NATO Announces Increased Focus on Opium Eradication Training

Announced this week, NATO plans to expand their anti-narcotic training program over the next few years. Part of a NATO-Russia project, over 2,500 counter-narcotics personnel from across Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia and Tajikistan. The program was launched in 2006 to support local capability to fight drug-trafficking. There are 21 NRC nations involved in the project along with Finland and Ukraine who are not part of the NRC. NATO has teamed up with UNDOC (UN Office for Drugs and Crime) to see this vision come to completion.


While giving local law enforcement the skills they need to handle their own drug cultivation and trafficking problems is admirable, similar projects have been tried before and my not improve the negative consequences of prohibitionist policies. Issues such as poverty, discrimination, and organized crime that thrives off the black market have plagued producer countries such as Afghanistan for decades. Even with the financial and military intervention of countries like the US in Afghanistan, the opium trade is still rampant in many regions of the country. The NATO task force has also had a large focus on Afghanistan, who produces up to 90% of the worlds illegal opium.


However, even with this outside assistance, the Afghan government has seen little success in luring farmers away from the lucrative crop. In fact, in some areas that were raided and deemed “poppy-free”, farmers have gone back to opium cultivation, saying that government promises to provide high-quality seeds, fertilizer or alternative careers have not been kept. Despite heavy efforts to eradicate the crop, the total area of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan actually grew 18% in 2012. With so much money to be made, it is questionable whether local officials can stand up to the task of prohibition, even with the proper training. Just like in South America where coca cultivation is part of the culture, political corruption runs deep with everyone trying to get a piece of the profits.


             Myanmar, the world’s second largest source of opium, also struggles with the proposed plan for eradication. Part of South Asia’s “Golden Triangle”, Myanmar has recently stepped up their efforts to get their agricultural providences under control, sending their first representative to the U.N. Commission on Narcotics Drugs in Vienna in 2013. Yet, trouble with rebels, uncontrolled boarders and deep-rooted corruption may limit the extent government can address drug cultivation. Though Myanmar only produces a fifth of the opium Afghanistan does, this adds up to 690 tons of opium last year, worth some $359 million. While this is evidence eradication is not effective, Myanmar extended its 15 year eradication policy until 2019.


The opium trade is part of a delicate balance in many of these economies, a fact that the local governments should be distinctly aware of. Yet, the international conversation on drug prevention does not include ceasing eradication efforts, as politicians fear a reputation of being soft on drugs. Other alternatives to eradication exist, as we can see in the example of Afghanistan. Should governments follow through on their promises of increased agricultural options and additional regional support, many farmers would be willing to move away from the drug trade. In addition, turning global drug prevention efforts towards reducing demand rather than preventing cultivation would be less costly and allow for a more gradual shift of the economies in producer countries.