When we hear the term “narco-state,” certain countries usually come to mind—Mexico, Colombia, perhaps Italy and some African countries. In those places, the drug mafias rule with impunity, journalists and lawyers are assassinated and politicians receive death threats.
Not anymore. Thanks to globalization, government paralysis, a cultural acceptance of drug use and mass immigration, the lucrative international drug trade is bringing the same violence and corruption to the first-world countries of northern and western Europe, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and the U.K. Although Western countries have not seen the tens of thousands of drug-related murders that Mexico has every year, they are seeing the worst drug violence in their histories. It is a disaster that is only worsening but has been a long time coming.
A potent sign of this drug gang crisis was the July 2022 assassination of Peter R. de Vries, a well-known Dutch journalist and renowned crime reporter. De Vries, who was involved in the prosecution of a Moroccan drug lord, was shot to death in downtown Amsterdam, with his assassins recording the act on video. Although his murder sent shock waves through the country and the rest of Europe, De Vries’ death was merely the latest in a string of killings orchestrated by Moroccan gangs, dubbed the “Mocro Mafia.”
In response, the Dutch government subsequently pledged €500 million to fight organized crime. Still, the mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have warned of a “culture of crime and violence that is gradually acquiring Italian traits.”
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“I call the Netherlands a ‘narco-state 2.0,’” said Jan Struijs, chairman of the Nederlandse PolitieBond police union, in an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT. “We aren’t Mexico, with 14,000 dead bodies, but in our parallel economy, there is an attack on public order and unprecedented numbers of people with personal security—politicians, judges, prosecutors, police staff, journalists—because there is still a serious risk from organized crime. It is a huge problem being tackled on every front, but we have a long way to go.” The fear is that the flood of drug money into the country will necessarily lead to a death spiral of government corruption, inaction and lawlessness that would be nearly impossible to reverse.
Previously, the low crime rate in the country allowed prominent citizens to travel without security. All that has changed. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte—who used to cycle alone to work in The Hague, now has permanent police protection. Princess Amalia, the daughter of King Willem-Alexander, was forced to abandon her plans last year to attend university in person over fears she would be attacked or abducted.
Fueling the drug trade is cocaine, the most profitable narcotic for the drug mafia. With tens of billions of dollars at stake, the drug gangs are not simply street thugs but organized international crime syndicates. Police have discovered massive “factories” all over the country producing billions of euros worth of cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines and heroin. Gangs use automatic weapons and even grenades in their fights over territory. Illustrating the grisly methods of the drug mafia, police found seven soundproof containers near Rotterdam used to interrogate and torture rival gang members, and in 2016 discovered the severed head of a Moroccan gang member on the streets of Amsterdam.
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Dutch police, overwhelmed with the flood of drugs, are simply unable to deal with the problem. Amsterdam ombudsman Arre Zuurmond acknowledged that at night the city center becomes “lawless” and turns into a “jungle.” “In the city center, criminal money is leading at night. The authority is no longer present,” he said, adding that “the police can no longer handle this situation.”
The same is happening across the Western world. In neighboring Belgium, an estimated €60 billion worth of illegal drugs pass through the port of Antwerp every year. Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne was put under enhanced protection after police discovered a plot to kidnap him. “I think we’ve entered in a new phase, a new phase called narco-terrorism, a phase where the narco-terrorists try to destabilize the society and get their grip on society,” Van Quickenborne told The Associated Press. “And of course, we will never allow our countries to become narco-states like you see them sometimes in Latin America.” In response, government ministers from six European countries—Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain—met last October in Amsterdam to discuss cooperation in the fight against the drug mafia.
Cocaine, in particular, is spiraling out of control. In France, police confiscations of cocaine increased from 1.6 tons in 1990 to 26.5 tons in 2021. In February 2021, German police in Hamburg seized 16 tons of cocaine with a street value of €1.5 billion, a European record. In January 2023, Spanish police seized 4.5 tons of cocaine worth €105 million in the Canary Islands. In the U.S., the total amount of drugs seized by the Border Patrol increased from 29.5 to 50 metric tons between 2016 and 2021. Yet the drugs seized by police represent a small fraction of the total.
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The facts about the drug trade—deaths, overdoses, arrests and quantity of drugs seized—are easy to measure. More challenging to quantify and even more difficult to admit are the deeper, more philosophical reasons for its stratospheric climb. While the €600 billion global drug trade is undeniably complex, its principal causes can be laid squarely at the feet of the permissive, post-Christian, libertarian culture that dominates the Western world.
The main reason for the drug crisis is Western liberal ideology that, since the sixties, has destigmatized illicit drug use. Thanks to the influence of Christianity, drug intoxication used to be looked down upon as a sin, something that only criminals and vagabonds do. This Christian moral framework was replaced by a libertine individualism which made all morality relative and reduced society to a sand heap of individuals who could perform any act—even self-destructive ones—as long as they didn’t physically harm others. Western liberals spread myths and sophisms about drug use that successfully shifted public opinion in favor. They claimed that tolerating “soft drugs” such as marijuana would solve the drug problem. “Medical marijuana” was not only good but necessary to alleviate suffering. Legalization would eliminate the black market while reducing drug crime. One by one, Western countries began decriminalizing or implementing “tolerant” drug policies, starting with the Netherlands.
Only a few decades later, with the negative effects of widespread drug use becoming self-evident, many countries are regretting that decision.
A significant reason for this—apart from the growing consensus about the serious health effects of illicit drugs—is that drugs and crime are inseparable. Criminals have always been among the largest consumer of drugs, and where drugs are freely available, crime almost inevitably follows. Moreover, drug legalization expands, not eliminates, the black market. When drugs are legalized, consumption necessarily increases. Drug gangs almost always provide drugs cheaper than their legal (and taxed) competition. In Europe and the United States, the legalization of marijuana has led to greater profits for drug gangs than ever before.
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Marijuana is a gateway drug for hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Not everyone who smokes marijuana will move on to cocaine, but nearly everyone who takes cocaine began with marijuana. When a culture of drug intoxication takes root, and drug abuse becomes just another lifestyle choice, it is more or less inevitable that hard drugs will follow. There is no moral justification to draw the line at marijuana if there is no absolute morality.
The same liberals who relaxed drug laws were at the same time responsible for the immigration crisis that is directly responsible for much of the drug crisis. For decades, these liberals have both eliminated borders thanks to the European Union while eliminating trade barriers through globalization. Both were indispensable conditions for the drug trade. They also encouraged large-scale immigration into the West, mostly from poor countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Although “politically correct” commentators refuse to recognize this, it is simply a fact that in Europe, these immigrants, most of them Muslim, are disproportionally responsible for the drug trade and the violence connected to it.
In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the crucial enablers of drug gangs are the far-left proponents of “woke” ideology. These radical progressives see drug dealers and criminals as an oppressed class at war with the oppressive structures of the West, notably the police, the rule of law, and “racist” anti-drug policies. “Woke” progressives and drug dealers are allies in the war to overthrow “capitalism,” the free market and what remains of traditional Christian morality and Western European civilization. At the end of the day, both are anarchists who seek to eliminate the state and replace it with a tribal society “with neither gods nor masters.”
The slide of the Netherlands into “narco-state” status is destroying the rule of law, the social fabric of society and traditional Dutch culture. A strong police response is indispensable, but only by addressing the roots of the drug crisis can the West hope to eliminate this scourge of the twenty-first century.
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