The myth of the narco-stateJuin 11th, 2015 | By p-a-chouvy | Category: Afghanistan, Burma / Birmanie, Cannabis, English, Geopolitics / Géopolitique, Methamphetamine / Méthamphétamine, Morocco / Maroc, Opium, Space and Polity
The myth of the narco-state
Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy (CNRS-Prodig)
2016, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp. 26-38
Published online: 11 June 2015
The ubiquitous but elusive narco-state
Guinea-Bissau’s narco-state story is typical of how the news media very often refer to so-called – and alleged – narco-states: either by being content with quoting official reports or statements, sometimes inaccurately, or by sensationalizing their titles. This happened when the British newspaper The Observer reported in 2008 on “How a tiny West African country became the world’s first narco state”, stating, without defining what a narco-state was, that the UNODC called Guinea-Bissau the continent’s – not the world’s – “first narco-state” (How a tiny West African country became the world’s first narco state, 2008). In fact, the UNODC has repeatedly warned against Afghanistan and other countries “being on the brink of becoming narco-states”, or “moving from narcoeconomy to narco-state” (2006, p. iii), yet without defining what a narco-state is, or what a narcoeconomy is, or how it differs in degree or nature from a narco-state. Lack of definition is actually often made worse by the frequent association of highly debated and confusing notions. Such is the case of the “narcokleptocracy” first mentioned in 1989 to describe how the Panamanian government ended being funded with drug money (US Congress, 1989, p. 84). There are also mentions, without definitions of any sort, of “failed narco-states” (Marcy, 2010, p. 71) or of “narco-mafia states” (Tadjbakhsh, 2008, p. 6).
Is a narco-state a rentier state?
The first thing about a narco-state, obviously, is that it is a state, that is, according to Migdal, an « organization, composed of numerous agencies led and coordinated by the state’s leadership (executive authority) that has the ability or authority to make and implement the binding rules for all the people as well as the parameters of rule making for other social organizations in a given territory, using force if necessary to have its way ». (Migdal, 1988, p. 19)
The narco-state vs. the lack of political and territorial control of resources
According to such a restrictive definition, neither North Korea nor Afghanistan, arguably the world’s two most drug-tainted economies, are narco-states. This leads to the conclusion that there is no existing narco-state, and that mentions of alleged narco-states can be explained by what Alfred North Whitehead described as the “Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness”, that is, the “error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete” (Whitehead, 1925). In fact, and as James Stuart Mill wrote:
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