Over the past five years United Nations Police significantly increased the awareness of the impact of serious and organized crime on conflict and war. In two groundbreaking resolutions on policing, (2185/2014 and 2382/2017) the UN Security Council recognized the relevance of efforts supporting the fight against transnational organized crime within the continuum of peace and security. For conflict prevention, peace operations and peacebuilding efforts to become successful, its relevance must be understood.
It’s as simple as that: First comes the threat identification, followed by the identification of vulnerabilities. Then there must be decisive mitigation.
In contemporary conflict environments, asymmetric threats originate from actors who are not party to ceasefire processes or peace agreements. Add interlocutors to the mix who are involved into peace processes and have second and third agendas. The former have no interest in supporting peace processes, the latter’s commitment is limited by the extent to which their own, often hidden, agendas can be implemented. The entire initial process might become unidentifiable, leaving us with the question “How did we end up here?”
All of these actors belong to a nexus tying transnational crime, violent extremism and international terrorism together. They thrive on and create corruption. Organized crime uses conflict and war to counter enforcement efforts, and extremism and international terrorism use organized crime as a business model.
This is a menace for host-countries affected by conflict or shaken by war, as peace requires security and depends on legitimate governance in which all communities find their space. Thus, the efforts of reestablishing governance are attacked by criminals and violent extremists. More recently, peace operations have become a target themselves. Whether peace operations make it or break it in assisting in mitigating this threat is something direly felt by neighbors, or even neighboring regions: The threat affects whole regions and has global implications.
More than that: Rampant consequences of transnational organized crime, such as trafficking in human beings and forms of exploitation and slavery, trafficking in weapons, or narcotics, all have an impact on the global rise of nationalism and populism.
Organized crime and violent extremism do not only weaken existing governance, they also establish their own governance: We know all too well that criminal networks regularly control societal aspects of the life of people. The Islamic State is an example for an ideology establishing the whole gamut of a bureaucracy, public services and taxes. Such extremism again uses crime for generating revenue, and most of it is transnational. When we draw network-relationship-diagrammes, it is sometimes difficult to separate persons and networks representing “classical’ transnational organized crime and those on the side of violent extremism. However, the immense role of transnational crime is undeniable.
Diplomatic and military efforts are limited or rendered even toothless because of the complex nature of the threat: Committed actors in host States and the International Community struggle with a faceless, multidimensional and highly secretive enemy. Unlike Islamic State using the entire media machine, transnational organized crime has no public voice, but is uses deception. Ancient Greek mythology comes to mind, every decapitation of one head of the Hydra causes its replacement with two new heads. When we are faced with this complexity, we often resort to efforts of disruption. Every experienced law enforcement officer knows that disruption can never be more than a temporary alternative to the real objective: Disbanding the network.
International, regional and foreign national actors in the same theater of operations are faced with an extremely high degree of complexity. Formulating a mandate for action by multinational organizations is challenged right from the beginning by the need for long-term strategies to be factored in from the outset. That doesn’t come natural for political processes. Secondly, the effective implementation of mandates by multiple actors depends both on coherent political backing and having the right means. They are usually provided by member States. But neither foreign ministries nor the military has experts on transnational organized crime, crime prevention, community-oriented policing, and intelligence collection within a civilian legal framework. This leads, thirdly, to that we all are willing to acknowledge complexity, but we do not always accept the consequence: a resulting need for a gentle, thoughtful engagement, with highly capable expertise from the beginning, sustainable in its ability to adapt within a long-term support effort. Traditionally, this sort of expertise often comes second when political decision-makers hear it. The military is heard first.
Imagine a board with many instruments and switches, and you have almost no knowledge of most connections under the hood. Transnational crime is part of an unknown number of such connections. Would you use a careful approach, attempting to understand better before operating the switches? Would you apply gentle changes that can be corrected, reverted, fine tuned as you go and understand better? Or would you use a wrench? Would you say “Yes, that’s a complicated thing, that’s for later and for others, I’m using the wrench anyway because I lack finer tools.” For the hammer, all things look like nails. The result of inadequate action on complexity is often the opposite of what was intended: Further destabilization and illicit control thrive.
