Definitions, Characteristics and Monitoring of Conflict Economies

10th February 2022
Author: Luke Kelly

The idea of conflict economies is a broad concept encompassing several research angles. Definitions differ according to these focuses. Some of the main uses of the concept are to understand: • economic analysis of the motives for and likelihood of war • financing of state and non-state belligerents • how the continuation of conflicts can be explained by rational motives including economic ones • how conflict affects economic activity, and how conflict parties and citizens adapt Some distinctive characteristics of war economies are (Ballentine & Nitzschke, 2005, p. 12): • They involve the destruction or circumvention of the formal economy and the growth of informal and black markets, • Pillage, predation, extortion, and deliberate violence against civilians is used by combatants to acquire control over lucrative assets, capture trade networks and diaspora remittances, and exploit labour; • War economies are highly decentralised and privatised, both in the means of coercion and in the means of production and exchange; • Combatants increasingly rely on the licit or illicit exploitation of / trade in lucrative natural resources • They thrive on cross-border trading networks, regional kin and ethnic groups, arms traffickers, and mercenaries, as well as legally operating commercial entities, each of which may have a vested interest in the continuation of conflict and instability. The first section of this rapid review outlines the evolution of the term and key definitions. Most of this discussion occurs in the academic literature around the early 2000s. The second looks at key characteristics of conflict economies identified in the literature, with examples where possible from both academic and grey literature. The third section briefly identifies methodologies used to measure and monitor conflict economies, as well as some current research and programmes on conflict economies, from academic literature as well as NGOs and other sources. The findings have been derived via a literature search and advice from experts in the field. Given time constraints, the report is not comprehensive. The review is gender- and disability blind.

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Suggested Citation

Kelly, L. (2022). Definitions, characteristics and monitoring of conflict economies. K4D Helpdesk Report. Institute of Development Studies. DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2022.024


10th February 2022


Continent: Global