Nation-Building and the Management of Drug Eradication Schemes in Myanmar


Lomethong, Jen and John Walsh, “Nation-Building and the Management of Drug Eradication Schemes in Myanmar,” paper presented at the International Conference on Nation-Building 2017 (May 28th-30th, 2017, Bangkok).


Opium production and consumption has been known to be a problem in Myanmar since at least 1750. Production of opium was 36 tons in 1948 but that rose to 2,500 tons in 1996, owing to market conditions and the lack of alternatives to farmers searching for cash crops and for ethnic groups mounting insurgencies. Various drug eradication programmes have been tried in the country, often in conjunction with international partners but these have been of limited success because the military government was unwilling to allow access to many parts of the country to observers and, indeed, some parts of the country were not available even to the military government. In addition, local warlords had patronage networks which extended into government circles and caused divided loyalties among at least some of those people charged with eradication. This paper explores the existence and performance of drug eradication schemes in contemporary Myanmar and then argues that none is likely to be successful until steps are taken to raise confidence in peace and stability among all important stakeholders. This, in turn, can only be achieved with nation-building initiatives. It is recognised that the current political settlement is fragile and it is not impossible that democracy will be lost again. The example of the Rohingya refugees and the recent outbreaks of ethnic violence in urban Myanmar show the limits of state institutions and technical capacity in this regard.
Keywords: drug eradication, Myanmar, nation-building, state capacity