President Trump began his week at the U.N. General Assembly with an event seeking to prompt action against the global drug trade.
“The call is simple,” Trump said at an event early Monday morning. “Reduce drug demand, cut off the supply of illicit drugs, expand treatment and strengthen international cooperation. If we take these steps together, we can save the lives of countless people in all corners of the world.”
Many countries agreed: According to the State Department, 130 signed the document supporting “action on the global war against drugs” at the event. That included countries big and small, from China and India down to Swaziland (now eSwatini) and Micronesia.
But there are 193 states in the United Nations. So why did 63 countries, including U.S. allies and major European nations like Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, decline to sign?
The clearest answer from a head of government came from New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who said this weekend that her country would not be signing the agreement. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Ardern argued that the document wasn’t designed in a way that addressed New Zealand’s problems.
“We have a number of challenges that are quite specific to New Zealand and the particular drugs that are present, but also on taking a health approach,” Ardern said, according to Reuters. “We want to do what works, and so we’re using a strong evidence base to do that.”
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered a similar view. “The US initiative this week in New York is positive, but we would have wanted a stronger emphasis on the health aspects of drug policies to be able to support this particular initiative,” spokesman Frode Overland Andersen said in a statement.
Most of the countries that did not sign have not publicly commented on the issue. According to a representative of one such country, many of the non-signatories view the U.S.-led document as too narrow compared with previously agreed upon U.N. provisions on drugs and are concerned that it left out considerations about human rights and appropriate punishments for drug offenders. The representative spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the subject.
The document itself pledged to support a four-pronged anti-drug strategy that calls for expanding education and treatment measures as well as increasing border security and working to stop drug production.
The Intercept reported last week that the document was nonnegotiable — an unusual step — and would not be considered an official U.N. document. It had already drawn criticism from advocacy groups that argue evidence shows liberalized drug laws have proved more effective in combating addiction and crime than strict enforcement.
Ahead of Monday’s event, the International Drug Policy Consortium released a statement criticizing the agreement and suggested that a number of countries who had liberalized their drug laws would be signing the document as they “prefer not to risk antagonizing Trump, who has already shown the world that he is both impulsive and vindictive."