Unmasking and Quantifying Power Structures: How Network Analysis Enhances Peace and State-Building Efforts

Blog by Issa Luna Pla: “Critiques of peace and state-building efforts have pointed out the inadequate grasp of the origins of conflict, political unrest, and the intricate dynamics of criminal and illicit networks (Holt and Bouch, 2009Cockayne and Lupel, 2011). This limited understanding has failed to sufficiently weaken their economic and political influence or effectively curb their activities and objectives. A recent study highlights that although punitive approaches may have temporarily diminished the power of these networks, the absence of robust analytical tools has made it difficult to assess the enduring impact of these strategies.

1. Application of Network Analytics in State-Building

The importance of analytics in international peace and state-building operations is becoming increasingly recognized (O’Brien, 2010Gnanguenon, 2021Rød et al., 2023). Analytics, particularly network analysis, plays a crucial role in dissecting and dismantling complex power structures that often undermine peace initiatives and governance reforms. This analytical approach is crucial for revealing and disrupting the entrenched networks that sustain ongoing conflicts or obstruct peace processes. From the experiences in Guatemala, three significant lessons have been learned regarding the need for analytics for regional and thematic priorities in such operations (Waxenecker, 2019). These insights are vital for understanding how to tailor analytical strategies to address specific challenges in conflict-affected areas.

  1. The effectiveness of the International Commission CICIG in dismantling criminal networks was constrained by its lack of advanced analytical tools. This limitation prevented a deeper exploration of the conflicts’ roots and hindered the assessment of the long-term impacts of its strategies. While the CICIG had a systematic approach to understanding criminal networks from a contextual and legal perspective, its action plans lacked comprehensive statistic analytics methodologies, leading to missed opportunities in targeting key strategic players within these networks. High-level arrests were based on available evidence and charges that prosecutors could substantiate, rather than a strategic analysis of actors’ roles and influences within the networks’ dynamics.
  2. Furthermore, the extent of network dismantlement and the lasting effects of imprisonment and financial control of the illicit groups’ assets remain unclear, highlighting the need for predictive analytics to anticipate conflicts and sustainability. Such tools could enable operations to forecast potential disruptions or stability, allowing for data-driven proactive measures to prevent violence or bolster peace.
  3. Lastly, insights derived from network analysis suggest that efforts should focus on enhancing diplomatic negotiations, promoting economic development and social capital, and balancing punitive measures with strategic interventions. By understanding the dynamics and modeling group behavior in conflict zones, negotiations can be better informed by a deep and holistic comprehension of the underlying power structures and motivations. This approach could also help in forecasting recidivism, assessing risks of network reorganization, and evaluating the potential for increased armament, workforce, or empowerment, thereby facilitating more effective and sustainable peacebuilding initiatives.

2. Advancing Legal and Institutional Reforms

Utilizing data sciences in conflicted environments offers unique insights into the behavior of illicit networks and their interactions within the public and private sectors (Morselli et al., 2007Leuprecht and Hall, 2014Campedelli et al., 2019). This systematic approach, grounded in the analysis of years of illicit activities in Guatemala, highlights the necessity of rethinking traditional legal and institutional frameworks…(More)”.