This article examines how the German Democratic Republic (GDR) engaged with the problem of international anti-narcotics law and how it came to embrace the global drug war. The international anti-narcotics system provided a means of signalling the GDR’s normalcy to the international community and allowed East Germany to highlight its absence of drug abuse at home as a demonstration of socialism’s superiority in comparison with the narcotics abuse crisis of the capitalist world. By the 1980s, however, the GDR’s support for the international prohibition of drug trafficking shifted from one of competition with the West to that of collaboration. Through cooperation between international experts from both East and West, GDR elites abandoned earlier concerns about state sovereignty to endorse the global harmonization of drug laws as part of the 1988 Vienna Narcotics Convention.
This introductory essay provides an overview of the scholarship on state socialist engagements with international criminal and humanitarian law, arguing for a closer scrutiny of the socialist world’s role in shaping these fields of law. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the historiography on post-1945 international law-making has been generally dominated by a post-1989 sense of Western triumphalism over socialism, where the Soviet Union and its allies have been presented as obstructionists of liberal progress. A wave of neo-Marxist scholarship has more recently sought to recover socialist legal contributions to international law, without however fully addressing them in the context of Cold War political conflict and of gross human rights violations committed within the Socialist Bloc. In contrast, this collection provides a balanced understanding of the socialist engagements with international criminal and humanitarian law, looking at the realpolitik agendas of state socialist countries while acknowledging their progressive contributions to the post-war international legal order.