Empire, war, decolonization and the birth of the illicit opium trade in Burma, 1800–1961
From the 1930s through to the 1960s Burma remained a major obstacle to the goals of global drug control for the international community. Member states sought to restrict opium production, manufacturing and consumption to strictly medical and scientific use. The Conventions of 1925 formalized this goal in international law and the Government of Burma reiterated its commitment to prohibiting non-medical production and use in 1932. Nevertheless, significant qualifications postponed the implementation until the political situation in Burma stabilized, government control was extended to border regions, a medical system was established and the instability in neighbouring China allowed a tackling of opium production in the neighbouring Yunnan province. Alliance politics during the Second World War saw the British expedite the implementation of prohibitions and resulted in the emergence of a large scale technically illicit economy. This was greatly exacerbated by the Chinese revolution and the emergence of a Chinese insurgency in the border region, funded by opium production and likely assisted by the US Central Intelligence Agency. This chapter will chart the emergence of one of the main opium economies in the twentieth century as an illicit economy and the interaction between state policy, political stability and the interaction with organized crime and insurgencies.