Global Enforcement Regimes

17 November 2005

Global Enforcement Regimes
Transnational Organised Crime, International Terrorism and Money Laundering
TNI Expert Seminar, 28-29 April 2005

Full report available in PDF.

Over the last decades the international community has taken initiatives to counter the alleged proliferation of transnational organised crime, political terrorism and money laundering. More recently, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the "criminal underworld" is increasingly merged with that of political terrorism and constructed into one underground "axis of evil" of drug trafficking, transnational organised crime and international terrorism that is a major global security threat. A new Washington consensus on how to fight this underground "axis of evil" seems to be emerging. The agenda is dominated by a concept of national security that is dominated by the world's remaining superpower, the United States of America, which is extending its national security into a global one. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks the stakes are higher for every nation to follow the US. As President George W. Bush made clear: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

A body of multilateral agreements have been put in place "to fight the scourge" at the international level. At the UN and G8 level conventions against transnational organised crime and regulations to counter money laundering are accepted, while the UN Security Council set in motion a global programme against international terrorism. The recurrent pattern is remarkably the same since the US internationalised its "war on drugs". Drug trafficking and related issues like organised crime and money laundering of the proceeds are first labelled as a national security threat and subsequently the battlefield is transformed into an international "war on ... ". The US is able to force its agenda on the international community through its unparalleled resources and diplomatic strength both at the multilateral and bilateral level, to make sure that the war is waged on its terms.

The wide array of multilateral agreements, conventions, rules and regulations on drugs, crime, money laundering and terrorism amount to a modern day version of the "software of empire" - complementing the hardware of military intervention, economic sanctions etc. Increasingly, these multilateral agreements are reached at inter-governmental level (such as the UN, G8, the EU) and presented as a fait accompli before national parliaments that are pressured to ratify them. No government wants to be labelled as an outcast because a national parliament refuses to ratify these international agreements that are the result of complicated diplomatic bargaining and an alleged international consensus. At the level of the European Union a similar process is taking place in order to harmonize is security area.

In addition, there are hardly any mechanisms in place to evaluate their effectiveness or adverse effects - so they are kept in place as the modern day Ten Commandments cast in stone. The emphasis is on coercive and law enforcement measures and not on addressing the underlying root causes, which would force the dominating powers to scrutinize the current socio-economic and political world order, and redefine national security interests into a truly international one.

The US in particular takes a very cynical and pragmatic approach towards emerging international security arrangements, shopping around in the global supermarket of international agreements. While on the one hand it actively sets the agenda and enforces such arrangements when drug trafficking, organised crime and terrorism are addressed, it discards and openly sabotages such arrangements because the are believed to be contrary to its national interests when other global security issues are concerned, such as environmental security (the Kyoto protocol) or the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In their paper "The Global Fix - Neo-liberalism, America's Moral Crusade and International Efforts to Control Transnational Organized Crime", David Bewley-Taylor and Michael Woodiwiss show the construction of a US dominated global enforcement regime - through the interlinking concepts of drugs prohibition and organized crime. Because of the "limited and blame-shifting approach" to organized crime the US pioneered, it steered away from corporate criminal activities towards alien conspiracies of criminal organizations. This "dumbed down" version of organized crime became the model for the international community when it was ratified through the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and subsequently in the 2002 UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. It ignores the criminogenic aspects of the current neo-liberal globalisation process, as well as the security needs of developing countries, in particular the increasing urban crime problems in the booming shantytowns of the Third World.

Mike Levi assesses in his paper Controlling the International Money Trail. What Lessons Have Been Learned? the contradictions and incompleteness of the global governance of money laundering, believed to be one of the major measures to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. He points to the fact that anti-laundering controls since the mid-1980s have had very little impact on the actual outcomes such as the reduction of crime in general. The Anti-Money Laundering movement (AML) has been successful in transferring control policies, but is more concerned in evaluating the outputs instead of looking at the outcomes. Questions have been raised about the willingness (or possibility) of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to apply its consistent principles to more the powerful nations. There are indications that the tighter control of "off-shores" is aimed at generating a competitive advantage for the core FATF members. Since 9/11 the control of the international money trail is extended to lawful activities such as charities.

In her paper Fear-based Security. The Political Economy of Threat, Margaret Beare looks at the political management of fear after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, not only to enhance the global enforcement regime but also to create "windows of opportunities" to push for other policy objectives within the current neo-liberal globalisation process. Despite the unproven effectiveness of the various enforcement "wars" - on drugs, crime and terrorism - she notes an increasing tendency towards "governance through security" and the political, corporate and religious interests behind it. These interests in the US have incorporated 9/11 into their long term strategies and business and operational plans, she argues. She also notes how the concept of human security that looked to root causes and social solutions, fell victim to national security concepts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum shows in his paper A Critical Evaluation of the UN Counter-terrorism Program. Accomplishments and Challenges how the US concept of a "global war on terror" has become the dominant political paradigm and how this has diverted international counter-terrorism efforts towards coercive law enforcement approaches, just as the global efforts against drugs and transnational organized crime before. The focus is on denial and deterrence, with some attention to development, rather than the other D's - dissuasion and defence of human rights - as UN Secretary General Kofi Anan proposed as guidelines to counter terrorism. Consequently, the "demand side" of terrorism is ignored and the emphasis is on protection against terrorist attacks rather than preventive policies that ameliorate the grievances and conditions that give rise to terrorism.

In his paper The Exceptional and Draconian Become the Norm. The Emerging Counter-terrorism Regime, Tony Bunyan of Statewatch shows in great detail how international security measures are being shaped, in particular at the G8 level. He shows how through a tyranny of small decisions, a nightmare society could be made, to quote a quote from Margaret Beare's paper. Originally created to coordinate global economic policies by the major powers of the industrialized world, the G8 is increasingly used to harmonize international policies on drugs, money laundering, transnational organized crime and terrorism, while it fails to address the possible disastrous impact of the US war debt on the global economy. The G8 is a much more effective and exclusive vehicle for policy transfers than the cumbersome UN. In addition, the Northern industrialized G8 powers are not hindered by emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil.

Through its EU member states the G8 security recommendations are introduced at the EU level to harmonize the European security area. Consequently, the US has a remarkable weight on EU security policies in comparison to EU member states that are not part of the G8. Margaret Beare points to a similar harmonization process on security between the members of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA). The resources and national policies of Canada and Mexico are being held hostage under the US "security" umbrella. The militarisation of the US economy will not stop at the border if resources are deemed to be essential for and national policies contrary to US security interests, she warns.

The current security paradigm is increasingly being questioned. Many doubt whether it will be effective and point to the averse effects it might have on civil liberties, human rights and national sovereignty in the field of criminal justice. No one doubts that international cooperation is needed to address global security issues, but there is serious doubt on the effectiveness of the current construction of a global enforcement regime, as well as worries about the predominant role of the US in setting the agenda. The problem is not that there is a consensus that transnational security problems should be addressed on a transnational level. The problem is who is setting the agenda on how these transnational security policies are shaped. The US seems to be primarily concerned with safeguarding US national security at an international level instead of addressing global security needs, despite its rhetoric to the contrary.

Seminar report and papers