Transnational Organized Crime
and International Security:
The New Topography
Mats Berdal and Mónica Serrano
Transnational organized crime is indeed an international security threat, but not in the conventional sense. Today the great majority of countries find themselves in a congested global landscape populated by transnational currents and challenges, new actors, and nonconventional threats. Transnational organized crime is a potential threat to international security not because it is a monolithic block of evil, but rather because it is an organization of criminal activities whose tentacles spread out along many of the rifts within this crowded landscape. It is a symbiotic menace, inseparable from the very conditions that give rise to it.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the relation of transnational organized crime to economic globalization: the degree to which a more integrated world economy—characterized by the steady reduction of regulatory and other obstacles to cross-border flows of goods, capital, and people—has facilitated the growth of transnational organized crime. There can be no doubt that changes in the workings of the global economy over the past quarter century have created new opportunities for transnational criminal groups, who have capitalized on these opportunities in a variety of ways. Financial deregulation, improved transportation infrastructures, expanded distribution networks, and the sheer volume of licit trade have all facilitated the movement and bankability of ill-gotten gains. They have also enabled criminal groups to cooperate more effectively across national borders.
Clearly this is a threat. But the iconic image of this threat is not an airplane, still less a tank—in fact it is not a weapon at all, but a container. The global economic reliance on containers has allowed goods to be distributed across the world with such efficiency that companies have been able to substantially reduce their inventories, with obvious and beneficial consequences for the world economy. Containers now account for 90 percent of