Transnational organised crime
The term “transnational”, borrowed from the language of international relations, describes the movement of information, money, people, physical objects and other tangible or intangible assets across national borders. It evokes a set of anonymous forces which constitute an amorphous system of relations, uncoordinated with each other, run by people who, more often than not, do not identify with state authority.
The concept of transnationalism is widely understood to refer to the idea of deterritorialization, the absence of a centre of control, and to the presence of criminal networks which extend worldwide.
Since the beginning of the 90’s, the expression “transnational organised crime’ has become part of the vocabulary used by both specialists and lay people as a generic label for complex forms of crime, - implemented by groups of individuals - able to transcend national borders, and/or involved in illicit activities and markets with an international dimension.
Over the last decade numerous scholars have attempted to advance a more precise definition of this phenomenon, focusing on both the characteritics of criminal actors and their activities.
With the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime adopted by the General Assembly of the UN at the end of 2000, attention has become focused on criminal activities. This Convention defined International offences in the following terms (see Article 3 of the UN Convention):
- offences committed in more than one State;
- offences carried out in one State but prepared, planned, directed and controlled in another;
- offences that occurred in one State but involved a criminal group which operates in more than one country;
- and finally, crimes perpetrated in one State, but with substantial effects in another.
The international debate
The term “transnational” became associated with the crime phenomenon in the mid 1970s. One of the first occassions was at the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention, where one of the topics of discussion specifically concerned the changes which had occurred in the most serious forms of crimes and in particular, their national and transnational dimensions.
Within the context of this congress the discussion focused on a grey area of overlapping and reciprocal contamination that was apparent not only in conventional forms of organized crime, but was also a feature of the criminality amongst so-called "white collar" workers and also in a range of political-administrative corruption.
This specific area of criminal activity was characterized firstly by the fact that its priority was economic and secondly that it involved the existence of a formal organizational structure between its various partners, enabling the use or manipulation of their own business “instruments” and lastly, by the presence of individuals with high social status or political power of some significance.
Furthermore it emphasised the existence of surprising similarities between the resources used by criminal groups in carrying out various illegal activities and the instruments used by large companies and multinationals to impose their commercial monopolies or to bypass certain rules of economic competition, the corruption of police agents and of public policy authorities. The detrimental effects of these activities varied in different areas of the world, with developing countries in a position of greater disadvantage, given the threats that such practices placed on the already weak economic growth and on national welfare.
Reality and social representation
Over the following years, the debate about transnational crime would be destined to occupy an ever more prominent role in the agenda of numerous global assemblies althought the general orientation tended to change noticably. Instead of concentrating analysis on the characteristics, activities, dynamics of development and expansion and on operating strategies employed by transnational crime in various national contexts, it increasingly revealed images of a highly politicized phenomenon.
Theoretical approaches are beginning to be advanced which aim to stem the growth of global criminal threats, of global criminal enterprise, holding companies of terror and new empires of evil. However, the results of accurate research in the field do not convincingly support these theoretical evaluations.
This tendency showed itself fully during the 1990s, in a period immediately following the end of the policy of opposition to the Soviet Bloc, when some countries substantially reviewed their traditional national security policies. With the end of the Cold War, police bodies and private intelligence services, for example, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who were deprived of their main raison d’être, began to explore new areas of activity: organised crime, illegal immigration, human trafficking. Many of the concepts, such as language previously used to refer to Communist regimes, became used to describe these phenomena. This tendency emerged originally in United States, but soon began to assert itself in Europe.
The almost universal emphasis on the ethnic characterisation of transnational crime directs the general attention towards certain foreign communities, forcing them to be considered as the origin of the so-called “transnational mafias”. According to some scholars, the fear of international crime and the identification of a characteristic ethnic imprint on the sources of shared threats together, are used to reinforce a strong feeling of mutual solidarity between Western European States.
The tendency to identify ‘the other’ as the main source of danger is demonstrated by the growing fear of criminal groups supposedly composed of foreign nationals, illustrating how the study of organized crime is still influenced by the question of ethnicity. This tradition of thought, the so-called “criminology of the other”, continues to be pervasive especially in the United States, where some scholars, particularly close to law enforcement agencies and governmental bodies, have made a significant contribution to strengthening these perceptions.
In this regard, it should be noted that the majority of specialists who are skeptical about these theories, (summed up in phrases such as "global criminal threat" or "global organized crime") do not in any way dispute (undermine) the incontrovertible fact that increased mobility and other dynamics related to the process of globalization have contributed to a further consolidation of the contacts between criminal groups of various nationalities operating in different geographical contexts.
It is undeniable that transnational criminal operations have recently increased, thanks to the availability of transport networks and easier communication. What is challenged, if anything, by the proponents of this new approach, as opposed to the earlier "criminology of the self", is their underestimation of a whole series of circumstances which allow criminal activities to become established and thrive where domestic demand for particular goods and illegal services evidently exists.
Focusing attention on transnational crime solely as ethnic crime or in terms of an "exogenous" threat, ignores the consequences and dangers of this kind of phenomenon, and could lead to criminal activities being removed from their political, economic and social context within which they must be interpreted and explained.
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