State fragility, organised crime and peacebuilding: towards a more strategic approach

Fragile states, with their ready pools of unemployed labour, populations inured to violence and weakened state capacity, offer sites of competitive advantage for militant organisations, criminal networks and political leaders alike. Collaboration among them may benefit all three – financing militancy, protecting crime and securing political control. Criminal networks threaten not only to fuel conflict, but also to undermine post-war gains – by criminalising politics and instrumentalising continuing disorder, thereby creating pervasive fragility in the international system.

Yet the international community currently lacks a coherent approach to tackling organised crime in conflict-affected communities. This report argues that there are normative, analytical and practical obstacles to the development of an effective response.

Firstly, at the normative level, sovereignty represents a constraint on international action, especially where crime and politics are intertwined.

Secondly, there is analytical confusion regarding how to understand and respond to organised criminal actors in peacebuilding

contexts. Security-oriented actors tend to treat organised criminals as potentially violent spoilers of peace processes – or potential partners for peace – and focus on coercion, negotiation and compromise. Development actors tend to focus on addressing the structural factors – such as high unemployment, access to weapons and access to profitable illicit markets – that criminal entrepreneurs exploit. These different approaches are poorly integrated and sometimes compete outright.

Thirdly, there are numerous obstacles to the international mobilisation and organisation of the capacity needed to tackle organised crime effectively, particularly specialist investigative resources and analytical expertise.

The report suggests treating organised crime as a strategy of governance, and differentiates among different strategies (predatory, parasitic, symbiotic) that may pose different threats to peacebuilding. Finally, it proposes a series of specific steps that might be taken immediately and in the medium and long term to equip peacebuilders with the analysis, tools and capacity they need to mount a more strategic response.