Drugs and Peace Duration


This paper explores the impact that the production and/or transit of drugs have on the durability of peace following civil war. Once rebel groups have reached a certain size, they can provide services to peasants who cultivate drugs and tax them for those services. After the civil war has ended it is difficult for the rebel army’s members to walk away from the lucrative drug industry. My theory suggests that this would pose the risk of a large number of rebels remaining armed and organized, thereby increasing the risk of peace failure. Cox-Hazard Model analysis on 114 peace spells between 1945 and 1999 reveals that drug presence in a country actually increases the duration of the peace spell following a civil war. It may be that although no civil war recurs, criminal violence increases. Criminals are likely involved for purely material gains. If these criminals can make material gains without engaging in war, all the better. War draws outside attention and the attention of the army into their operations area. It also encourages the formation of informal patronage between insurgent groups and drug producers. Perhaps ending the war saves drug producers from the “war taxes” they had been paying to insurgents. Further, violence is bad for the cultivation and transportation of drugs. Since governments are less threatened by criminal activity than insurgencies, they do not encroach on the narco-rebels’ businesses.

Table of Contents: 


    After a civil war has ended, there is a high risk of conflict recurrence in that country (Quinn, Mason and Gurses 2007). Several authors have analyzed factors that increase the likelihood of conflict recurrence or, alternatively, the duration of peace (Quinn et al. 2007; Mason, Gurses, Brandt, and Quinn 2011). Similarly, authors have examined factors that may lead to initial conflict such as “greed and grievance” (Collier 2004). One of those factors that enable conflict is the presence of “lootable” resources that rebels can utilize to fund their insurgency such as oil, gems, timber, and drugs (Collier 1998, 2004; Ross 2004a). The presence of these resources has at times led to the initiation of conflict and increased both the intensity and duration of the conflict.

    I examine the consequences for the durability of peace when the illegal drug industry (production and/or transit) is present in a post civil war society.

    Previous Work

    Civil wars transition through three phases: onset, duration, and peace. Collier and Hoeffel have examined factors that may lead to the onset of conflict such as “greed and grievance” (2004). Greed refers to the material resources (e.g., finance, weapons, and human capital) that enable a rebel army to stage a rebellion. Grievances are perceived wrongs, i.e. “inter-group hatred, political exclusion, and vengeance” that might motivate a group to stage a rebellion (Collier and Hoeffel 2004, 575). Collier found that if a civil war is materially feasible it will occur even in the absence of “special inducements in terms of motivation” (Collier, Hoeffel and Rohmer 2009, 25). This supports the result of Collier’s previous two papers on the topic (Collier and Hoeffel 2004, 1998).

    One factor that enables conflict is the presence of “lootable” resources that rebels can use to fund their insurgency, such as alluvial gems and drugs (Collier and Hoeffel 1998, 2004; Ross 2004a). Civil wars generally take place in poor countries, and the presence of lootable resources would enable a rebel group to fund their army to a size sufficient to challenge the government (between 500 and 5,000 members) (Collier et al. 2009).

    Civil War Duration

    The second phase of a civil war after onset is duration. There is substantial research on the factors that affect the duration of conflict (Collier, Hoeffel, and Soderblom 2004; Collier and Hoeffel 1998; Ross 2004b; Snyder 2004; Walter 2004). In a review of 13 cases of civil war that involved resources, researchers found that illicit drugs were not linked to the onset of conflict but were strongly linked to the duration of conflict (Ross 2004a).  One factor is the lawlessness that civil war produces (Quinn, Mason, and Gurses 2007). Drug cultivators are able to increase their cultivation without fear of the authorities, which directly benefits the rebels who are taxing the cultivators. In Afghanistan, 2001, opium production was at 8,000 hectares, but by 2007, opium cultivation reached its peak at 193,000 hectares (United Nations 2010).  When a rebel army is deriving funding from drug cultivation there is an increase in drug production which enables them to fight longer.

