The security environment of the EU is being subjected to unprecedented challenges by new kinds of threat that require new kinds of responses. Migration pressures, hybrid threats, transnational crime and terrorism can only be managed by adopting a comprehensive approach that combines civilian, military, economic and political aspects.
Around the world, political and criminal actors appear to be working more closely together than ever before. In 2011, the White House warned that criminal networks were forging alliances with political actors to undermine the interests of the United States. Spanish prosecutors have alleged that in many former Soviet states organized crime groups work “as a complement to state structures,” doing “whatever the government…cannot.” Concerns about political and public sector corruption in eastern Europe have grown. A recent report suggests that organized crime groups are taking control of local democracy in countries as varied as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Niger. In the Middle East, organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic State combine local social service provision, militant activity, and transnational organized crime to develop governmental power. And in North Korea, the ruling regime is accused of counterfeiting, drug-running, and even human trafficking. “Mafia states,” as this convergence of political and criminal power has been described, appear to be on the rise worldwide.
Political and criminal actors have long collaborated—not least in the US. As I show in my new book, Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime, the US government worked closely with the American mafia during World War II and the Cold War to extend its power overseas. In the process, the Mob became an active player in international affairs, mounting armed insurgences, engaging in transnational terrorism, and even engineering regime change in some countries. But the move towards criminalized politics appears to have accelerated in the last two decades. Why?
Tied to rising ivory prices, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking has tripled over the last fifteen years, with the rate of increase jumping dramatically from 2009. Profits from illegal wildlife trafficking are now worth an estimated US$8-10 billion annually, making this the fifth most profitable form of transnational organized crime after drugs, people, oil, and counterfeiting. The sale of endangered species—from tigers to rhino horns to turtles—is big money, and elephant tusks are by far one of the most lucrative subsectors of this illicit trade.
There have been increased national anti-poaching efforts—in South Africa and Kenya, for example—but the poachers’ methods are evolving and becoming more brutal and distasteful to the general public. They now include cyanide poisoning of watering holes to reduce the risk of being detected by gunfire, resulting in the indiscriminate killing of entire herds.
Latin America and the United States have experienced what one could call a series of “marijuana moments” over the past few weeks. Given growing support for ending the senseless and bloody decades-long “war on drugs,” these signs of progress toward decriminalization and legalization should not pass unremarked.
The first moment took place during the Organization of American States’ annual General Assembly, held this year in Antigua, Guatemala, at the beginning of June. The OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, presented a report entitled “The Drug Problem in the Americas,” which had been requested by the region’s heads of state when they met at last year’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
The report was drawn up by experts from almost all OAS member states, and was divided into two parts: an excellent analytical section, and a brief and somewhat exasperating chapter devoted to future scenarios. The document itself represents a watershed, because it provides the data needed for a scientific and empirical discussion of an issue that is too often debated in ideological terms.
The ISN’s Editorial Plan coverage of increased global interdependence provides an opportunity to take a look at the Mexican drug cartels and their security threat beyond the country’s borders. Only last month, Mexican marines arrested five suspected members of Los Zetas, one of the two most powerful and dangerous cartels that dominate the Mexican drug war. However, enthusiasm about this remains dampened since success in capturing or killing high-ranked drug traffickers hasn’t had any effect on the level of violence in the country.
When President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, he announced an aggressive military–led strategy against the drug cartels, totally in line with the American declared “war on drugs”. The extensive use of military forces to support the weak police system has however caused a rise in the number of reported human rights violations committed by the army and led to an increasingly violent war, which has resulted in an estimated 45,000 of deaths since 2006.
Many Mexicans have come to believe that Calderon has lost the fight against the cartels. The consequences of this are tremendous for the Mexican society and state. But as we now, transnational organized crime has also broader effects across countries. The United State particularly suffers from the increased power of the drug cartels in Mexico. A weakened Mexican state facilitates not only the flow of drugs, but also of weapons, money and illegal immigrants, which makes it more difficult for the US to control the border.