Several insurgent groups have financed their arms procurement through drug trafficking, explaining in part the long duration of conflicts in drug producing countries. Incomes generated from this trade do not however automatically translate into improved military capabilities, since access to military-grade weapons typically requires tacit or active state support. Hence, two groups with similar types of funding can still have access to very different types of armaments, impacting their operational capability. This paper compares the arms procurement of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Myanmar. Both insurgent groups have procured arms through networks and with finances from the drug trade. The UWSA's 20,000-strong force and significant armaments, including Man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) believed to be provided by China, is largely supported by these illicit activities and the networks they provide. FARC has ample access to small arms, the acquisition of which has been financed by taxation of the drug trade. In spite of significant incomes, FARC however until very recently lacked access to MANPADS, a fact which has significantly hampered its ability to withstand the Colombian counterinsurgency campaign, specifically targeted aerial assaults. The exploratory comparisons drawn in this paper offer insights into how insurgent groups can pass a crucial threshold of arms procurement, funded by illicit activities, that renders their dissolution far more difficult, while also highlighting the continued importance of state support in explaining rebel group resilience.
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Jonsson, M., Brennan, E. Drugs, Guns and Rebellion: A Comparative Analysis of the Arms Procurement of Insurgent Groups in Colombia and Myanmar. Eur J Crim Policy Res 20, 307–321 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10610-013-9228-0
- Arms procurement
- Civil war
- Drug trafficking
- Political economy