War on Crime: Militarised Responses to Organised Crime

War on Crime coverTackling organised crime is hard, perhaps one of the most complicated challenge for states in the evolving global order. Both within and outside of their territories, it requires a coordinated approach across multiple areas of government responsibility. And it also often involves the military. But the use of military assets in the fight against organised crime – and the process in which a choice is made to use the military over other options – is surprisingly undocumented and under analysed.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to explore this and other related questions in the volume I edited with colleagues, Sasha Jesperson and Lucia Bird Ruiz-Benitez de Lugo ‘Militarised Responses to Transnational Organised Crime: The War on Crime’, published by Palgrave in October 2017, which seeks to provide a cross-sectoral look at the use of military assets as a response to organised crime.

The book examines case studies from four distinct sectors of the criminal markets: wildlife crime, maritime piracy, human smuggling, drug trafficking. Across 2016, the GI and RUSI held a number of workshops, based in Geneva and London, which brought together a multitude of experts in each of the distinct sectors to share approaches and experiences. Following this, fourteen authors drawn from private sector, civil society practitioners, academics and the multilateral system contributed to this volume, each an expert in their field and contributing a different perspective.

Taken as a whole they piece together a compelling narrative regarding the triggers of militarisation, together with the benefits and risks of such responses, leading towards a deeper appreciation of the rightful role of the military as an element of a wider, development-led integrated response. Case studies selected by the authors throw into sharp relief the disastrous consequences of prolonged military intervention, from spiralling casualty figures across Latin America in the ‘war on drugs’, to the proliferation of weapons across East Africa as a direct result of militarised efforts to counter elephant and rhinoceros poaching. It studies unintended consequences that should have been identified prior to implementing interventions.

Two current examples highlight how it can be easy to conflate militarised style responses (think of the shooting of drug dealers in the Philippines) in some places with the deployment of military forces in others (the deployment of warships in the fight against human smuggling in the Mediterranean). While there are interconnections between militarisation and the use of the military, these are issues that deserve a separate examination in their own right, and with far greater nuance to the distinctions.  What is common between militarised responses and the deployment of military style assets, however, is political rhetoric that situates that process as a “war on crime”. A detailed examination of an array of such cases suggests that the political rhetoric that accompanies the deployment of military assets in a crime-fighting role may be as, if not more, damaging in the longer term then the militarised response itself.

The authors explore different manifestations of militarisation – from one end of the spectrum, where the military itself leads a ‘boots on the ground’ or ships on the sea operation, to the other where the military plays a supporting role, applying its resources and training to bolster law enforcement. Between these extremes lie the plethora of cases where law enforcement or other bodies, such as wildlife protection agencies, are armed and increasingly trained in military methods, effectively creating paramilitary forces. All fall within the broad classification of ‘militarised responses’ for the purposes of the volume, allowing the authors to explore not only the rightful role of the military, but to delve deeply into the types of tactics and strategies which prove effective in countering organised crime, regardless of the title of the organisation wielding them. This leads to an understanding of militarisation as a series of actions along a corresponding spectrum of actions, typically starting with blustery war talk and concluding in significant collateral damage. Integrated responses, where a militarised response is merely one component of a comprehensive strategy, are notable exceptions to this chain of events.

This volume looks to take a closer look at the lessons that should be learned from these case studies, drawing links between disparate sectors which rarely cooperate, encouraging a holistic response to organised crime networks. In crafting such holistic responses, the volume explores the most appropriate role for the military to play, which organised crime landscapes can benefit from military intervention as part of a comprehensive approach, and which contexts render military involvement inappropriate and indeed damaging.

To read the main conclusions of the work, download the policy brief: Policy Note War on Crime

You can purchase the book on Palgrave’s website:  Militarised Responses to Transnational Organised Crime: War on Crime and if you order before the end of 2017, take advantage of this 20% discount by entering the code: PM17TWENTY or see the War on Crime Product Flyer (discount).





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