Drug production and state stability

Nov 4th, 2011 | By | Category: Afghanistan, Alternative development / Développement alternatif, Burma / Birmanie, Cannabis, Coca, English, Food security / Sécurité alimentaire, Forced eradication / Eradication forcée, Geopolitics / Géopolitique, Iran, Laos, Latin America / Amérique latine, Methamphetamine / Méthamphétamine, Morocco / Maroc, Opium, Pakistan, Policy Brief / Rapport, Production, Sub-Saharan Africa / Afrique subsaharienne, Thailand / Thaïlande, War / Guerre, War on drugs / Guerre contre la drogue

Drug production and state stability

Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy (CNRS-PRODIG), Laurent Laniel (INHES)

Secrétariat général de la défense nationale (SGDN), Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI), Paris, Mai 2006 – May 2006




Perceptions of security shared by our states have widened to take into account less traditional threats such as terrorism, arms proliferation, and trafficking in human beings and illegal goods, including drugs. Agricultural drug production is the source of significant but illegal resources for very fragile rural peoples, as well as a threat to the security of those countries to which the drugs are exported. The local impact of agricultural drug production is less well understood, at least in France. Although important from the point of view of the security of a number of states – even of whole regions, as in Latin America – the subject belongs partly to the field of security studies and partly to that of development studies, and has therefore not been much examined in its own right.


It was in order to address this complex issue from all angles that the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI – Centre for international research and studies) and Sciences-Po’s Centre pour la Paix et la Sécurité Humaine (CPSH – Centre for peace and human security) organised a seminar on ‘Drug production and state stability’, held in Paris on 6 October 2005, with the financial support of the Secrétariat Général de la Défense Nationale (SGDN– Office of the Secretary General for National Defence). Bringing together researchers, field workers and major players, the goal of the event was to take a global overview of the subject, along with an analytical look at the measures implemented by the international community in order to fight against drugs.


The SGDN, from which the idea for the seminar first came, is one of the Prime Minister’s departments, and is active where issues regarding the internal and external security of France converge. An inter-ministerial office, the SGDN prioritises reflection upon, preparation for, decision-making on, and follow-up of such issues. It coordinates and oversees teams put together to address specific questions, with the aid of ministries concerned. The CERI, one of whose objectives is to make expert assessments of international problems, in particular in the field of security, decided to organise this collective exchange of ideas on the effect of agricultural drug production upon state security in collaboration with the CPSH. This new centre for thematic research, set up by Sciences-Po, is based upon an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach. Its aim is to produce articles and publications on the broadening of security doctrines and paradigms. The PRODIG laboratory of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS – National centre for scientific research) and the Institut National des Hautes Etudes de Sécurité (INHES – National institute for advanced security studies) also associated themselves with the event through participation of two of their researchers.


We are pleased to present the results of this collaborative effort, the second since 2004 (1).


Christophe Jaffrelot (CERI), Eric Lebédel (SGDN), Sharbanou Tadjbakhsh (CPSH)

(1) An initial collaboration between the SGDN and the CERI led to a seminar being held in June 2004, entitled ‘today’s old soldiers – demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration’ and to the publication of a report on the same subject, available on the CERI Internet site (www.ceri-sciences-po.org).






1 The problem of drug production and state stability


2 The transition from war economies to peace economies: the role of opium


3 Cannabis in Africa: rural economies and state stability


4 Coca and political demands in South America


5 Relationship between drug production and state stability


6 Tables: development of agricultural drug production and of surface areas under cultivation


7 World map of production areas for the three main ‘drug plants’


8 Selected bibliography



The present report follows a seminar held in Paris, France, by the CERI, Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy (CNRS-PRODIG) and Laurent Laniel (INHES), with the collaboration of the CPSH, thanks to the support of the SGDN (1).


The study day brought together researchers and specialists in a variety of disciplines and of a variety of nationalities with a view to addressing the complex question of the relationship between agricultural drug production and state security. Many questions are raised by the issue. Should agricultural drug production be viewed as a consequence and/or a cause of state instability? Is such agricultural production systematically destabilising or does it, in some contexts, help maintain a socio-economic and therefore political status quo, even easing transition from a war economy to a peace economy? Finally, how far might a state’s stability or instability foster resorting to agricultural drug production?


The aim of the seminar was therefore to paint as comprehensive a picture as possible of the world situation – without, of course, claiming to be exhaustive. Speakers addressed the three main drug plants – the opium poppy, the cannabis plant and the coca tree – and the three continents where they are grown, and where their cultivation is or was connected to situations of armed or social-political conflict: Asia, Africa and South America.


Alain Labrousse, former director of the Observatoire Géopolitique des Drogues (OGD – Geopolitical Drug Watch), a top specialist in world drug geopolitics and author of several books and papers on the subject, introduced the study day by painting a global picture of the regions and contexts in which the three drug plants are produced.


Opium in transitions from war economies to peace economies in Asia


The day’s first session, which was devoted to Asia and to the role of opium in transitions from war economies to peace economies, was led by Jeremy Milsom, an Australian doctoral student (Melbourne University), David Mansfield, an independent consultant from Britain, and Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy (CNRS-PRODIG), a French geographer and CNRS research fellow.


Jeremy Milsom, who has had considerable field experience in the northern part of the Shan state of Burma held by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), detailed and analysed the political context and socio-economic factors explaining the resort to opium production in the UWSA’s special region n° 2. He laid particularly strong emphasis on the difficult survival conditions for the region’s opium farmers in the present context of accelerated suppression of opium production, and on how such conditions could jeopardise the precarious political stability of the Wa authorities and their territory.


