Transnational Threats and the Globalization of Crime


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20141009

Traditional realists perceive political and economic stability primarily obtainable through the effective balancing of power throughout the international community.  Another overarching view is that states are the principle actor on the international stage and external progression (namely state-specific) upsets the balance of power and thus threatens state security and survival. In the modern landscape, it is of necessity to extend this concern toward criminal organizations and terrorist groups as they transcend national borders and increase in both size and power. In Transnational Threats: Smuggling and Trafficking in Arms, Drugs, and Human Life (2007), Kimberly Thachuk lists at least 10 threats that affect international security:

  1. Terrorism
  2. Widespread international crime
  3. Rapid transfer of privately held armaments technologies
  4. International narcotics trafficking
  5. Money laundering and corruption
  6. Cyberwar and cybercrimes
  7. Mass migration and human trafficking
  8. Movement of infectious diseases
  9. Environmental degradation
  10. Dissemination of ethnic and religious hatred

The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, for starters, monstrously demonstrated the need to reexamine the idea of “threats to national security” (Thachuk, 2007). Nevertheless, state attempts to counter non-state threats have been stifled by the need for an international solution from a “global common” amidst fears of compromising sovereign power and cultivating future disadvantages (Thachuk, 2007).

Globalization of Crime

Transnationally organized crime, as prefaced in The Globalization of Crime by the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is “fuelling corruption, infiltrating business and politics, and hindering development. And it is undermining governance by empowering those who operate outside the law” (2010). In much the same way governments and corporations have benefited from developments in communication and transportation technologies, criminals and terrorists have exploited these advances and globalized their operations. Transnational criminals confound the notion of uneducated, resentful, low-lives sneaking around in the dark next to trash cans in local poverty-stricken alleyways. They include educated logistical experts and tech-savvy white-collar criminals capable of manning or influencing state governments and corporations (including financial institutions) while competing in the world’s biggest markets. Many align themselves with licit operations (especially those under-regulated) camouflaging their activities while capitalizing on identical market demands. That is, a global lack of regulation cultivates a breeding ground for transnationally organized criminals and the global illicit economy (approximately 1 trillion dollars) constitutes 1/5 of the same size of the licit world economy (approximately 5 trillion dollars) (UNODC, 2010).

Principle Threats and U. S. Response

Clearly, the ultimate strength of a state can no longer be measured simply by its ability to defend against other states. The measurement must inoculate the effective capacity to mitigate the modern principle threats. John Wagley (analyst for the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division) names smuggling of nuclear materials and technology, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, intellectual property crimes, and money laundering as the most monumental threats (2006). All threats are viewed as carried out by transnational criminal organizations and terrorists. The U.S. has responded by attempting to coordinate federal agencies (Departments of Justice, State, Treasury, Homeland Security, Defense, and Commerce), foreign governments including African, Asian, European, and Latin American countries, and international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (Wagley, 2006).

As hinted earlier, effective mitigation will be realized through international cooperation and increased coordination of crime and terror policies. Organized criminals and terrorists are innately identical in many regards, but their motives (organized criminals-financial gain, terrorists-political and/or religious gain) can be used to differentiate them (Wagley, 2006). Further, as they oft-times partner with one another, it becomes imperative to evaluate ways of pitting one against the other. In order for the current U.S. response to achieve actualization and efficacy, the various counter-crime and counter-terror regimes will have to work relentlessly to avoid the paranoia that permeates traditional realism.



Thachuk, Kimberley L. (2007). Transnational Threats. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. Retrieved October 9, 2014, from Praeger Security International Online database.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2010). The Globalization of Crime. United Nations. Retrieved October 09, 2014, from

Wagley, J. R. (2006). Transnational Organized Crime:. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved October 09, 2014, from




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