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Transnational organized crime and terrorism were formerly two distinct issues for policymakers. After the end of the Cold War, many terrorist organizations could not receive finances from states and had to turn to criminal groups who had access to money and weapons. Thus, the pairing was an ideal one because it established a lucrative market where profits were garnered by the criminals and necessary goods and services were obtained by the terrorists. The nexus was built upon this market of necessity for both groups. Crime and terrorism overlap in the modern era because they each can be of assistance; the organized criminals can earn substantial amounts of wealth and terrorist organizations can receive the money and weapons needed for their political goals. In the end, however, it is global security which suffers as an effect of the cooperation between these groups. Both groups thrive when there is an environment of fear in the populace. Terrorist use this fear to try and force a government to do something they want, while organized criminals use fear to maintain control over their territory. Through these observations, it is evident that organized crime and terrorism do not align with a Christian worldview. Whereas the Bible conveys a life of righteousness, the shared link between criminals and terrorists is one of violence and self-interest.
Keywords: transnational organized crime, terrorism, United States, global security, drugs, trafficking, Middle East, Colombia, Mexico
Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism
Transnational organized crime and terrorism are two separate things which very often overlap with each other in a few different ways. One way is how terrorists are ideal customers for the weapons which organized criminals are attempting to sell for large profits. Secondly, terrorists can commit criminal activities to finance their ideological objectives. Lastly, transnational organized criminals can resort to terrorism against those political and criminal justice institutions which threaten their ability to grow and earn money as criminal networks. Thus, the nexus between the two is very clear; criminals and terrorists use immoral and illicit behavior for self-sustaining goals and without a coordinated global response, both will continue to prey on their targets.
Links Between Organized Criminals and Terrorism
There is growing evidence which reveals that terrorists and organized criminals are linked and evolving in the same direction due to the weakening of government reach and legitimacy in many parts of the world (Shaw & Mahadevan, 2018). This is the negative aspect of globalization since transnational organized criminals are already experts in their field of getting illicit goods to their destination anywhere in the world. They use all forms of illicit and legal pathways to achieve their goal. Most of their trafficking consists of drugs, humans, or weapons, and if a terrorist needs to be smuggled into a foreign country, then these organized criminals are best suited for that job.
Additionally, these criminals are experienced traffickers who are known to corrupt local border officials, which compromises the ability of a nation to control immigration and legitimate trade (Simmons et al., 2018). Transnational criminals can also use terrorism to reinforce their power over a particular area. Violence is a known tactic by criminals because it sends a clear message that the government cannot remove them. One example is when the Italian Mafia bombed tourist areas after there was a government drive against them in the 1990s (Ren, 2018). These terrorist acts help criminal groups maintain power in their controlled area.
Nexus and Effect on Global Security
Because of the growing technological advances and increased international cooperation, the distance among states has been substantially shortened to the extent where global movements of cargo, people, goods, services, and data can continuously pass around the world instantaneously. This points to the development of a crime–terror nexus in the period following the Cold War as the beginning of a threat convergence (Ren, 2018). Many terrorist organizations sought assistance from criminals because states no longer provided weapons to them. With this state patronage gone, the terrorists turned to other sources for their finances (Albanese & Reichel, 2014). Latin America is one location which, after the Cold War, has seen an emergence of the focus on non-state, transnational threats, and the involvement of armed forces in the battle against those threats to global security (Vitelli, 2020). These new threats from transnational criminals and terrorists are the modern focus for global security. The lasting effect will be continued violence if these two groups are not impeded in their criminal activities.
Effect on the United States
Combatting drug trafficking and terrorism is a clear national security interest of the United States (Vitelli, 2020). These two issues rose to the forefront of American policy after the Cold War. With no clear threat after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, American pivoted many of their policies to anti-drug and anti-terrorism measures. The problem which became known was that these two are more intertwined than originally believed. Hence, if the nexus between the two is not addressed, the security of the American homeland is vulnerable to criminals aiding the terrorists who wish the harm the United States. One of the biggest vulnerabilities for this to happen is when organized criminals assist in the smuggling of terrorists through known illicit pathways and into the American homeland, and thus creating the potential for terrorist acts of American soil.
