‘Arcana imperii’ and the real responsibility to protect

Statement delivered by Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations, during the Third Committee Discussion on Agenda Item 111: International Drug Control, 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, UN Headquarters, New York, October 4, 2018.

‘MR. Chair,

“In the 1800s, an imperial power embarked on the deep and massive addiction of China; infusing tens of millions of tons of Indian opium into the Chinese race. The effect was extraordinary: A continental country fell like a rotten fruit at the feet of a country the size of a Chinese county. Its stupefied and enervated men were turned into coolies; its women into prostitutes; and its children into the same. When the Chinese government halted the trade, China was raped and its vital organs were harvested: Coastal cities and island ports were carved into foreign concessions and outright territorial cessions. At the spectacle of China’s easy defeat, other empires rushed to the trough and also ate China. China has never forgotten the humiliation but neither has it forgotten the arcana imperii, to quote Tacitus: the secret of empire was out: drugs are better than navies.

“Today the UNODC reported that East and Southeast Asia is a primary subregion for methamphetamine trafficking worldwide. The substance has penetrated about 60 percent  of our barangays—our smallest, most basic communities.

“The previous administration coddled it; maybe it seemed harmless; its victims did not complain but wore a smile on their face. And they didn’t die; they walked around aimlessly like living dead. Most certainly it paid well to ignore it.

“The current administration was elected by a landslide vote, precisely on a campaign promise to exterminate the drug trade. A war on drugs was carried out at the very same instant it was declared. Surprise! To date, 4,000 dealers have been killed in police operations. Human-rights groups unaccountably counted up to 22,000 but that only shows how widely drug abuse has reached. There have been tragic mistakes; I will not call them collateral damage, which in war means blasting through civilians to get at the enemy. No, they were the result of a reckless disregard by the police in going after drug dealers. They were brutal cowardly acts such as police are prone to commit because it feels good to do it or they were erasing traces of their own complicity in the drug trade. These tragedies are inexcusable; but they are no excuse to stop the war on drugs—as friends of the drug trade recommend desperately as though they were lawyering for the accused.

“As of April this year, 99,000 anti-drug operations have been conducted. We have seized more than 2,600 kilos of crystal meth, amounting to more than P14.3 billion [roughly $286 million]. We have dismantled 192 dens and clandestine laboratories. We have rescued almost 700 minors. More than 600,000 drug users turned themselves in. More than 143,000 drug personalities have been arrested. We have a new chief of police. Smarter and cleaner than whistle but just as determined to wipe out the drug trade. I will skip the massive ongoing rehabilitation efforts in the works. Let me get to the heart of the matter.

“The international community has called the war on drugs genocide. Genocide is defined definitively as the killing of people for their race, religion or political persuasion. The drug trade is not about race—indeed it is about one and the same race cleansing itself. It is not religious practice, though the experience, I am told, is mystical. And it is not a political ideal, though the drug trade started buying politicians in the previous government. What it is is a purely personal criminal career choice. You are not born a dealer or baptized as one nor do you embrace it as a principle for which you are prepared to die. No, it was not a political principle but a smart career choice when it paid well. But under this dispensation that career choice has fatal consequences. And this is not a crime against humanity.

“The UN Human Rights rapporteur has suggested that methamphetamine is at worst harmless; identical thinking devotees argue that at best methamphetamine is a vitamin. They are welcome to ingest the confiscated chemicals to demonstrate their beneficial effect—but in front of TV cameras because we don’t want them resold in the market.

“It is suggested that drugs should be legalized. The idea is of course idiotic unless you think they are vitamins. All that would do is turn the government into the biggest drug dealer. This was a prospect the USDEA warned our new democracy would happen unless it took extreme measures against two military officers in the trade. I was present.

“Advocates of legalizing a crime—and a major one at that—in order to end that crime are right in a way: legalize it and—Voila!—it is not criminal. Yet an activity that can only be described as criminal continues with consequences on the population that can only be called criminal, as well.

“These advocates point encouragingly to small countries facing a peaceful, well-policed ocean that have legalized drugs. The Philippines would consider that option if it was, like these countries, small with small populations. But the Philippines is the 13th-largest nation on Earth with 110 million inhabitants and thousands of miles of coastline—anywhere along which methamphetamine is regularly dropped in sealed garbage bags to be picked up by complicit local government units.

“And the Philippines does not face an anodyne ocean but the bustling and bristling South China Sea; within spitting distance—note that phrase—spitting distance—of the major meth-manufacturing centers in the Asian mainland. There are powers there that surely contemplate addicting an archipelago to prep it for the same fate dealt to China by opium. That will never happen while we have breath and bullets to stop it.

“There is a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect. It obligates sovereign states to protect their populations from abuses committed by their security forces. That definition is limited and flawed. The first duty of a sovereign state is the protection of its law-abiding population against the lawless. But who will protect the lawless? Advocates of the drug trade complain. Surely the drug trade does not lack for champions abroad.

“Sure, some states abuse their own people; but vastly most states do not. And it is only states that have the wherewithal, the power and primal and primary responsibility to protect their people; not multilateral institutions coopted by avowedly well-intentioned groups. If states do not; if they step back and let the drug trade thrive and other criminal organizations flourish—or terrorism to spread—you can bet your bottom narco-dollar the governments of these states were paid off. And they have failed miserably in their responsibility to protect their people.

“And finally, in the pursuit of the primal and primary state obligation to protect its population, there is no power on Earth; no authority anywhere in the globe; no group or agency—however well-intentioned, naïve or criminally connected—that is superior to the state; that can stop it from doing its duty to protect the innocent; or substitute its judgment on how to fight crime and punish it as only a sovereign state sees fit to do it. Period. Thank you.”



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