    Duration of Peace

    After a civil war has ended, the third phase of post-civil war peace begins. Factors affecting the duration of peace have been less researched. Mason, Gurses, Brandt, and Quinn (2001) find that the outcome of a civil war has an influence on the duration of peace that follows. This is because the outcome of a civil war will determine the extent to which conditions of multiple sovereignty exist in the post-war environment. Tilly’s (1978) concept of multiple sovereignty represents the “capacity to resume conflict” (Mason et al. 2011, 172).

    There is some evidence that a rebel victory will produce a more durable peace than a government victory, but victorious rebels have to survive the first years after their victory, as there is a high risk of peace failure in the early years following a rebel victory (Mason et al. 2011). Negotiated settlements that incorporate power sharing or are enforced by a peacekeeping force, however, produce a more enduring peace than a government victory (Quinn, Mason and Gurses 2007).

    Post Civil War Drug Cultivation

    Mason found that after a war ends in a negotiated settlement or a government victory a time of lawlessness will exist, and the government’s army will be weak from fighting (Mason et al. 2007).  There is no research on whether drug cultivation would continue to increase, as it does during a civil war, during the time of lawlessness after a civil war. It would be significant if an upward trend in drug cultivation continues because that would potentially enable a rebel group to recover after a civil war and, once war is feasible again, resume the battle (Collier et al. 2009). This argument is reasonable under the condition that the drug is illegal. Snyder’s research found that governments have been able to profit from illicit drugs (e.g. Burma) by changing their position on the legality of the drug and building institutions to help in the “extraction” of the resource, thus “transforming narcotics from a honey pot for hinterland rebels into the main pillar of the national economy [Burma]” (Snyder 2004, 20). There is a trade off though, in that the country will become a pariah state, possibly losing loans, aid, membership in intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations, and possibly face economic embargos (Snyder 2004; Peceny, Durnan 2006).

    Distinction among Lootable Goods

    Drugs are distinctly different from other lootable resources. They offer distinct advantages to rebel groups in the plants’ versatility, abundance, and value/weight ratio that other “lootable resources” do not offer. In this study I will examine the possible consequences for the durability of peace when drugs are present in a post civil war society.

    The particular drugs associated with civil wars are coca and poppy. They are valued by rebel groups for three reasons. The first is their “value to weight ratio” setting both the drugs apart from marijuana (Peceny and Durnan 2006, 99). Second, both coca and poppy are inherently easy to loot:  both can be “extracted and transported by small teams” (Peceny and Durnan 2006, 99). Third, both of the drugs can be cultivated by a relatively unskilled work force that generally provides the support base for the guerillas; this was the case in Peru with Sendero Luminoso and the FARC guerillas in Colombia (Richani 2007, 414-415). In much of the Global South where a large portion of the population lives in poverty, cultivating drugs offers individuals a means to earn more than they could by cultivating legal crops. This was the case in Peru in 1991 when “half the population lived in critical poverty” the “coca trade employ[ed] an estimated 300,000 Peruvians, or approximately five per cent of a work force faced with combined unemployment and underemployment of 50 to 80 per cent” (Mason and Campany 1995, 142).

    Drugs as an “Enabling Factor” in Civil War

    Once rebel groups have reached a certain size they can provide services to peasants who cultivate drugs and tax them for those services. These services range from protecting the peasants from the governments’ forces to negotiating better prices for the peasants’ crops with the drug traffickers. Performing these services can endear the rebel group to the peasants, garnering a support base of peasants and thereby enhancing the rebels’ ability to sustain their war efforts. This should result in longer war duration and should also enhance the rebel’s bargaining position in talks aimed at a negotiated settlement.

    Post Civil War

    After a civil war has ended there will still be a demand for the services that the rebels offered. I assume the rebels will find it difficult to abandon the prosperous drug business networks they would have built. There are two conceivable options for the government to address this problem. One is they could legalize the illicit drug and build institutions to support the peasant growers, such as coca processing plants, roads, and airstrips (Snyder 2004). This would undercut the rebels’ role in the drug trade. This approach was successfully implemented by the Burmese military regime in the 1990’s. “By building institutions of joint extraction, the Burmese military transformed narcotics from a ‘honey pot’ for hinterland rebels into the main pillar of the national economy” (Snyder 2004, 20) stemming capital flight, and generating an estimated $100 million in government revenues (Litner 1999, 387).

