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Illicit Financing Book Review
Rebel economies: warlords, insurgences, humanitarians
From time to time, I write book reviews for academic journals on recent contributions to the field, broadly defined, of illicit financing. Here’s my latest for International Affairs. Let me know in the comments if you want to see more of these! And please share this with a friend interested in the topic.
Nicola Di Cosmo, Didier Fassin and Clément Pinaud (eds), Rebel Economies: Warlords, Insurgents, Humanitarians (Lexington Books), 2021 US$105 (hardcover)
The editors of Rebel Economies have assembled a unique, multi-disciplinary collection of chapters on how non-state actors organize their economies, finance their activities, and interact with the formal economic and financial systems. The book draws on many different academic approaches to understanding rebel economies, conflict economics, and terrorist financing: economics, history, anthropology, sociology, and political science. This multi-disciplinary approach is welcome addition to our understanding of rebel economies, and opens doors for other disciplines to make contributions to these fields. The authors also contribute four analytic frameworks (discussed below), which, combined with the case studies, make this book required reading for anyone seeking to understand rebel economies, conflict economics, and terrorist financing.
The edited collection has ten core chapters separated into three parts: frameworks, historical perspectives, and contemporary worlds. The authors employ four main theoretical frameworks. In the first, they establish the boundaries of non-state war economics and look at the impact and cost of war, rational choice theory, and political economy. In the second, they look at war economies and war economics, with the former as a source of destruction, and the latter as a re-ordering of the economy and a form of transformation and growth for the economy. In the third, they examine the economic impact of humanitarian action and aid as another resource that fuels war economies, including kidnapping aid workers for ransom. Finally, their fourth theoretical framework looks at rebel taxation as more than an economic project – as a statebuilding one as well. Two case study sections look at historical and contemporary examples of rebel economies. The historical perspective covers the war economy of nomadic empires, the non-state war economy in renaissance Italy, and warldordism in twentieth-century China. The contemporary examples include analyses on humanitarian action in the Soviet-Afghan war, the war economy and class formation in South Sudan, and the Islamic State’s resource wars and oil economy.
Taken together, these chapters make a contribution to the literature on conflict economics, the literature on intra-state wars, and the literature on terrorist financing. The historical and contemporary examples of conflict and rebel economies provide case studies that can be used to understand, explore, and challenge the frameworks section of the book. While the chapters are sometimes light on economic theory and models (thus missing some opportunities for integration into the literature on conflict economics), this also makes the book more readable and appropriate for non-economics specialist.
The authors had three objectives in writing this volume. The first was to “expand the disciplinary palette” of research and analysis that focuses on rebel economies. In this book, they clearly demonstrate the value of a multi- and inter- disciplinary approach to war economies and rebel economics, particularly in terms of using anthropological and ethnographic to analyze economies. Political economy also makes a valuable contribution, as does historical analysis. The second objective of the authors was to rethink the debate around nonstate war economies by critically evaluating the contributions that past studies have made. In this instance, they achieve some of this critical evaluation, although integrating more critiques of conflict economics literature would have made a valuable contribution. Thirdly, the authors sought to treat non-state war economies as a far broader and more conspicuous aspect of economy and war. In this goal they also succeeded, particularly in the analysis of humanitarian action and rebel taxation and through their combination of historical and contemporary case studies.
In this book, there are few high-level policy implications that are explicitly outlined. However, there are many insights within the chapters themselves that can shift how we think about particular problems or describe knowledge in new ways that in turn can support new policy approaches. In addition to its value for policy makers, this book would make a good supplemental text for a course on conflict economics, or work as an introduction to conflict economics in a course on intra-state conflict. Some of the chapters are also disconnected from existing literature on rebel finance, conflict economics, and terrorist financing. Despite this limitation, this book makes an important contribution to these three fields of study and unifies what are sometimes disparate fields of study through its multi-disciplinary approach.
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