In reality this means that (1) we have to do better to acknowledge the complex effects of transnational crime on conflict and war and (2) we have to acknowledge that inadequate handling from the beginning of any effort to prevent or handle conflict, or to help re-building post-conflict, nurtures transnational crime’s ability to thrive.
Ultimately, fighting crime is a civilian core function within a society. As transnational crime is a network of networks affecting many societies, networks can only be fought by networks. In this case, networks of law enforcement and criminal justice organizations. But within States and regions weakened by conflict and war, transnational crime thrives and domestic law enforcement partner organizations struggle and are suffocated. Whether through outright assistance or temporary international executive involvement, we have to help our partners from the outset on. Because our partners they are, they are peers in dire need, undermined by the enemy. It requires our active commitment not only with diplomats and soldiers, but with a wide range of police and justice expertise. And it requires doing things together, including national and international law enforcement agencies.
In June 2016, Ministers of the Interior, Chiefs of Police and high-level officials from more than 100 Member States gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Organized by the Police Division of DPKO, this first ever summit of Police Chiefs under the United Nation’s umbrella (UN COPS) called, amongst other important issues, on tackling transnational organized crime, acknowledging the need to deploy more specialized expertise – based on specific capacity gaps of national institutions and priorities requested by host States. Participants encouraged fostering strengthened partnerships between the United Nations Police, the African Union, the European Union, INTERPOL, EUROPOL, the emerging AFRIPOL, AMERIPOL, ASEANAPOL, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and other partner organizations.
In June 2018, the United Nations will witness the second UN COPS, taking stock and moving forward, if possible. In the invitation, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres states that the future of peacekeeping operations is linked to UN Police and that more investment in this area will be essential. The UN maps the context: “Violent conflict and global challenges, including organized crime, violence and extremism conducive to terrorism, affect the safety, security and livelihoods of communities. These challenges undermine rule of law institutions, as well as the ability of police to prevent, detect and investigate crime, protect persons and property, and maintain public order. “
This statement goes far beyond peacekeeping: It is a global challenge of great urgency. The same can be found in the 2016 European Union Global Strategy. The EU is working on getting EUROPOL closer to crisis management missions of the EU abroad. The recognition that experts on transnational organized crime need to be provided to actions within a foreign policy context is slowly growing, but I don’t see it reflected in national police budgets.
Between 2014 and 2016 the United Nations finalized the policy of the Strategic Guidance Framework SGF (https://police.un.org/en/sgf). This longstanding and worldwide effort, supported by a global network of law enforcement professionals, enhances the effectiveness of UN police in peace operations. It presents a consistent approach to how UN Police works, and especially the provision of support to host-State police services. Mapping out the interdependency of community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing is but one of many examples for how the SGF tackles the challenges presented by transnational threats including organized crime. Handbooks are being produced and command training is being rolled out. The SGF has become an internationally acknowledged reference point for how to strengthen host State’s law enforcement capacities and capabilities, giving international policing a first-ever framework.
Such efforts are key for a global response to a global threat.
There is, however, no space for complacency. As a matter of fact, there is space for serious concern. We witness the erosion of a willingness to think globally in light of global challenges and global threats. Ours are times in which no local event can be separated from global, and no global event can be separated from local consequences. Because our world is complex, these consequences show up in often unforeseen ways. But populism pretends that there are easy solutions to the World’s problems and that those who say otherwise are “fake news”. Nationalism rolls back global and regional achievements and presents a threat to more integration. On the extreme end, a new fascism attacks achievements of liberal societies, including the rule of law.
How would the rule of the powerful instead of the rule of law not translate into more organized crime and corruption? I know of no example in contemporary history where it would have not. We have come an impressive part of the way, but it can easily be reverted during these times. New and resolute thinking is required to prevent organized crime from benefiting from the erosion of the rule of law.
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