Stewart M. Patrick

The Internationalist

Patrick assesses the future of world order, state sovereignty, and multilateral cooperation.

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How Globalization Affects Transnational Crime

by Stewart M. Patrick
May 31, 2012

The Xin Mei Zhou container ship is seen at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, May 30, 2012. Container ships are a major conduit for illicit trafficking (David McNew/Courtesy Reuters).


With drug legalization increasingly debated by world leaders, the Internationalist talks to Phil Williams about the explosion of transnational crime in a globalized world.

  • “Transnational criminals have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization.” Globalization facilitates international trade but also increases the difficulty of regulating global trade; traffickers and smugglers have exploited this. Williams adds that globalization has increased inequality around the globe, and that “its disruptive effect has actually caused people to have to go into organized crime and operate in illicit markets as coping mechanisms.”
  • The global financial system has undergone widespread deregulation since the 1970s. This has allowed illicit actors to launder the proceeds of crime more easily. “We’ve got some reregulation to try to deal with money laundering…but it’s not particularly effective,” says Williams.

Watch this video on youtube here.

  • Terrorists, insurgents, and warlords all rely on illegal activities as a funding mechanism, says Williams. “Sometimes, when they engage in a criminal activity, they come into contact with criminal organizations, but for the most part, the direct group-to-group link is not that important. It’s just a market activity or a supplier relationship,” he notes, disputing the idea of a “crime-terror nexus.”
  •  “There’s no single model of a criminal organization.” The conventional wisdom that criminal networks have abandoned their hierarchical structure, Williams says, obscures the fact that criminals adopt myriad distinct structures depending on their circumstances—and some of them remain hierarchical.
  •  Illicit networks are challenging to states, because states are military and diplomatically organized to deal with other states. Governments around the world “have found it very hard to adapt to nonstate or sovereignty-free actors.”

This video is part of The Internationalist, a series dedicated to in-depth discussions about leveraging multilateral cooperation to meet today’s transnational challenges.


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