Lecture | Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS), by Anne L. Foster (Indiana State University)
In 1912, eleven countries signed The Hague Opium International Convention. With the exception of Germany and Russia, all the signatories were in Asia or had colonies in Asia. Ratification was painfully slow. Only when ratification was made automatic upon signing the treaties ending World War I did this convention become a significant force in international law. The course of opium regulation in the first half of the 20th century provides an excellent lens through which to examine European and U.S. colonial and foreign policy in Southeast Asia shaped one another. More significantly, opium policy helps us understand how social and cultural developments made possible, and limited, the political policies which could be pursued. Historians now routinely study a wide range of activities under the label foreign relations, including immigration, cultural diffusion, trade, diplomacy, human rights activism, and many more. Connecting more traditional study of foreign policy with these other subjects has often proved elusive, however. Opium policy shows these connections: diplomatic negotiations, intelligence gathering and sharing, national competition and cooperation developed in the context of medical and public health policies, ideas about capacity and race, changing cultural practices, and significant transimperial activism. As the challenges to empire mounted, officials collaborated and competed, across domestic, imperial and foreign policies about opium, to shore up colonial rule. The fact that 73 nations were present at the 1961 conference leading to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs shows they did not fully succeed, even as the post colonial world was shaped by their efforts.
Anne L. Foster is associate professor of history at Indiana State University and an editor of Diplomatic History. She is author (2010) of Projections of Power: The United States and Europe in Colonial Southeast Asia, 1919-1941. Her most recent article will appear in Kristin Hoganson and Jay Sexton, eds., Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain (forthcoming, January 2020). With Julian Go, she edited The American Colonial State in the Philippines: Global Perspectives (2003). She has published articles in International History Review, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs and several edited collections. She is currently writing a book about the regulation of opium in colonial Southeast Asia.