Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation against Illicit Trade

Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation against Illicit Trade

Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation against Illicit Trade

Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation against Illicit Trade


From human trafficking to the smuggling of small arms to the looting of antiquities, illicit trade poses significant threats to international order. So why is it so difficult to establish international cooperation against illicit trade?Governing Guns, Preventing Plunderoffers a novel, thought-provoking answer to this crucial question.

Conventional wisdom holds that criminal groups are the biggest obstacle to efforts to suppress illicit trade. Contrarily, Asif Efrat explains how legitimate actors, such as museums that acquire looted antiquities, seek to hinder these regulatory efforts. Yet such attempts to evade regulation fuel international political conflicts between governments demanding action against illicit trade and others that are reluctant to cooperate. The book offers a framework for understanding the domestic origins of these conflicts and how the distribution of power shapes their outcome. Through this framework, Efrat explains why the interests of governments vary across countries, trades, and time. In a fascinating empirical analysis, he solves a variety of puzzles: Why is the international regulation of small arms much weaker than international drug control? What led the United States and Britain to oppose the efforts against the plunder of antiquities, and why did they ultimately join these efforts? How did American pressure motivate Israel to tackle sex trafficking? Efrat's findings will change the way we think about illicit trade, offering valuable insights to scholars, activists, and policymakers.


The illicit trade in small arms is a grave international concern: it sustains civil wars, fuels crime, and facilitates terrorism. Human trafficking is another major problem. Every year, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are trafficked across borders, falling victim to brutal sexual or labor exploitation. Yet, despite the severity of these problems, international cooperation against them has been difficult to establish. Governments have sharply disagreed about the extent of—and even the need for—international action to curb these illicit trades. Similar controversies have hindered the international efforts against other types of illicit commerce, such as the trade in looted antiquities and the drug trade.

This book explores the global cooperative efforts against illicit trade, focusing on the domestic and international political conflicts underlying these efforts. Specifically, the book seeks to answer two central questions. First, why are cooperative endeavors against illicit trade so controversial? Why do some governments support these endeavors, while others vehemently resist them? Second, when and how do governments overcome the international disagreements and establish cooperation against illicit trade?

These questions are not answered by the literature on international cooperation—the body of work that identifies obstacles to joint action among governments and examines how international institutions may overcome these obstacles. From preventing war to removing trade barriers to reducing environmental harm, studies of cooperation have examined how governments collectively tackle a variety of challenges. Yet among the challenges studied, the suppression of illicit trade has received little attention. in an article published in 1990, Ethan Nadelmann examined “global prohibition regimes” aimed against transnational criminal activities. Since that pioneering article, the field of international cooperation has seen few studies on . . .

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