The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime has presented the annual report ‘What to Watch in 2014”. Traditionally considered an internal issue, to be addressed with the tools of law enforcement and criminal justice, organized crime is step by step being included in analysis about global trends in conflict and peace. What we have here is the inverse situation: an analysis of organized crime shows several points of contact and friction with instability, weak governance and conflict.
Given the transnational scope of many networks; the multiple crimes in which they are involved (from drugs to trafficking in persons and human smuggling, counterfeit goods and documents, weapons and wildlife, among other valuable items), and the huge financial profit they attain, it is no surprise that TOC may add to threats to governance, peace and democracy in a number of regions and countries.
And what are the forecasted trends for 2014? Let’s centre in a few of them for their potential significance and impact:
Organized crime has taken advantage of conflicts, instability and social unrest in some North Africa and Middle East countries, particularly Libya and Syria. These territories have been incorporated into criminal routes (and markets) for drugs, arms and other items, and in the way these operations contribute to fund parties in conflict and supply arms. Southern Libya is a case in point, as well as states surrounding the area. Libya is a gateway to Europe and part of the corridor East-West (and vice-versa). Militia violence in some areas has to do with control over routes and a nascent market for protection services. Syria has become a market for arms and for smuggling of food, medicine and people.
The markets for illicit drugs are soaring in Gulf countries, accounting for over 60% of the world methamphetamine consumption and growing rates for heroin and cocaine. Trafficking finds the way there through the weakest points and routes. This means more vulnerability for North African states such as Lybia and Egypt.
International missions face a breadth of new challenges. One case in point is the double French-UN mission in Mali, where local conflict, organized crime and terrorism are present. Most peacebuilding missions are not designed to understand (not to mention address) the local and regional dynamics of illicit economies and their actors, and often fail to provide communities with alternatives, as well as to address corruption.
Psychoactive Substances, prominently including amphetamines, are booming: they are cheap, easy to manufacture and highly addictive. Consumption is on the rise in East Asia and the Middle East (Gulf countries). But the next hotspot is expected to be Africa, already home of key trafficking routes and increasingly involved in meth production in countries like Nigeria.
Piracy is no longer a Somalia issue, but has increased and expected to do so in the Gulf of Guinea and East Asia. Coastal densely populated areas with availability of weapons, scarce economic opportunities and little if any state control, provide the most likely hubs for maritime crime.
Despite international and national regulation and law enforcement efforts, poaching and traffic in wildlife (particularly those species highly valuable in affluent markets) continues to feed organized crime and put in danger some of the most vulnerable species over the planet (and in the way, feeding corruption and undermining governance).
Last but not least, new approaches are being tested in Latin America after decades of punitive strategies. The first outcomes could be seen this year: 1) Levels of homicide due to gang territorial fights have led Honduras and El Salvador to negotiate and seek a truce with gangs to lessen levels of violence; 2) Uruguay (as well as the US states of Colorado and Washington) have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, among other factors to curb the power of illegal networks and put the issue under state control.
Interested in those trends? Here is the full report by the Global Initiative against Organized Crime.
For a challenging study on the role of illegal criminal networks in current affairs in Mali, and the challenge for international missions, check Illicit Trafficking and Instability in Mali: Past, present and future, January 2014.
For an innovative approach to criminal actors in conflict, check James Cockayne, Strengthening Mediation to Deal with Criminal Agendas, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Oslo Forum, 2013.