Drug Prohibition and the Policing of Warfare: The War on Drugs, Globalization, and the Moralization of Perpetual Violence

Abstract: This article examines the shifting dynamics between policing and warfare as reflected in the War on Drugs over the twentieth century. Despite the UN’s international drug control treaties being written in language of humanitarianism, the drug prohibition that emerged from these laws exemplifies the growth of “New War.” The drug war, with its violent methods of armed combat, lethal force, incarceration, asset seizure, and land dispossession, was a continuation of familiar warfare. But it also marks a shift away from the traditional structure of war, providing a key, often overlooked early example of how contemporary warfare blurs the lines between surveillance, policing, and military action. Through an analysis of prohibition, this article points to a broader trend of war mutating from conflicts between rival sovereign states to the collective assault upon a threat or poison within the universal.

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