Gregory F. Treverton
The question is not whether international organized crime is bad. It is. Nor is the question whether the United States, government officials and private citizens alike, ought to worry about it. They should. The form of organized crime represented by drug trafficking has been on the security agenda. Now, trafficking plus economic integration and Communism’s disintegration create a new threat, one that puts the governance of key countries, like Russia, at risk and seems a menace stretching inside U.S. borders. Still, the issue is whether organized crime amounts to a threat to national security—not in the cold war’s expansive meaning, when virtually anything sought by any interest group, from highways to student loans got “national security” attached to it, but rather in an old-fashioned sense of posing a palpable threat to the nation’s territorial integrity, economic well-being, or core institutions.
The provisional answer is “probably not.” Crime will be a nuisance, one that will put pressure on U.S. institutions and practices, but it is not a serious threat. That answer is, however, less interesting than the vast changes wrought on the various meanings of security by the cold war’s end, changes which demand that, in order to make sense of the world and to adopt sensible policies, one distinguishes between purposive threats and “threats without threateners”—what are sometimes called systemic threats. With that distinction in hand, I turn more specifically to international organized crime now occurring amidst, and partly feeding off, the transformation of international politics. The Westphalian notions of state sovereignty are passing away, replaced by economics as the driver of international politics: enter the “market state.”