    Of course, the feasibility of legalizing the drug greatly depends on a country’s vulnerability to “U.S. pressure to participate in its ‘war’ on drugs (for example, in Burma and North Korea, as opposed to Colombia)” (Snyder 2004, 9). Since Richard Nixon’s declared “War on Drugs” in 1971, there has been an effort by the United States and its allies to villainize drugs and groups that are involved in the drug trade. When I refer to a group being villainized I am borrowing the term from Bertram Spector that “A villain is the most extreme of enemies, one who is seen as believing and acting in contravention of or in a manner that is totally indifferent to accepted norms of specific societies and, sometimes the international community” (1998, 46). Further, villains are made for opportunistic reasons. During a time of war, a nation needs a villain to fight. Their enemy has to be dehumanized and made to appear not like you and me. Throughout history there is a pattern of nations villainizing their enemies. This was seen during the Cold War.  Since the Cold War has ended it seems that the “War on Drugs” first and now, more recently, the “War on Terrorism” has replaced the war against communism. The United States has given billions of dollars to foreign governments who are fighting the “War on Drugs.” This money arrives with expectations and pressure that might prevent the foreign government from coming to the negotiation table with the “narco-rebels,” thereby increasing the duration of the conflict. The possible repercussions a country might face for negotiating with narco-rebels could be “international isolation,” possibly embargos, loss of loans, and inter-government aid (Snyder 2004, 9).  In the case of Plan Columbia, the U.S. $1.2 billion aid package to Columbia, funds were earmarked for very specific operations like fumigating coca fields. It has been found that these drug eradication programs only further increase peasant support for the guerillas (Mason and Campany 1995). In June of 2008 George Bush signed the Merida Initiative into law. This was a “$1.5 billion anti-drug-assistance package for Mexico and Central America” modeled after Plan Columbia (Walser 2008).

    A “No Extraction” Policy in a State of Lawlessness

    The second option for the government would be to enforce a “no extraction” policy of the lootable resources (Snyder 2004, 4). A no extraction policy is the prohibition of a lootable good. Governments might enforce such a policy when groups that are perceived as a threat are generating funds from the lootable good (Snyder 2004).  A no extraction policy is difficult for governments to enforce with illicit drugs, as opposed to other lootable resource like alluvial gems or timber, because of the nature of the resource (see below). Additionally, this type of policy only increases the peasant growers’ need for a rebel army to protect them. Rebel armies have the ability to deter government forces from interfering with drug cultivation in their areas of control. This was seen in 2009 in Afghanistan where 90 percent of global poppy was cultivated. The majority of this was cultivated in only seven areas where the rebel armies are strongest (United Nations 2010, 232).

    After a civil war has been fought, the government’s forces are generally weaker than they were before the conflict.  Michael Ross found that during a civil war, drug cultivation increases because of the “weakness of the state’s jurisdiction in remote rural areas” (Ross 2004b, 62). After fighting a civil war the government’s army is generally weaker than it was before the conflict (Collier and Hoeffel 2004). As a result “lawlessness” can prevail in the post-civil war environment that will allow the cultivators of the drug to continue cultivation (Collier and Hoeffel 2004; Quinn et al. 2007).

    What Sets Coca and Poppy Apart from Other Lootable Resources?