David Mansfield, who has paid lengthy visits to and made numerous studies of the subject in Afghanistan, presented the Afghan opium problem in all its complexity by addressing the diversity of situations experienced by opium farmers in the eastern province of Nangarhar. He put special emphasis on the counter-productivity and unintended effects of rapid suppression of opium production, above all in terms of economic growth and political stability.


Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, who has been comparing the Afghan and Burmese opium production contexts over the last ten years, stressed the role that the opium economy played in their respective war economy contexts and the role it has played in their recent transitions to peace economies. He observed that although opium production clearly originated from the instability of the two States concerned, it later became more the result of major food supply uncertainties, which did not threaten security in strategic terms.


Two speakers, Christian Lechervy (Sciences-Po) and Olivier Roy (CNRS-CERI), specialists in Burmese and Afghan questions, respectively, expanded upon questions posed by the speakers by emphasising the complexity of continental South-East Asian, Central Asian and South Asian regional contexts.


Cannabis in Africa: rural economies and state stability


The second session was devoted to the African cannabis economies, and called upon two speakers to address the much less researched relationship between cannabis production and state stability in Africa: Kenza Afsahi, a Moroccan Ph.D. student in economics, and Laurent Laniel, a French sociologist and INHES research fellow.


Kenza Afsahi, who for the past few years has been carrying out research for her doctoral thesis on the cannabis farming economy in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, explained the economic, political, cultural and historical context of cannabis cultivation in the region. She explained how this economic activity, which has grown considerably over the last twenty years, has permitted the maintenance of a type of socio-economic and political status quo. She also warned of the ‘time bomb’ that lack of management of the situation has created.


Laurent Laniel, who has been working on drug-related geopolitical and strategic issues for the last fifteen years, addressed the difficult and little-understood question of development of cannabis cultivation in sub-Saharan Africa in the context of economic and political crises. Is cannabis an alternative to development in sub-Saharan Africa? Perhaps, he said, since no alternative development programme has been implemented in Africa.


Jean-Marc Balencie, a private-sector consultant on sub-Saharan Africa, and co-author of the Mondes rebelles volumes, opened this session’s discussion by an overview of the role that cannabis has played in a number of African conflicts.


Coca and political demands in South America


During the final session, three speakers analysed the various political movements brought about by the defence of coca cultivation – targeted for eradication as part of an American-inspired ‘war on drugs’ – in the three Andean countries that are the world’s main producers: Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Dionicio Núñez, a member of MAS, the leading Bolivian opposition party (2), pointed out that, since the economic crisis of the 1980s, coca cultivation has ensured the survival of thousands of families. For the Aymara and Quechua, who make up the majority of the country’s population, the coca leaf is a sacred plant with many virtues, whose cultivation and use – controlled but legal – should be clearly distinguished from those of an illegal drug such as cocaine. Rejecting forcible eradication of coca as an unjust and ineffective policy in the war on cocaine, the Aymara representative called for measures to industrialise production of legal coca leaf derivative products. In his opinion, such measures would afford farmers a legal outlet for their produce, which they would then no longer have to sell to drug traffickers.


The Colombian anthropologist María Clemencia Ramírez emphasised the differences between the Bolivian case and that of Colombia, the world’s top producer of coca and cocaine. In the latter country, farmers – who are for the most part extremely poor and live in regions controlled by armed groups (guerrillas and paramilitary forces) rather than the state – have no cultural attachment to coca, and only grow it because it offers a larger income than other possible agricultural produce. This absence of cultural ties to the plant has led to the Colombian authorities feeling justified in criminalizing coca cultivation and resorting to the extreme measures advocated by Washington (aerial herbicide spraying), which are prohibited in Bolivia and Peru.


Ricardo Soberón Garrido, a Peruvian jurist, looked at the effects of anti-drug policies implemented in Andean countries in the light of the Peruvian case. In a context of poverty and lack of development, coca cultivation has seen cycles of expansion since the 1970s, in line with fluctuations in demand on consumer markets. These cycles, accompanied by ever increasing violence (due to traffickers as much as to the police and the military), have made drug trafficking a central and lasting component of Andean social, economic and political reality. In Soberón’s view, this recent situation has allowed the United States to increase its influence on regional governments, which limits Andean countries’ independence, weakening their democratic institutions and disastrously undermining human rights.


Olivier Dabène, a CERI research fellow, opened the discussion by observing that anti-drug policies implemented in South America have so far proved to be not only ineffective but, above all, counterproductive, inciting major antagonism towards their leading promoter, the United States.




The final word went to Alfred McCoy, a historian at the university of Wisconsin-Madison whose book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, first published in 1972, has become the reference work on the strategic manipulation of the drug economies in South-East Asia during the Cold War. After summarising the day’s discussions, Professor McCoy presented his analyses and opinions of the repeated setbacks in almost thirty years of a ‘war on drugs’ which has not stopped an increase in terms of world surface area where opium poppies, coca and probably cannabis are grown, and which has also had unintended consequences, especially in terms of state stability, militarisation of primarily economic and social issues, democracy, and human rights (3).

(1) The authors wish to extend special thanks to Jasmine Zérinini (SGDN) for her support of this project and her useful remarks on a draft version of this report.


(2) The MAS has become the ruling party following the general election of January 2006.


(3) These arguments are developed in his article, ‘The Stimulus of Prohibition’ (2004: 26): “Despite four ‘wars on drugs’ waged by the United States for a total cost of US $150 billion, world illegal opium production increased fivefold, from 1,200 tonnes in 1971 to 6,100 tonnes in 1999. Similarly, after fifteen years of attempted eradication in the Andean countries, carried out by their governments at American instigation, coca leaf production had doubled, reaching 6,000 tonnes in 1999. In the three decades following the start of the ‘war on drugs’, the number of heroin users in the United States increased more than tenfold, from 68,000 to 980,000”.

Full-text policy brief in PDF format.


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