States simply do not care: The failure of international securitisation of drug control in Afghanistan
This article was originally published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, volume 68, 2019.
The link between the world drug problem and securitisation has been predominantly established to argue that an existential threat discourse reinforces the international prohibitionist regime and makes it harder for alternative policy models to arise. This analysis is problematic for three main reasons. Firstly, it overestimates the current strength of the international drug control regime as a normative and regulatory system that prescribes state behaviour. Secondly, the current international regime does not inhibit policy reforms. While the international treaty system proves resistant to change, it is at the national and local levels where new drug policies arise. Moreover, these are generally not the draconian or emergency measures that successful securitisation would predict. Thirdly, the analysis so far misinterprets criminalisation or militarisation as evidence of securitisation. As the case of Afghanistan shows, securitisation attempts, such as those linking the Taliban and the illicit opium economy, may have reinforced the militarisation of drug control in Afghanistan, but did not elevate the illicit drug economy as an external threat or a top priority. While there have been short-lived spikes of attention and provincial level campaigns to eradicate poppy cultivation, these have never translated into a sustained structural effort to combat illicit drugs in Afghanistan. Even the latest push for militarisation, the US-led campaign of airstrikes on drug processing laboratories since November 2017, represents more a shift in counter-insurgency strategy than successful securitisation. While Afghanistan’s illicit drug economy has been politicised for several reasons, states are not convinced that this economy somehow represents an existential threat to their survival.