Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs

Jan 22, 2010, 10:43 ET from Brookings Institution

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- To stabilize Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has called for a surge of American and NATO troops. His counternarcotics strategy, a major departure from previous ineffective and counterproductive policies, is also crucial to the war effort. In Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs, Brookings fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown, shows that although success in suppressing illicit economies cannot be achieved without first addressing the security situation in a country, neither can counterinsurgency and state-building strategies succeed without effectively dealing with the illicit economy, such as the opium trade in Afghanistan.

Warlords, terrorists and insurgents throughout the world use financial resources gained from the illicit drug trade to fuel their operations. U.S. counterinsurgency policy has been based on the premise that suppressing drug production will starve an insurgency of needed funds, and the movement would wither away as a result. Shooting Up rebuts this "conventional wisdom" and shows how U.S. anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency policies have too frequently been at odds. Counternarcotics campaigns, particularly those focused on eradication, typically fail to bankrupt belligerent groups that rely on the drug trade for financing. Worse, they actually strengthen insurgents by increasing their legitimacy and popular support.

Felbab-Brown draws on interviews and fieldwork in some of the world's most dangerous regions to illustrate how belligerent groups have taken to illicit activities such as kidnapping, extortion and smuggling. She shows vividly how powerful guerrilla and terrorist organizations—such as Peru's Shining Path, the FARC and paramilitaries in Colombia and, of course, the Taliban in Afghanistan—have learned to exploit unlawful markets. Felbab-Brown explores the interaction between insurgent groups and illicit economies in frequently overlooked settings as well, including Turkey, Burma and Northern Ireland.

Shooting Up provides coldly realistic recommendations for reformulating this dimension of U.S. national security policy, giving policymakers a better chance of winning both the war on terror and the war on drugs.

The Author

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a Brookings fellow with the Foreign Policy program and 21st Century Defense Initiative. She is an adjunct professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. An expert on international and internal conflict issues, including counterinsurgency, she has published widely on the interaction between illicit economies and military conflict and has testified before Congress about her work.

The Brookings Institution is a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions. For more than 90 years, Brookings has analyzed current and emerging issues and produced new ideas that matter—for the nation and the world.

Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Brookings Institution Press

Publication date: January 25, 2010

6 x 9 / 273 pages

cloth / ISBN 978-0-8157-0328-0 / $28.95/20.99 pounds Sterling

SOURCE Brookings Institution