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Searching for significance among drug lords and death squads: the covert netherworld as invisible incubator for illicit commerce

McCoy, Alfred W. (2019) Searching for significance among drug lords and death squads: the covert netherworld as invisible incubator for illicit commerce. Journal of Illicit Economies and Development, 1 (1). pp. 9-22. ISSN 2516-7227

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Identification Number: 10.31389/jied.8


In a search for appropriate theory, this essay inserts drug trafficking, the world’s largest illicit economic activity, within a wider analytical frame called the ‘covert netherworld.’ Through the convergence of three factors—covert operations, illicit commerce, and social milieu—such netherworlds can form at regional, national, and international levels, thereby transforming social margins of crime and illicit commerce into potent sources of political change. By deftly playing upon this netherworld’s politics and illicit commerce along the Burma-Thai borderlands, a regional ‘drug lord’ amassed sufficient local power to dominate the global heroin trade for over a decade and simultaneously sustain an ethnic revolt for nearly 15 years. In the Philippines, the illicit traffic in synthetic drugs developed a parallel power to influence the character of national politics, compromising three presidential administrations and shaping the moral economy of political life. For the past 40 years in Afghanistan, an illicit commodity, opium, has shaped the fate of military intervention by the world’s sole superpower, allowing it an initial success and later contributing to its ongoing failure. Through the sum of these cases, the essay concludes that the covert netherworld can serve as invisible incubator for a range of extralegal activities and has thereby attained sufficient autonomy to be treated as a significant factor in international politics.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 The Author
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 26 Mar 2019 15:57
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2022 23:16

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