An unpleasant thought

Robert Killebrew writes:

According to a panel of experts at a recent conference sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, terrorism and crime have now merged, to such an extent that all terrorist movements – all of them — have become partly criminal organizations to fund their operations, expand their reach – and incidentally make the people on top extremely rich, while lower-level zealots continue to be recruited for suicide missions….

It is sometimes difficult for traditionally-trained military professionals and national security types to recognize crime as a national security threat – at least, it has been for me. But a glance at the drug wars in Mexico (and along our border) should
make it clear that insurgents and counterinsurgency now takes place in a criminal, as well as sometimes an ideological or political, context. Worse, the scope of the estimated 1.5 trillion dollars in illicit money being raised around the world, being infused in the global monetary stream and manipulated by criminals, threatens to undermine the stability of the international order itself, striking at financial and banking systems and undermining legal and political authority in legitimate states. Against such deterioration, terrorism is only a subset of a larger problem of illegality and aggression against the underpinnings of civil society itself, as we see in Mexico and other countries in which criminals have acquired firepower equal to the State.

How did this happen? Trafficking in illegal drugs has been a challenge worldwide for generations. But the ripple effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the’80s with its stockpiles of weaponry, the consequent migration of peoples, the communications revolution and easy access to transportation all came together to allow criminals to expand internationally. Although illegal drugs still comprise the most rewarding cash crop for the black economy, other criminal activity, particularly human trafficking and weapons sales, have also expanded. As a consequence, international criminal organizations have gone global; Columbia’s FARC, for example, has agents in West Africa, just as Lebanon’s Hezbollah operates in South America (as does the Iranian Revolutionary Guard). More ominously, some legitimate states now engage in drug production, trafficking and other illicit commerce, and protect both the trade and its perpetrators behind the state’s cloak of legality and international standing— North Korea, Iran and Venezuela do so, among others. The narco-state has emerged, which vastly complicates the challenge of fighting both crime and terrorism.

He talks about solutions at the end of the article: treating terrorism as a criminal rather than military threat, bolstering international commitments to law and helping countries develop their law-enforcement capabilities.  I’m not in much of a position to know if these are the right solutions, but the problem itself is worth noting.

Hat tip:  Tom Ricks

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