Ivan Briscoe

Policy and Research Papers

The Political Economy of State-Building in Situations of Fragility and Conflict: From Analysis to Strategy

Fragile states have been at the heart of Western development and security strategy for over a decade. Bringing together the findings of five case studies of states that show clear signs of illegitimacy or a weak capacity to govern, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Kosovo and Pakistan, this paper examines the roots and dynamics of state fragility by placing the spotlight on the way political power works. The paper highlights the aspects of political economy that give rise to weak or fragile state institutions, freeze or reverse attempted reforms, create public insecurity and paralyse economic development.

The paper concludes with suggestions that may help guide a pragmatic and realistic approach. Above all, donors must be constantly sensitive to the structures of power, interests and incentives that can capture and subvert new formal governance arrangements.

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Non-conventional armed violence and non-state actors: challenges for mediation and humanitarian action

Some of the most lethal episodes of armed violence in recent years have taken place in countries that do not suffer from conflict according to its conventional definitions. At the same time new armed conflicts in Mali and Syria appear to be shaped not just by political differences, but also criminal motives, jihadist ideology and an extraordinary level of violent factionalism.

The hybrid character of both armed violence and conflict stands at the heart of current global security concerns. But the specific challenges posed by armed violence in non-conflict settings have yet to receive a coherent response from peace and development professionals. The coercive power exerted by non-state armed groups over communities and territories, and their connection with transnational networks make it hard to negotiate anything more than short-term deals aimed at reducing violence or providing humanitarian relief. Legal provisions to protect civilian lives are particularly difficult to enforce.

Hostility towards these groups from states and the international community is deep and widespread, particularly when they are associated with terrorist acts or organised crime. However, this report outlines four areas of future research in policy and programming that would be highly relevant to the work of organisations devoted to peace and humanitarian affairs: the nature of an outreach strategy to armed groups, the legal instruments that are available, the sort of community engagement that should be sought, and the approach towards formal economic and political structures. Establishing a broad network of practitioners, scholars and policymakers is suggested as a means to make progress on all these fronts.

Publication is available here.


A violent compound: competition, crime and modern conflict

Drawing on a series of 12 NOREF reports studying six countries affected by non-conventional armed violence, as well as core areas for policy responses, this synthesis report points to the importance of understanding and addressing this violence due to the critical role it plays in perpetuating insecurity, blocking peace and causing complex emergencies. Among its recommendations, the synthesis report calls for more flexible forms of mediation and reintegration for non-conventional armed groups, the redesign of humanitarian responses, and the implementation of novel controls over illicit flows connected to violent groups.

Read: A violent compound: competition, crime and modern conflict


Illicit Networks: the systemic risk in Latin America

A wave of corruption scandals has gripped Latin America over the past year. From Argentina and Brazil, to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, rackets involving state actors, the judiciary, business and organized crime have caused internal unrest and caught international attention.

Published in a special edition of PRISM, the journal of the Center for Complex Operations (part of the United States National Defense University), this article argues that in order to understand these dynamics it is crucial to look more closely at two interconnected realities characterizing many Latin American countries: first, the existence of criminalized areas that are beyond formal state control; and second, the presence of illicit networks within the state.

Document available: Illicit Networks: the systemic risk in Latin America


Deterring the Influence of Organized Crime on Political Parties


The authors focus on specific cases from Georgia, Mali and Mexico to provide insights into how multiparty democracy has occasionally shaped and extended the linkages between political parties, politically exposed persons and criminal activity. Political corruption often undermines the important role of political parties as the centerpiece of political representation in democratic systems. This brief illustrate these threats, as well as potential strategies for preventing and mitigating relationships between criminals and political actors.

To access the brief Deterring the Influence of Organized Crime on Political Parties kindly follow the link.