News | April 1, 2013

Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization

By Michael Miklaucic and Jacqueline Brewer Book


In the last 20 years, globalization has outpaced the growth of mechanisms for global governance. This has resulted in a lack of regulation—whether it be on the Internet, in banking systems, or free trade zones. The same conditions that have led to unprecedented openness in trade, travel, and communication have created massive opportunities for criminals. As a result, organized crime has diversified, gone global, and reached macro-economic proportions.
—Walter Kemp, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 
Organized Crime: A Growing Threat to Security 

In some situations these new networks could act as forces for good by pressuring governments through non-violent means to address injustice, poverty, the impacts of climate change, and other social issues. Other groups, however, could use networks and global communications to recruit and train new members, proliferate radical ideologies, manage their finances, manipulate public opinion, and coordinate attacks.
—National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2025 

Acceleration. Magnification. Diffusion. Entropy. Empowerment. The global environment and the international system are evolving at hypervelocity. A consensus is emerging among policymakers, scholars, and practitioners that recent sweeping developments in information technology, communication, transportation, demographics, and conflict are making global governance more challenging. Some argue these developments have transformed our international system, making it more vulnerable than ever to the predations of terrorists and criminals. Others argue that despite this significant evolution, organized crime, transnational terrorism, and nonstate networks have been endemic if unpleasant features of human society throughout history, that they represent nothing new, and that our traditional means of countering them—primarily conventional law enforcement—are adequate. Even among those who perceive substantial differences in the contemporary manifestations of these persistent maladies, they are viewed as major nuisances not adding up to a significant national or international security threat, much less an existential threat. 

This view continues to dominate mindsets within the U.S. national security community. It fails to fully appreciate the growing power of nonstate actors and adversaries, or the magnitude of the threat they pose and the harm they impose on the international system itself. It underappreciates the possibility—indeed likelihood—of the convergence, whether for convenience or growing ambition, of criminal, terrorist, and even insurgent networks. More important even than insufficient recognition of the efficacy of these adversaries is the absence of a plan to counter the threat they pose to both national security and the international state system. In short, this view does not see the big picture—the long view of the declining robustness and resilience of the global system of nation-states that has been dominant for centuries, and the unprecedented attacks on that system. The failure of that system—in which we and so many have prospered beyond belief or precedent in history—would be a catastrophic and existential loss.

Global trends and developments—including dramatically increased trade volumes and velocity, the growth of cyberspace, and population growth, among others—have facilitated the growth of violent nonstate actors, the strengthening of organized crime, and the emergence of a new set of transcontinental supply chains as well as the expansion of existing illicit markets. The resourcefulness, adaptability, innovativeness, and ability of illicit networks to circumvent countermeasures make them formidable foes for national governments and international organizations alike. Their increasing convergence gives them ever-improved ability to evade official countermeasures and overcome logistical challenges as well as ever better tools for exploiting weaknesses and opportunities within the state system, and attacking that system. Since illicit actors have expanded their activities throughout the global commons, in the land, sea, air, and cyber domains, nations must devise comprehensive and multidimensional strategies and policies to combat the complex transnational threats posed by these illicit networks.

This book is an attempt to map the terrain of this emerging battlespace; it describes the scope of the security threat confronting the United States and the international community from transnational criminal organizations and what is being done to combat that threat—from the strategic level with the release, in July 2011, of the U.S. Government’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security and, in April 2011, of the Department of Defense (DOD) Counternarcotics and Global Threats Strategy—to the operational level with increased regional partnerships and dialogues.