By Vanda Felbab-Brown for Brookings. In this policy paper, Vanda Felbab-Brown explores the relationship between conflict, peace dynamics, and drugs and other illicit economies in Thailand and Myanmar/Burma since the 1960s through the current period. In both cases, drugs and other illicit economies fueled insurgencies and ethnic separatism. Yet both Myanmar and Thailand are in different ways (controversial) exemplars of how to suppress conflict in the context of the drugs-conflict nexus. They both show that the central premise of the narcoinsurgency/narcoterrorism conventional approach–in order to defeat militants, bankrupt them by destroying the illicit drug economy on which they rely–was ineffective and counterproductive. At the same time, however, in both Thailand and Myanmar, recent anti-drug policies have either generated new hidden violent social conflict or threaten to unravel the fragile ethnic peace. The leading research finding and policy implications are: While illicit economies fuel conflict, their suppression is often counterproductive for ending conflict and can provoke new forms of conflict. Prioritization and sequencing of government efforts to end conflict and reduce illicit economies is crucial. So is recognizing that suppressing poppy at the cost of exacerbating logging or wildlife trafficking is not an adequate policy outcome.

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