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What Is the Crime-Conflict Nexus?

We are often asked what we mean by ‘the crime-conflict nexus’. For us, the term functions to identify our collective area of interest. But in some ways the term is misleading because there is no one ‘crime-conflict nexus’, but several. We identify the crime-conflict nexus as having three main manifestations, which serve to provide greater clarity in analysis. These are: the conceptual nexus; the logistical nexus; and the governance subversion nexus.

  • The conceptual nexus refers to the difficulty in consigning specific actors to neat, conceptual categories such as ‘criminal’, ‘political’ and ‘ideological’, as a result of behaviour that defies traditionally constructed boundaries. Non-state actors such as FARC, Hezbollah and the IRA have engaged in a variety of activities that complicate the use of singular identities; and state actors may engage in such high levels of corruption and criminality that they cannot merely be thought of as political agents. New methods of dealing with this conceptual ambiguity and complexity are needed.
  • The logistical nexus refers to the localised and transnational linkages that emerge between criminal actors and insurgents, terrorists and other militant groups. These links enable militant groups to acquire resources (such as funding and arms) even when lacking state support, and grant significant income and power to criminal actors. These logistical relationships are not always well understood and are difficult to disrupt, especially in those cases where the line between militant and criminal actors is blurred or barely distinct.
  • Finally, the governance subversion nexus refers to the interplay of crime and conflict that subverts systems of governance. This is primarily manifested in the corruption of state officials and security forces and the ensuing erosion of the state’s capacity to tackle criminal and insurgent organisations. This is a particular problem for stabilisation operations, as currently evidenced in Afghanistan, where official corruption has been deemed a primary challenge to the ISAF mission. A greater understanding of corruption and criminality as strategic challenges to stabilisation and counterinsurgency is necessary, but difficult given the traditional separation between strategic and socio-economic spheres of analysis and practice.

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