Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Andreas Writes on Political Economy of Conflict

February 6, 2012

Institute Professor Peter Andreas features prominently this month on Reinventing Peace, the blog of the World Peace Foundation, where he writes about political economies of conflict. Andreas’s writing is based on a memo he prepared for a World Peace Foundation seminar on “New Wars, New Peace,” held in January at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Andreas, who holds a joint appointment with Brown’s Department of Political Science, researches borders and smuggling, transnational crime and crime control, and the political economy of conflict and intervention. He is currently researching and writing a book on the politics of smuggling in American history, tentatively titled, Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America.

On the Reinventing Peace blog, Andreas explains that “political economies of conflict,” became a “truly distinctive and broadly recognizable research agenda in the post-Cold War era,” adding that the “full maturation and legitimization of this agenda is reflected in the fact that “Conflict, Security, and Development” is the title of the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report.”

Andreas writes that new interest in the political economy of conflict has opened up new sources of funding for scholars, arguably helping to make the study of armed conflict more diverse, interdisciplinary, and interesting than ever before. He goes on to outline ways in which the new attention to the political economy of conflict has shaped his work and thinking on such issues.

For instance, Andreas writes how he became increasingly interested in the ways illicit economies shaped and sustained conflict in the Balkans.

“Placing political economy more front and center was not only a fruitful analytical move but helped to push against an overly ethnicity-driven account of the Bosnia war,” he writes. “Importantly, in this particular case the international community’s favored forms of intervention – provision of humanitarian aid, imposition of an arms embargo on the region, and economic sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro – turned out to be key components of the criminalization of the conflict.”

“Ultimately, one simply could not make sense of the character, duration, ending, and legacy of the Bosnia war without taking into account its illicit political economy dimensions,” he writes.

Andreas goes on to write about the relationship between violent conflict and illicit trade, noting that a common argument in political economy accounts of post-Cold War intrastate conflicts contends that in the absence of formal external sponsorship from the US or the former Soviet Union, insurgents have increasingly turned to alternative forms of material support, such as illicit exports like drugs, timber, ivory, and diamonds.

Andreas also addresses another common theme in the literature on the political economy of conflict: that war is good for illicit business. But Andreas questions such a theme, noting that conflict “can also be bad for such business.” He writes that the traditional “Balkan route” for heroin smuggling into Western Europe, which was “suddenly severed during the conflicts in the region in the 1990s,” saw a turnaround as the wars in the region ended, when the smuggling-based economy boomed.

Andreas also explores the historical dimensions of the connection between illicit trade and conflict, which can be traced back to events taking place centuries before the Cold War.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Lauren Fedor ‘12