Organized crime and illicit economies interact in complex ways with violent conflict, often fueling it. They also shape peace negotiations and post-conflict transition, deeply influencing post-conflict economic and political arrangements as well as regime transitions. Criminal and militant actors involved in illicit economies not only compete for economic spoils, they can also mobilize their access to illicit economies to deliver socio-economic goods and alternative governance to local populations, thus obtaining political capital and challenging the state in more profound ways. And yet, the state is hardly always innocent: it too can be deeply involved in illicit economies and complicit in organized crime. Premature and inappropriate policies toward illicit economies often only exacerbate violent conflict, but ignoring criminality can produce a peace that is fragile, unsustainable, and normative undesirable. How to devise appropriate and well-sequenced policies toward organized crime and illicit economies, though often inadequately addressed, thus lies at the crux of post-conflict stabilization and successful regime transitions.
On April 28, the Latin America Initiative at Brookings hosted a panel discussion of the crime-conflict-regime transition dynamics and launched the findings of a United Nations University Centre for Policy Research project on this topic, with several of the study authors briefing their case studies and policy recommendations. John de Boer, managing director of the SecDev Group and director of the UNU project, entitled “The Crime-Conflict Nexus: Assessing the Threat and Developing Solutions,” provided an overview of the project and highlighted key results from the case of Colombia. Sasha Jesperson of St Mary’s University in Twickenham, London described how Nigeria’s Boko Haram and militants operating in the Nigeria Delta engage with illicit economies. And Brookings Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown described how ethnic conflict and regime transition have interacted with multiple illicit economies in the case of Myanmar. Brookings’ Senior Fellow Ted Piccone moderated the session.