The “international community” presented an apparent unanimity in its endorsement of prohibitive drug control at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 1998. The reality is that there is a longstanding conflict within the UN system between nations wanting to maintain the prohibition regime and those hoping for a more pragmatic approach. The depth and course of this conflict can be traced through a myriad of documents and records of meetings published by the UN, revealing a previously unwritten history of events leading to the 1998 UNGASS meeting. These show the extent to which the hardliners have gone to maintain the status quo through rhetoric, denial, manipulation, selective presentation, misrepresentation and suppression of evidence, selective use of experts, threats to funding, and purging “defeatists” from the UN system. The UN has committed itself to a drug free world by 2008, even though the problem is worsening faster than its favoured remedy can be applied to solve it. However, some reformers and pragmatists have been challenging the system in their domestic policies. This may encourage a more realistic approach to illicit drugs and help to introduce more rational functioning to the UN system's drug control organisations.

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