Academic journal article Military Review

The Quiet Enemy: Defeating Corruption and Organized Crime

Academic journal article Military Review

The Quiet Enemy: Defeating Corruption and Organized Crime

Article excerpt


CORRUPTION AND ORGANIZED crime undermine counterinsurgency and stabilization efforts by delegitimizing state institutions in the eyes of host nationals. To some in the U.S. military, however, these dynamics may seem to be beyond the military's resources and solely the responsibility of civilian and host country agencies. This article offers a framework through which every level of the military can better understand illicit behavior and develop a plan to attack it. The framework uses military resources efficiently, but recognizes that only the military may have the strength and reach to influence some of the factors that give rise to illicit behavior in post-conflict environments. It breaks down the factors influencing illicit behavior into three targets that can serve as focal points for military operations--opportunities, risks, and rewards. These are the primary areas of consideration of those deciding to pursue illicit behavior. The military must seek to reduce opportunities for illicit behavior, increase the risks of partaking in it, and minimize its potential rewards. In so doing, it can more effectively deal with the various illicit activities that plague stabilization environments and undermine broader counterinsurgency efforts.

A Framework for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime

Targeting opportunities, risks, and rewards allows policymakers to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight corruption and organized crime. It also enables provincial commanders to formulate localized plans to address illicit behavior in their areas of responsibility.

Defining the problem of illicit behavior. The literature on corruption is rife with prolonged definitional debates. (1) The only useful understanding of corruption, however, is one that helps efficiently direct limited military resources towards achieving clear objectives in combating it. Corruption and organized crime, which I will refer to together as "illicit behavior," threaten to undermine key governing institutions, and therefore the entire counterinsurgency effort. Consequently, the military must focus its resources on attacking illicit behavior that undermines security organizations, key public service agencies, and economically essential industries. This understanding requires further elaboration.

Civil conflict often leads to the breakdown of state and social institutions. Entities that individuals might rely on to provide basic services such as security, water, electricity, or education often disintegrate as violence escalates. The process of stabilization involves rebuilding institutions around which society can shape its activities and upon which individuals can rely to enable their well-being. However, vacuums created during conflict and rebuilding often empower groups that undermine the success of new institutions by pursuing their own illicit activities and alternative power structures.

Frequently, during conflict, as established institutions break down, individuals form alliances capable of delivering both licit and illicit products and services. While some are concerned with importing food, water, clothes, or other necessities, many exploit the situation by dealing in guns, drugs, human trafficking, and other improprieties. Not infrequently, the same organizations that control transportation conduits also control regional relationships. In such an environment, organized criminal groups focused on profiteering build strong power bases, allowing them to exert control after the peace. (2) To maintain this power, organized criminal groups must develop "hand-in-glove" relationships with corrupt politicians. (3) Such relationships ensure immunity from government aggression, enrich compromised officials, and provide access to additional public resources. In the words of one commentator on post-conflict Bosnia, "Key players in the covert acquisition and distribution of supplies during wartime have emerged as nouveau riche 'criminal elite' with close ties to the government . …

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