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Addressing transnational drivers of conflict

In today’s highly inter-connected world, transnational factors – such as transnational organised crime, the international drugs trade, illicit arms flows, violent ‘extremism’, national security agendas and the nature of the global economic system – are playing an increasingly important role in contributing to the onset, duration and intensity of violence in many countries.

Transnational factors have all been shown to contribute to conflict dynamics in different ways and in a diverse range of conflicts. The global market in illicit drugs, for example, has fuelled violence in major producing countries (such as Afghanistan and Colombia), as well as transit countries (for example Mexico, the Caribbean and West Africa) and the main consumer markets (including the EU, US, and Russia) as different groups vie for control of this highly lucrative industry. International efforts to end the drugs trade meanwhile have often contributed to further violence, without meaningfully impacting on global demand or supply.

While domestic factors greatly determine a country’s resilience to such global dynamics, their sheer scale can make it close to impossible for vulnerable countries and communities to effectively manage them on their own. It has been estimated, for example, that more than $1.25 trillion was lost from developing countries through money laundering, tax evasion, corruption and trade mispricing in 2008 alone. This figure dwarfs the roughly $620 billion international aid and foreign direct investment flowing into developing countries over the same period.

Such illicit financial flows have enabled transnational organised crime, racketeering, human trafficking, asset stripping and tax evasion on a massive scale. They can also be used to fund violent extremists and armed rebels, and have been shown to have a corrosive effect on governance and the strength of institutions, as well as draining resources vital to development – including from many of the world’s poorest countries.

Meanwhile, the fact that effective action at the local level is, to a high degree, contingent on concurrent and coordinated global initiatives makes tackling these conflict drivers particularly complex. However success is possible. There has been increasing awareness within the international community of the impact global factors have driving conflict, as has been demonstrated by the inclusion of global factors in the proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. The entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty in 2014 meanwhile shows that international agreement is possible on critical global conflict issues.

Saferworld is advocating for improved collective action to address global conflict drivers by the international community, drawing on evidence of success from our country programmes, our networks of local and international partners and recognised excellence in international policy research. We focus on identifying and analysing the ways in which local, national and international factors interrelate and contribute to peace or conflict at the community level. We use this research to identify constructive and workable policy options for local, national and international actors for conflict prevention.

Our recent work has included concerted advocacy for the inclusion of external stress factors that contribute to conflict within the 2030 Agenda, with the publication of a discussion paper on seven key transnational ‘external stress’ factors. This included conducting an analysis of the impact of different factors on conflict, as well as the measurability and political feasibility of including these within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework. We also supported work to investigate the potential impact of transnational organised crime on implementation of the SDG framework. We worked with DFID to identify, categorise and measure the impact of programmatic approaches to addressing transnational organised crime. And we supported the OECD to inform their work on global factors contributing to fragility, and have previously analysed the inter-relations between climate change and conflict dynamics in Northern Kenya.

Saferworld also has a long history of working on issues related to the international arms trade, including the Arms Trade Treaty, small arms and light weapons, and arms transfer controls in the UK and EU. We have also developed research and analysis on the link between international approaches to counter-terror and stabilisation activities and conflict.

In the future we will also focus on international economic dynamics and conflict, as well as the impact of the global drugs trade and illicit financial flows.

Lessons from counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding

Saferworld takes a deep look at what lessons can be learnt from Western counter-terror, stabilisation and statebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.


Reform of the international drugs regime

With a global summit on drug policy fast approaching we suggest bringing a people-focused peacebuilding perspective to the debate.