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October 29, 2009 / Tom Hill

Crime-Conflict Nexus at Oxford

As an update on the CCN project’s recent activities:  Jeni and I were invited to give a seminar at Oxford University last week as part of their Changing Character of War (CCW) Programme’s lunchtime seminar series (please note there is an error in the events page: neither Jeni nor I are Doctors yet). The title of the paper was ‘The Crime-Conflict Nexus: Implications for Stabilisation and Counter-Insurgency’, and we’re very grateful to Professor Hew Strachan for chairing the session and to all that came along, particularly those that contributed to the lively discussion that followed.

We presented our approach for analysing the problem space in this sprawling area, namely through recognising the three forms of crime-conflict nexus that we identify: the logistical, the conceptual, and the governance subversion nexus. In particular, we emphasised that using this tripartite framework is helpful as a basis for challenging the dominant mindset among practitioners and policy-makers that tends to consider this problem primarily in logistical terms (i.e. the flow of resources from criminal activity to insurgents), which in turn has encouraged a largely targeting mindset (i.e. whoever supplies the insurgents should be included in the security force ‘hit list’).

But, as we argued, if you critique that view with considerations for the conceptual and governance subversion forms of nexus then you can immediately expose why this could be a counter-productive response that omits this issue’s crucial nuances (in this post I’m going to leave the details for the formal paper we’ll be working up). Ultimately, the crime-conflict nexus as a subject of interest to practitioners is one that has primarily governance strategy implications which are potentially foundational to the effectiveness of COIN and stabilisation operations; and which are far and above more important than the military targeting implications. To add some richness to the paper, we ended with a discussion of the devilishly complicated applications to contemporary Afghanistan.

There was a great discussion that followed for several hours, both in the room and after; with a great deal of debate on the problem of balancing local governance considerations with central state-building agendas.

Some of the most engaged were the military officers in the audience. Their personal experiences on operations also further drew out the point that always needs to be repeated in this area: there really aren’t ever any wonderful or neat solutions. There are instead only ever moral and practical compromises with consistently messy and flawed results. That of course leaves a crucial, but unanswered question: do we have the stomach to fully face that fact and everything that comes with it on operations? We’re just going to have to wait and see for the answer.

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