SOAS University of London

It is impossible to pursue a drugs-free world, sustainable development and peace at the same time, says new research

19 April 2021

A new Special Issue of the International Journal of Drugs Policy (IJDP), led by SOAS University of London, provides empirical research on the convergence of the drugs, development and peacebuilding policy fields, and calls into question a growing reformist agenda that advocates for the developmentalisation of drugs.

Trillions of dollars have been spent on the war on drugs, and the resulting developmental harms of these securitised approaches has been well documented.  Yet the tensions and trade-offs that surface when drugs policy and development goals converge, especially in conflict contexts, are insufficiently recognised in dominant academic and policy debates. The Special Issue provides empirical research on this convergence.

“The simultaneous pursuit of counter-narcotics policies, development and peacebuilding have distributional effects that need to be better understood – all good things do not come together” said Jonathan Goodhand, Professor of Conflict Studies at SOAS. “We hope this Special Issue will encourage an open, honest and evidence-based conversation about the drugs-development-peace nexus, recognising the pitfalls as well as the potentialities of this convergence.”

The IJDP special issue comprises 22 research articles, viewpoints and commentaries from the Drugs & (dis)order research project. It spans geographical regions across the global South – from Colombia, passing through Iran and Afghanistan, to Myanmar – focusing on perspectives from the drug- and conflict-affected borderland regions of each county.

“Borderland regions are often treated as breeding grounds for violence and instability, provoked by transnational illicit drug economies. This means borderland communities are likely to be the targets of harsh or highly securitised drug policies that have devastating impacts on their livelihoods.”  Patrick Meehan, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at SOAS.

“The contributions in this Special Issue reveal that, far from being passive receptors of external policies, borderland communities often generate new ideas, powerful practices and creative insights that policymakers would do well to listen to and learn from." Added Orzala Nemat, Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit.

Based on longitudinal research from the borderlands of these drug-producing countries, the Editors urge policymakers to confront the deleterious effects of pursuing counter-narcotics, development and peacebuilding goals simultaneously.  They recommend policymakers pay greater attention to the tough trade-offs, their distributional effects, who decides on these goals, and who bears the costs of these decisions.

“This is about policies, but it’s also about politics,” said Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, Professor at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. “These are political choices that must be made, not technical decisions based on best practice.  It’s paramount that the perspectives of those living in drug- and conflict-affected environments are represented in making those political choices.”