Governments across the Middle East and South Asia are increasingly losing power to substate actors that are inserting themselves at a mezzanine level of rule between the government and the people. Western policymakers must address the problem systematically, at both a political and a legal level, rather than continue to pursue reactive and disjointed measures on a case-by-case basis.
The link between crime and the state is neither as new nor as scary as Moisés Naím depicted it, argues Peter Andreas; after all, criminals have been corrupting governments for centuries. Naím responds that mafia states are unprecedented and worrisome.
Despite media hoopla, cross-border crime -- illegal drugs sales, evasion of taxes, intellectual property theft, and money laundering -- is hardly a new phenomenon. For much of history, moreover, the United States was as much perpetrator as victim. Recognizing this awkward truth should help cool down overheated debates about today’s transnational problems and how to respond to them.
The global economic crisis has been a boon for transnational criminals. Thanks to the weak economy, cash-rich criminal organizations can acquire financially distressed but potentially valuable companies at bargain prices. Fiscal austerity is forcing governments everywhere to cut the budgets of law enforcement agencies and court systems. Millions of people have been laid off and are thus more easily tempted to break the law. Large numbers of unemployed experts in finance, accounting, information technology, law, and logistics have boosted the supply of world-class talent available to criminal cartels. Meanwhile, philanthropists all over the world have curtailed their giving, creating funding shortfalls in the arts, education, health care, and other areas, which criminals are all too happy to fill in exchange for political access, social legitimacy, and popular support. International criminals could hardly ask for a more favorable business environment. Their activities are typically high margin and cash-based, which means they often enjoy a high degree of liquidity -- not a bad position to be in during a global credit crunch.
But emboldened adversaries and dwindling resources are not the only problems confronting police departments, prosecutors, and judges. In recent years, a new threat has emerged: the mafia state. Across the globe, criminals have penetrated governments to an unprecedented degree. The reverse has also happened: rather than stamping out powerful gangs, some governments have instead taken over their illegal operations. In mafia states, government officials enrich themselves and their families and friends while exploiting the money, muscle, political influence, and global connections of criminal syndicates to cement and expand their own power. Indeed, top positions in some of the world's most profitable illicit enterprises are no longer filled only by professional criminals; they now include senior government officials, legislators, spy chiefs, heads of police departments, military officers, and, in some extreme cases, even heads of state or their family members.
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