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date: 26 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The focus on organized crime, illicit economies, and the multiple threats they pose to states and societies intensified after 9/11, when it became obvious that belligerent groups, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, derived extensive financial profits and other benefits from participating in illicit economies. The conventional view of the crime–terrorism nexus holds that in order to defeat insurgents, it is necessary to take away their money by suppressing the illegal economy, such as by eliminating drug smuggling or eradicating poppy fields. Yet policy interventions to combat organized crime and illicit economies—whether linked to violent conflict or in the absence of one—have rarely been highly effective. Eradication alienates rural populations from the government and thrusts them into the hands of the insurgents. Conversely, partnering with quasi-criminal actors has often turned out to be counterproductive with respect to other objectives, such as mitigating violent conflict, fostering good governance, and promoting human rights, and at times even counterproductive with respect to very direct objectives, such as weakening criminal groups and their linkages to terrorist organizations. Thus, as much as external actors may condemn tacitly or explicitly permitting illicit economies, such practices are often crucial for winning hearts and minds and ending conflict or for giving belligerent groups a stake in peace. Development-based policies aimed at reducing illicit drug production are crucial for avoiding such negative side-effects while maximizing the chance for peace and social justice.

Keywords: terror–crime nexus, illicit economies, organized crime, insurgency, Taliban, ISIS, FARC, narcopeace

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