Japan spending more to help U.N. fight drug trade

Japan spending more to help U.N. fight drug trade

Felix Kim

Japan is making bigger investments to curtail the illegal drug trade at home and abroad as the island nation grapples with a growing number of drug-related arrests.

While the country’s appetite for illegal drugs is still small by comparison to most developed countries, Tokyo is concerned about the illicit trade of narcotics and psychoactive substances. From Pakistan to Uzbekistan to Ghana, Japan has supported initiatives organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) aimed at curtailing this criminal enterprise, stepping up its level of financial contribution over the past year.

The stimulant known as crystal methamphetamine has its birthplace in Japan. It was first produced by chemist Akira Ogata in 1919, according to UNODC. Demand for “crystal meth” in Japan has dropped off in recent years, The Japan Times newspaper recently reported. Marijuana arrests, however, have been on the rise, up from 2,536 in 2016 to 3,008 in 2017, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. Demand for prescription opiates is also up, according to Tokyo-based market research firm Fuji Keizai. The firm projects prescription opiates to be a multibillion-dollar business by 2024, leading some to predict a growing street market.

With its future in mind, Japan has been taking steps internationally, observed Jeffery Hornung, Rand Corp.’s Japan expert. “In order to prevent situations and countries from becoming the roots for conflict and war,” Hornung said, “they try to work on societal issues. So, that’s where they try to combat drugs, trafficking of humans, infectious diseases, poverty. They try to deal with all these issues so that they do not become national security issues later down the road.”

For 2018, Japan has pledged a supplementary budget contribution to UNODC of U.S. $28.4 million, up 25 percent from 2017, the U.N. reported.

“UNODC will be able to further advance its essential work in Asia and Africa as well as in Afghanistan and neighboring countries thanks to our growing partnership with Japan and the increased funding support provided by the government,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov in February 2018.

A portion of Japan’s UNODC contribution historically has been provided by Japan’s Drug Abuse Prevention Centre (DAPC), which earmarked the money for reducing demand for drugs in targeted countries. At home, DAPC engages largely in drug prevention and in organizing international education exchanges for drug abuse prevention.

In Pakistan, Japan contributed U.S. $3.7 million to the UNODC Country Office for multiple projects, including strengthening border security to prevent drug trafficking, enhancing air cargo security and combating coordinated criminal activity across borders.

UNODC’s representative in Pakistan, Cesar Guedes, praised Japan’s contribution as helping to build “a safer community, free from the threats posed by illicit narcotics trafficking and transnational organized crime.” (Pictured: Cesar Guedes of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, left, shakes hands with Takashi Kurai, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Japan to Pakistan.)

In Uzbekistan, Japan funded the June 2018 purchase of 30 vehicles and a range of specialized equipment for use in interagency mobile teams. Six teams will conduct joint patrols and operations across Uzbekistan to combat drug trafficking, UNODC reported.

Japan is comfortable working in Central Asia, Hornung said. “It does provide sort of a counterweight to China, to possibly even Russia. And, it doesn’t have any sort of national security issues or history issues that Japan encounters in other areas.”

The same could be said for Africa, where UNODC reported that Japan’s contributions paid for a pair of patrol boats to combat maritime crimes that include robbery, piracy, the smuggling of migrants and drug trafficking.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.