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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

1.1 – Assessing the links between terrorism and organized crime, and the impact of the narcotics industry on conflict and post-conflict situations.


For me the eye-catching element of the last decade has been the conception and suggestion of a ‘new security threat’, posing the notion that the world is witnessing a newly evolved entity of terrorist group and activity. This idea of a ‘new threat’ is supported by a number of characteristics that have accompanied a range of terrorist attacks over the last decade. The most prominent of these characteristics may be the geographical reach of such groups as well as the magnitude and destructiveness of these attacks along with the increased levels of operational capacity.

It is this evolution of terrorist activity that offers an exciting new area of research whilst attempting to stay one step ahead; something which the events of 9/11 have shown us needs to be done. It is from this point that I have attempted to gage a better understanding of this new phenomena. Drawing on from a criminological background I have come across an area of research that I feel needs to be taken note of in respect of this ‘evolving terrorist threat’; that is, the relationship between terrorism and organized crime. In light of this, this paper offers an assessment of the links between terrorism and organized crime in an attempt to give a better understanding of the potential threat posed by such relationships. Examination will be directed at criminal economies, namely the narcotics industry, its impact upon the current global security environment will be assessed with particular emphasis on its effects upon conflict and post-conflict situations.

So, what has been the basis for this idea of a ‘new terrorist threat’? “September 11 should have taught us that we cannot assume, for the foreseeable future, that tomorrow will be like today. The global order is being recast, and the twists and turns will surprise us.” (Booth & Dunne,  2002, p. ix) As this quotation suggests, we are no longer living in a world of certainties. The destruction witnessed on 9/11 demonstrated capabilities never before seen from a terrorist group. The bar was raised and with that so were the range of possibilities of another attack. In light of this, the possibility of a crime-terror nexus may be a significantly worthy concern. Highly motivated terrorist groups coupled with criminal activities such as money laundering and identity fraud can result in devastating attacks like those carried out on New York and Washington DC.

The evolutionary process of terrorist activity however has not been confined to the last decade.  Jones and Smith (2004) point to the increased lethality and occurrence of terrorist attacks from 1990 to 1996 compared with the previous fourteen years and take note in particular of the increased use of violence and the seemingly slack restrictions on targets. They compare this to the terrorist activity experienced during the 1970s and 1980s, where more traditional forms were adopted, namely the bombing of symbolic infrastructure and hostage taking with an aim of gaining media coverage and support for their causes. Terrorist groups active during these years were predominately ideologically and politically driven; religiously motivated terrorism experienced a rise in the years after (Jones & Smith, 2004). 

The evolving threat posed by terrorist groups today may be the result of a number of factors; for example, the modernization of warfare undertaken by state armies as a driving force for developing new forms of illegitimate attacks. As Manuel Castells (2000) notes, “we must be strongly reminded that instant, surgical, secluded, technology driven wars are the privilege of technologically dominant nations.” (Castells, 2000, p.489) This demonstrates the need for an evolved strategy of attack in order to compete with the asymmetric capacities of the nation states who are the focus of terrorist activity. Could then the evolution of terrorist groups and the emergence of relationships between them and other criminal entities be perceived as the unintended consequences of globalization? (This is an interesting concept and will be revisited in the following chapter.)

Another factor pushing for an evolved terrorist group was the end of the Cold War. This saw the subsequent decline of state-sponsored terrorism, which in turn created a void in funding for terrorist groups all over the world. This void acted as a driving force pushing groups to seek funding and support elsewhere in order to continue their activities, which increased the likelihood of relationships developing between such groups and other non-state actors, namely organized crime groups due to the availability of potential funding. “The organizations had no choice but to look for new sources of funding, and provide their own funding by organizing crime themselves or extorting money from criminal organizations and legitimate businesses via ‘revolutionary taxation’” (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007, p.33)

Another element I felt contributed to the increased threat post 9/11 was the emergence of weak or failed states, such as Afghanistan for example. Poor government control throughout the country, instability and insecurity are all factors fueling crime as well as terrorist and insurgent activity. Hodes and Sedra (2007) take note of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) failure to extend their presence outside of Kabul in 2002, something which they suggest was a prominent factor in leading “warlords to consolidate their authority, the Taliban to regroup and drug-traffickers to re-establish their networks.” (Hodes & Sedra, 2007, p.8) They also point to the drug trade as a component fueling further violence as well as risking turning the country in to a ‘narco-mafia’ state. The emergence of weak states also provides concern in relation to terrorist activity. As Jones and Smith note: “the end of the Cold War removed the superpower patronage system that held many weaker states together. As a result, many of the post-Cold War states such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, the Philippines and Indonesia became notably unstable and thus a source of sanctuary where al-Qaeda training grounds could flourish unmolested.” (Jones & Smith, 2004, p.14)

The links between terrorism and organized crime are of interest due to a number of developments over the past couple of decades. Firstly, as mentioned above, the end of the Cold War saw the subsequent demise of state sponsorship of terrorism, forcing groups to seek support elsewhere. It should be noted that terrorist groups are in fact criminal entities in their own right and therefore must act accordingly; that is in an evasive manner to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. In doing so they become part of the underground criminal world where forming links to criminal activities, whether they be in-house capabilities or the forming of relationships with existing criminal groups, offer potential sources of support and funding. This is an important process for terrorist groups today as they would encounter great difficulty in acquiring materials, such as weapons, and the funding for their operations if it were not for organized crime groups and corruption (Holmes, 2007). 

Secondly,  the events of 9/11 put in motion a global crack-down on terrorist activity. Law enforcement agencies around the world increased their efforts in the ‘war on terror’. This had the knock-on effect of pushing groups further underground in their attempt to evade detection. As stated above this drove terrorist and organized crime groups to be in close proximity to each other. Here, the similarities between the two groups act as significant factor with regards to the possibility of a working relationship as both would use similar lines of networks and strategies in furthering their illegal activities. As Bovenkerk and Chakra (2007) point out: “both types of criminals operate in secrecy in the underworld, and they use the same infrastructure for their activities and the same networks of corruption and white-collar crime.” (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007, p.32)

One possible outcome of links between terrorism and organized crime is narco-terrorism. Emerging in the 1980s, the drug trade was used to support and promote terrorist activity, as well as certain governments’ political objectives (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007). This concept has gained significance over the years as increasingly more states are becoming host to such a phenomena. Originally of concern in Latin America where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) were seen to be involved in the cocaine industry, narco-terrorism has since been heavily linked to central and southeast Asia (Bjornehed, 2004). The respective chapter on narco-terrorism will examine examples from these different regions in order to provide a better understanding of the concept and its potential threat. These concepts provide a relevant area of study as they possess the possibility of becoming an increasingly greater threat to global security over the next few decades. Research will be directed at gaging what, if any, are the links between terrorism and organized crime and what the circumstances for collaboration may be. Is there a future threat from such a collaboration? Using Afghanistan as a case-study I will also assess whether there is relationship between the narcotics industry and conflict zones and whether there is a desire for the continuation of conflict for the purposes of profit. Additionally I will assess whether the narcotics industry has an impact upon post-conflict reconstruction, examining its effects at both the macro and micro level, before looking at the policies in place for combating these threats and assessing their effectiveness in doing so (e.g. eradication).        

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