    Coca and poppy display two characteristics that set them apart from other resources: their inherent versatility and abundance. Versatility is the opportunity of the individual grower to decide where the resource will be cultivated, with some limitations. As with other plants, there are conditions that inhibit growers from cultivating coca or poppy, like terrain and climate. You cannot decide where you will find diamonds and oil, but you can strategically grow coca or poppy in remote geographic locations such as mountains, valleys, and jungles, that are out of reach of the authorities (Collier, Hoeffel, and Rohmer 2009). These terrains also are conducive to the growth of rebel armies (United Nations 2010).  Further, drugs are a renewable resource but still hold high value in proportion to their weight (Mason and Campany 1994). There is a limited quantity of diamonds in the world just as there is only so much oil. Further, both oil and diamonds are in a fixed location; you cannot move an oil field or a diamond mine. This could be significant in Ross’ findings that oil is “more strongly associated with separatist conflicts than other types of conflicts” because the conflict becomes a conflict over territory that has oil (Ross 2004a, 352). Quite the opposite is seen with coca and poppy: if the government forces capture a rebel controlled coca/poppy field, it would be in the best interest of the rational rebel to abandon the field because another field could be planted in an area outside of the government’s control. This is referred to as the “balloon effect” (Peceny and Durnan 2006, 99). As government forces put pressure on farmers in one area, drug cultivation stops in that area and the farmers begin to cultivate their drugs in another area. It would be more profitable for the rebels to move locations if the government captures one of their coca/poppy fields instead of staying there and fighting over the territory.  The versatility and abundance of coca/poppy make them a profitable resource to garner funds, and their presence in a country might have a distinct affect on the duration of peace.

    Duration of Peace after a Civil War

    Previous research has shown the outcome of a civil war has a strong influence on the duration of peace (Mason, Gurses, Brandt, and Quinn 2011). The outcome of a civil war will determine whether the conditions of multiple sovereignty, or “capacity to resume conflict”, persist in the post-war period (Mason 2011, 172).

    Some studies have found that a rebel victory will produce a more durable peace than a government victory, but even victorious rebels are at risk of facing renewed conflict in the first year post victory (Mason et al. 2011). Both rebel and government victories produce a more durable peace than negotiated settlements. However, several studies indicate that negotiated settlements that incorporate power sharing and are enforced by a peacekeeping force produce a more durable peace than a government victory (Quinn, Mason, and Gurses 2007).

    Turning to civil wars where drugs are present as a lootable resource. I can theorize on how the presence of drugs combines with each possible civil war outcome to affect the duration of peace.

    H1 Countries that produce and/or transit drugs are less likely to experience a durable peace after civil war.

    Negotiated Settlements

    When a civil war ends in a negotiated settlement and the rebel group demobilizes, factions of the old rebel group stay intact and exploit the drug business. This has been the case in Colombia since the United Auto Defenses of Columbia (AUC) began demobilizing in 2002 (Perdomo 2007; Richani 2007). Funding their rebel group with drug revenues, they recruit and equip themselves. As Collier has found, once renewed civil war is feasible again, it will occur, even in the absence of grievance based motivational factors (Collier, Hoeffel, Rohmer 2009).

    Government Victory

    When the civil war ends in a government victory, the government army will be weak from fighting and less able to enforce law and order throughout their territory (Quinn et al. 2007). This will enable the peasants to continue to increase their coca or opium cultivation. The victorious government will be faced with two options: to reform the conditions that led to the rebellion or to engage in repression to eliminate the rebel organization and its support base (Mason et al. 2011). Generally, reform after civil war is not economically viable. The other option is repression (Mason et al. 2011). Villanization and subsequent repression seem to be the favored method when governments are fighting narco-guerillas (see Spector 1998, 46).

    There are two historical cases of a government using repression to fight narco-guerillas. In 1992, President Alberto Fujimori of Peru carried out a coup, the autogolpe, suspending the constitution, arresting opposition leaders, and disbanding both the congress and the judiciary (Mason, Campany 1995). Fujimori’s government also drastically increased aid to paramilitary groups or ronderos who fought the Shining Path Rebels (Rochlin 2003, 69). The same year of Fujimori’s coup, 1992, Abimael Guzman, the leader of the Shining Path, was captured along with his laptop that held intelligence leading to the arrest of many of the Shinning Paths’ leaders thus crippling the rebel group. The remnants of the Shining Path are still involved in the drug trade, taxing peasants for their protection. They are no longer a viable political challenge to the government, however.

    In Colombia the government carried out a similar program of repression against the FARC guerillas and their supporters. Columbian government security forces have a long history of human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings. In 1994, the government claimed responsibility for the Trujillo massacres, where government security forces in cooperation with right-wing paramilitary groups murdered 107 suspected unionists and guerilla supporters, dismembering their bodies, and dumping them in a river as a warning to other guerilla supporters (Clawson and Lee 1996, 59; Tickner, 2003).

