By Louise Shelley
Organized crime cannot function without corruption of officials. Transnational crime syndicates need to “buy” customs officials, border officials and sometimes consular officials to facilitate drug or human trafficking, firearms smuggling or other illicit activities.
Dealing with transnational crime is inherently difficult because criminal organizations are increasingly globalized and legal systems are national in scope. Cross-border crime groups capitalize on their ability to segment their operations across countries, where different laws and regulations apply. Variations among national laws make it difficult to foster international cooperation to investigate criminal groups and apprehend and prosecute their leaders.
Criminal networks have become extremely mobile and market- and technology-savvy, challenging governments to keep pace with them. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government shifted enormous resources from addressing transnational crime to fighting terrorism. These two threats are often linked through financing, logistics and communications, but the links between the two were not initially recognized, thereby allowing such diverse forms of transnational crime as drug, arms and human trafficking; trading in counterfeit goods; money laundering and cross-border environmental crime to expand rapidly. In 2011, the White House announced for the first time the national Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. This strategy institutionalizes many practices that already have existed, makes them public and tries to increase coordination among relevant government agencies. It is an attempt to deal with diverse forms of transnational crime in a more orderly, serious fashion.
Many other countries are also well aware of the seriousness of the threat; some suffer the consequences of transnational crime more acutely than the United States. Some fail to respond because they lack resources; others are immobilized by corruption. But for many transnational crime is a high priority. Illustrative of this is Europol, the European Union's criminal intelligence agency, which has made a strong commitment to addressing the problem.
Yet despite significant international efforts to implement the U.N. Convention on Transnational Crime enacted more than a decade ago, there is still much that must be done. Tackling transnational crime and related corruption is a challenge not just for law enforcement, but for all of society and the business community. It requires a vigilant media, an engaged civil society, a responsible business community and good governance at all levels.
Louise Shelley, Ph.D., is a university professor and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University.