, international cooperation on enforcement efforts, and “treatment efforts to save lives and promote recovery.” Unlike traditional UN agreements, Trump’s “Call to Action” is not up for debate or negotiation.
By the time Trump was set to give his anti-drug address on Monday morning, 124 countries had signed on to support Trump’s new global drug war, despite a significant lack of guidance or specifics surrounding the plan’s initiatives.
"The call is simple," Trump told assembled leaders on Monday. "Reduce drug demand, cut off the supply of illicit drugs, expand treatment and straighten international cooperation. If we take these steps together, we can save the lives of countless people in all corners of the world."
In line with Trump’s traditionally hardline stance on drug use, the unilaterally written decision to ramp up policing of narcotics worldwide includes some language about treatment and recovery, but pays more attention to reducing the supply of drugs — a strategy that encourages law enforcement interventions instead of approaches based in harm reduction for drug users. Over the first year of his presidency, Trump repeatedly ignored calls for evidence-based approaches to curtail America’s opioid epidemic, instead voicing support for draconian drug policies, including giving the death penalty to convicted drug dealers.
Outside of concerns about what Trump’s unchecked attempts to direct a global war on drugs might look like, drug policy experts are worried that Trump’s decision to hold a speech and photo opportunity where only those who signed his call to action were invited — and his insistence that world leaders sign the document without any comments — is yet another example of Trump’s exclusionary style of diplomacy. For countries like Canada, Mexico, and China, already in the midst of a Trump-led trade war, experts note that a signature on the drug policy paper could be seen as a way to placate the American president, more so than a sign of willful support.
“It’s not an official document, it doesn’t go through any of the official channels, it’s not negotiated, and it is linked to the event that’s being put on by Trump that will include the secretary general,” Hannah Hetzer, the senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Intercept. “It seems to be a way to get countries to fall in line behind Trump and his administration. I think countries that sign this and then show up to this photo op should be very careful — they don’t really know what they are signing up to.”
In at least some resistance to Trump’s General Assembly boasting, ambassadors from New Zealand and Uruguay have both rejected Trump’s “Call to Action,” skipping the president’s address and photo op Monday.
Following traditional UN protocol, a new international drug treaty is scheduled to be presented in 2019. It’s not yet clear if or how Trump’s new narcotics declaration will disrupt or influence future UN drug policy.