    Government repression creates a fertile environment for insurgency. First, it increases the peasant’s need for protection from the government. Second, it can potentially transform a peasant or non-combatant into a rebel. In a case study of Peru, Mason and Campany (1995, 157) found that as the government forces carried out indiscriminate killings, non-combatants were driven into the ranks of the rebel group to gain protection from the repressive regime (Mason, Campany 1995, 157).

    In sum, a government victory can possibly lead to a period of lawlessness due to a weakened army. As a result, drug cultivation can increase. If the rebel army is not completely annihilated, it has the capacity to resume drug services and profit from this increased cultivation. Government repression of the populace will in turn endear more support for the rebels and potentially increase their ranks. With the drug revenues, they will then have the financial capacity to rearm and renew the conflict.

    Rebel Victory

    If the civil war ends in a rebel victory, drug cultivation can increase substantially, which increases the victorious rebels’ revenues and enables them to recuperate from the war and further consolidate their power. A stronger rebel group will deter a recurrence of conflict because the feasibility of defeating the victorious rebel group will decrease. Rebel victories generally produce the most durable peace, killing or exiling the previous political leaders (Mason et al. 2011)

    The new rebel government is at its most vulnerable stage during its first year of existence (Mason et al. 2011). This early vulnerability could possibly be mediated in the cases where the country is a primary drug cultivation country or drug transit country. Due to the opportunity for the new rebel government to allow drug cultivation without government interference, the new rebel government can buy peasant support among those who cultivate the drug. In turn, as cultivation increases, the new rebel government’s funds from the taxes they can extract from the drug business will also increase.

    The strongest factor that could possibly inhibit this outcome would be outside intervention under the banner of a “war on drugs.” Through programs such as Plan Columbia and the Merida initiative, the United States has given billions in military aid to stop drug cultivation in producer countries. It has also sponsored counter rebel groups in the past, such as the Nicaraguan Contras. A possible repercussion for legalizing narcotic cultivation would be international isolation and possibly U.S. funding to counter-rebel groups subverting the rebel government (Mason et al. 2011; Snyder 2004).

    Data Set

    I tested my hypothesis using the Sambanis (2004) data set, modified by Mason, which includes civil wars during the period of 1945-1999, including 98 separate peace spells, 48 of which had a re-occurrence of conflict (Mason et al. 2011, 180, 183; Sambanis 2004). A peace spell is the absence of all civil wars in the given country. Mason’s data set is non dyadic, meaning all civil war must have ended before the country is counted as entering a peace spell (Mason et al. 2011, 173).  A civil war can end in three ways: government victory, rebel victory, or a negotiated settlement.


    The dependent variable is peace duration or time measured in years. To be termed being in a state of peace all dyads of the civil war must have come to an end. Once this occurs, one can measure in years the duration of peace and control for variables that might have an effect on it. Mason et al. (2011) found that the extent to which multiple sovereignty exists after a civil war will influence whether there will be a recurrence of the civil war. Multiple sovereignty occurs when both parties, government and rebels, retain the capacity to resume the civil war.

    To distinguish those countries that are major drug producing and/or transit counties from those that are not, I create a dichotomous variable that takes a value of 1 if the country is a major illicit drug producing or transit country in a given year. I determine this using the United States code (2003, 618) as defined under the 490(h) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), where the Congress has designated “Drug Producing” and “Drug Transit” countries (National Archives and Records Administration 2162). There are thirty five countries that produce and/or transit drugs. Twenty-four of those countries have experienced at least one civil war since 1949.

    To test the hypothesis I use the Cox-Hazard Model which measures how long, in years, peace lasted in the drug producing/transit countries that experienced civil war. I used a survival model so time could be accounted for, as previous research has found that time has a positive correlation with peace duration; the first few years after a civil war have the highest probability of conflict re-occurrence (Mason et. al 2011). With a survival model I measured the time length peace lasted in years and the hazards to that peace. The principal hazard for this study was drug production/ or transit. Refer to Table 1.