Effect on Asia and Middle East
The nexus between the organized crime and terrorism developed in this region during the post-Cold War era as a response to the elimination of state-sponsored support to terrorist organizations (Ren, 2018). From the point in history when the United States and the Soviet Union did not have to fund insurgent groups, the terrorist groups needed to find a source of money. Even though some forms of state assistance continued, such as with Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence providing direct assistance to the Taliban, many terrorist organizations needed to find other means to help their cause (Reichel & Albanese, 2014). Eventually, the easiest group to fill this void was the transnational organized criminals.
An advantage for the criminals within the Middle East is their financial hawala system, which is an underground economy estimated to be 50 to 100 percent of established economies (Abadinsky, 2017). To use such a system with no paper trail affords criminal and terrorists to facilitate crimes without law enforcement being able to identify the individuals. Therefore, these two groups can purchase and exchange illegal products without the fear of arrest or prosecution from the criminal justice system.
Effect on Colombia and Mexico
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has played a key role in illicit drug production and trafficking as well as in other criminal trades (Schultze-Kraft, 2018). The proceeds that the FARC earns from these criminal acts are likely used to further their political goals for Colombia. Crime is an increasingly important factor in sustained conflicts because contraband and drugs trafficking can all provide finance to terrorist groups (Ren, 2018). The Medellín Cartel is an example of a criminal groups working with a terrorist group when they hired the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) to plant car bombs in a 1993 campaign to intimidate the Colombian Government (Ren, 2018). This link is an example of how a powerful organized crime group, like the cartel, used a terrorist organization like the ELN to accomplish its criminal goals.
In Mexico, the organized criminals have evolved over the past few decades as they have replaced the Colombian cartels. To sustain this power, these Mexican organized criminals have engaged in extreme violence towards other criminals, civilians, law enforcement, and government officials. For instance, Mexican criminal groups have used symbolic killings to convey their message that they are in power and to terrorize anyone who thinks about going against them in any manner (Shaw & Mahadevan, 2018).
Both groups work together because they do not value humanity. Criminal groups prioritize profits and terrorism seeks to create fear by causing pain or death to certain groups of people. The collaboration between the two groups threatens global security because of the danger they pose to the rest of the world. These groups thrive in insecure spaces and exploit people whenever it benefits them. Because of these actions, they are against Christian values. Whereas Jesus Christ conveys to His followers that we should work together for righteousness and love, the organized criminals and terrorists only pursue evil and hate towards others. According to Scripture, we must “therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (New International Version Bible, 1973/2011, Romans 14:19).
The rise of criminals and terrorist is due to self-interest rather than towards a life which follows God. The nexus between criminals and terrorists is growing because each group is fighting to preserve their way of life which values greed. This, too, falls from the ideals shared within a Christian perspective. Embracing crime does not coincide with the values of the Lord. The fights, quarrels, and murders come from the sinful desires within us that make us want more than we have; these wants are not met because God is not asked (New International Version Bible, 1973/2011, James 4:1-2). Therefore, it is God who will give us our happiness and desires, and to use crime to achieve them will only create more sins.
There has been a growing overlap between terrorism and organized crime which now requires increased, collaborative attention from security agencies (Shaw & Mahadevan, 2018). This nexus has emerged because terrorists need weapons and money, and organized crime needs a business to sustain their profits (Ren, 2018). Their primary difference is that while organized criminals continue to seek ways to generate revenue, the continued focus of most terrorist organizations is some political goal. Terrorism is used to scare the general population and force a government to decide something which favors the terrorist group. Even if terrorist groups do adopt criminal activities such as drug trafficking and money laundering, they do not necessarily do so to generate profit, but rather, to achieve a certain level of money for their political goals (Ren, 2018).
The nexus between crime and terrorism will continue because of basic economics. They rely on each other for goods and services which only they can provide unconditionally. Terrorists provide criminals with a wealthy customer base in a market with high profits (Albanese & Reichel, 2014). When combined, these two groups have the capability to disrupt global security. Organized criminals send illicit flows of goods and people into areas where there is the potential for harm people and economies. In the case of the United States, globalization has allowed insecure spaces where governments are weak to have access to American borders and ports of entry. If the organized criminal groups and terrorists work together, then these borders cannot prevent those who wish to do harm from entering the American homeland.