How should the UN handle the political economy of civil war?

Despite making some progress since the 1990s to better understand the political economy of civil wars, the UN has struggled with how to tackle informal networks of power and their consequences for efforts to end wars and build lasting peace.

The Political Economy of Civil War and UN Peace Operations explores the operational and political challenges facing UN peace operations deployed within fractured and divided societies torn by violence and protracted internal conflict, the dominant setting for nearly all of the UN’s peace operations since the early 1990s. It is specifically concerned with the nature and impact of distinctive political economies – that is, informal systems of power and influence formed by the interaction of local, national, and region-wide war economies with the political agendas of conflict actors – on the course of UN peace operations. 

The book focuses in detail on the UN’s peace operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Somalia, as well as on a number of thematic and conceptual issues raised by the challenge of operating in civil-war-like settings.

The Political Economy of Civil War and UN Peace Operations is also centrally concerned with the interaction of UN missions with the power structures and local conflict dynamics that shape individual mission settings, and the challenges these pose for mediation, protection of civilians, and other tasks. It offers a critical assessment of the various ways in which the UN ‘system’, from its headquarters in New York to the field, has confronted the policy challenges posed by political economies of conflict-affected states, societies, and regions. 

The book advances a pragmatic set of policy recommendations aimed at improving the UN’s ability to confront predatory and exploitative war economies, while, at the same time, acknowledging that both political and institutional obstacles to more effective UN action are certain to remain profound.

The presentation and panel discussion mark the launch of The Political Economy of Civil War and UN Peace Operations, edited by Mats Berdal and Jake Sherman, and published in Routledge’s Studies in Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding Series.



Mats Berdal is Professor of Security and Development, Director of the Conflict, Security and Development Research Programme (CSDRG), and Programme Director for the MA in Conflict, Security and Development in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. From 2000 to 2003 he was Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. He is a member of the Academia Europaea and is currently (2023) Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Turin. He is co-editor of and contributing author to The Political Economy of Civil War and UN Peace Operations.


Jana Krause (discussant) is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo and incoming director of the MA program in Peace and Conflict Studies (PECOS). She currently directs the ERC Starting Grant Project ‘ResilienceBuilding: Social Resilience, Gendered Dynamics, and Local Peace in Protracted Conflicts’. Her current research focuses on conflict, food insecurity, and local peacebuilding in South Sudan and Kenya. Krause is author of ‘Resilient Communities: Non-Violence and Civilian Agency in Communal War’ (Cambridge University Press 2018), and co-editor of ‘Civilian Protective Agency in Violent Settings’ (Oxford University Press 2023). She holds a PhD from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and was previously Associate Professor at the University of Amsterdam.

Cedric de Coning (Chair and discussant) is a Research Professor in the Research group on peace, conflict and development at NUPI. He co-directs the NUPI Center on United Nations and Global Governance, and the Climate, Peace, and Security Risk project. He coordinates the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON) and contributes to the Training for Peace programme, the UN Peace Operations project (UNPO) and several others. He tweets at @CedricdeConing.