    A Cox-Hazard Model analysis on 1,196 peace-years between 1945 and 1999 reveals that drug presence in a country actually increases the peace spell following a civil war. As shown in Figure 1, drug producing/ or transit countries experience a more durable peace than non-drug producing/ or transit countries. It may be that although no civil war recurs, criminal violence increases. Criminals are likely involved for purely material gains. If these criminals can make material gains without engaging in war, all the better for them. This certainly has been the case with the demobilization of the Auto Defenses of Colombia (AUC), the largest paramilitary group in Colombia with membership around 29,000. The group began to demobilize its troops in 2002 (Perdomo 2007; Richani 2007), but it seems that members could not walk away from the drug trade that they had been involved in. The Organization of American States expressed concern in 2010 “about the rising number of homicides in Colombia as a result of gangs that have emerged from demobilized paramilitary groups” (Glade 2011). From a report this month, we know that 513 former paramilitary members and drug traffickers were arrested in Northern Colombia (Alsema 2011). All arrests took place in the department of Cordoba and the Bajo Cauca region in the Antioquia department. The region is considered one of the most important drug routes to the Pacific and its extremely high murder rates are blamed on the groups formed from demobilized paramilitary organization AUC and the now defunct Norte del Valle cartel (Alsema 2011).

    Further, the National Reparation and Reconciliation Commission in Colombia found that “15.5 percent of 55,000 former members of illegal armed groups have rearmed, meaning 8,500 former paramilitaries and guerillas have rearmed as of December 2010” (Glade 2011).

    A second explanation for drug presence increasing the durability of peace is that war draws unwanted outside attention and the attention of the army into drug operations areas. It also encourages the formation of informal patronage between insurgent groups and drug producers. Perhaps ending the war saves drug producers from the “war taxes” they had been paying to insurgents. Further, violence is bad for the cultivation and transportation of dugs. As a result, governments are less threatened by criminal activity than insurgency, giving them motivation not to encroach on the narco-rebels’ business.


    As the U.S.-led war on drugs reaches its fortieth year, we have chilling results. Poppy production has been at its highest since the 1980’s (United Nations 2010). South of the border in Mexico the drug war has claimed more than 40,000 lives, while just north of Tijuana, in California, marijuana is being sold legally for medical purposes. With U.S. intelligence assistance, the Colombian police took out public enemy number one, Pablo Escobar, only to have the much more dangerous Mexican cartels take his place (see Bowden 2002). Over three hundred thousand acres or the equivalent of eighty thousand football fields are being fumigated (sprayed by plane with a toxic pesticide) every year in Colombia, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, all paid for by the U.S. aid package Plan Colombia (United Nations 2010, 263; Dávalos, Liliana, and Bejarano 2008, 221; Oldham and Massey 2002, 9). It seems the only winners in the war on drugs are the people who profit from the drugs’ illegality: farmers, narco-rebels, traffickers, cartels, etc. An estimated value of the cocaine and opiate markets in the 2000’s is $153 billion and the production of both has been steadily increasing over the past three decades (United Nations 2010, 33-35).

    This paper sheds some light on the convoluted global drug market and its effects on the duration of peace. After a civil war has ended, both parties must weigh the costs/benefits of keeping the peace or renewing the conflict. My findings reveal that the presence of drugs (a lootable resource) acts as a pacifying force post civil war.


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    Table 1: Hazard of Peace Failure in Drug Producing/ Transit Countries


    H. Ratio

    Robust Standard Error


    Drug Producing/ Transit Country  .347 .160 0.022***
    War ends in a Rebel Victory 3.439 1.839 0.021***
    Rebel Victory x time .433 .152 0.017***
    War ends in a N Settlement 1.682 .660 0.185*
    Ethnic Fractionalization .065 .161 0.271*
    Ethnic Fractionalization2 3.732 2.662 0.065*
    Infant Mortality Rate 1.009 .004 0.010***
    Deaths Logged 1.183 .085 0.019***
    U.N. Peace Keepers (time- varying) .124 .118 0.028***
    War Duration .948 .038 0.178

    *Significance at .10 level; **significance at .05 level; ***significance at .01 level 
    Dependent Variable: Peace Duration

    Figure 1: Probability of Peace Failure