Opium as an Object of International Law
Select Proceedings of the European Society of International Law (Reinisch and Footer, eds) (Hart, Forthcoming)
18 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 27, 2016
This paper investigates two questions.
First, what might studying international law through objects reveal? What might objects, rather than texts, tell us about the way international law constructs notions of sovereignty, the way it authorises practices of intervention, or the way it justifies participation in the international community through rights to trade?
Second, what might this scholarly undertaking reveal about the objects – as aims or projects – of international law? How do objects reveal, or perhaps mask, these aims, and what does this tell us about the reasons some (physical or material) objects are foregrounded, and others hidden or ignored?
In this chapter, I investigate these questions through one specific material object: opium. I frame my argument around specific ‘moments’ when opium has surfaced as an object of international law in the last three centuries: first, in the Opium Wars fought between Britain and China in the 1800s, second, the United States (US)-led ‘War on Drugs’, and finally, the ‘War on Terror’.
Each of these moments in which opium has emerged as an object of international law has revealed tensions between the legal doctrine of sovereignty under international law, and the commitments of the international system to particular forms of trade, and to certain moral norms. In this way, international law’s relationship with opium’s production, trade and even the morality of its use reveal particular fissures and discontinuities in international law, which remain hidden in text-centred accounts.
Keywords: opium, Opium Wars, War on Drugs, War on Terror, material culture, international law, drug regulation, single narcotic convention, trade, sovereignty, morality
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation