Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review: Crime-Terror Alliances and the State

Mincheva, Lyubov Grigorova and Ted Robert Gurr. 2013. Crime-Terror Alliances and the State: Ethnonationalist and Islamist Challenges to Regional Security. New York: Routledge.

Mincheva and Gurr’s work, Crime-Terror Alliances and the State explores a previously lightly examined subject: how and when criminal organizations establish alliances with terrorist groups, and how these alliances affect the state. Of particular concern to my research is the movement of terrorist organizations into human trafficking. While the trafficking literature is in broad agreement regarding the certainty of the complicity of criminal organizations in human trafficking, there is disagreement and uncertainty as to the level of collusion between criminal organizations and terrorist groups, and whether terrorist groups are even involved in human trafficking. Mincheva and Gurr argue in this work that “human trafficking… is a significant source of income for both militants and criminal networks.” Pragmatically, such activities make sense, “militant political movements require resources for arms, logistics, and sustenance and shelter for militants. Consequently they frequently engage in criminal activity to finance their activities, relying on robbery, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and trafficking in drugs and humans.” Moreover, “criminal and armed organizations… have discovered and used the wide range of opportunities to share the international/global economic and financial infrastructure.”

                The authors conducted a case study analysis in 2013 that observed “the dynamics of trans-border alliances in which political violence is joined to criminal enterprise”, focusing on criminal groups in Kosovo, Kurdish nationalists, militant Islam in the Bosnian civil war, the Algerian revolutionary war, Serbia in the 1990s, and post-communist Bulgaria. By building on the Minorities at Risk project, which “monitors the status of 283 minority groups across the globe and focuses specifically on groups that suffer collective discrimination and have the capacity for collective action in defense of their self-interests”, they are able to identify areas that are at high risk of fostering criminal-terror alliances.

The alliances that are created between criminal organizations and terrorists are facilitated by the environment they operate in. “State weakness provides… low risks and high opportunities” for both criminals and insurgents. The ungoverned spaces of failed states open up a “hospitable environment” for these groups. The authors describe how ungoverned spaces in Algeria, Bosnia, Turkey, and Kosovo have allowed criminal enterprises and terrorist groups to operate and expand with little interference from authorities. Criminalized states, where the state has become a “thinly disguised protection racket whose leaders use power to pursue their private interests” make collusion easy between officials, criminals and terrorist groups. A prime example used by the authors was Serbia in the 1990s and post-Communist Bulgaria, where state officials would align with both criminals and militants to pursue both political and ethno-national objectives, and criminal and predatory goals based mainly on profit.

Ultimately, the authors conclude “that trans-border ethno national and religious identity groups provide the basis for militant organizations that use insurgency and terrorism for political objectives.” Militant networks will seek out or establish their own criminal enterprises in order to gain access to funds and weapons. The authors refer to these trans-border networks as “unholy alliances”. These networks are used to gain access to additional economic and political resources. The ethnic or religious nature of such alliances allow them to target and exploit sympathetic officials wherever local communal networks extend. This can result in state agencies playing a major role in “sponsoring and facilitating these networks and in turn profit from them.”

Based on their research, Mincheva and Gurr create a typology of terrorist and criminal collaboration. They classify types of cooperation into four categories (ideological, pragmatic, predatory, and opportunistic-interdependent) based on the goals and methods used by the organization to pursue those goals. The first, ideological, is characterized by militants keeping their ideological objectives foremost, and continuing to focus on instigating political change. In order to fund their political agenda, they do conduct illicit economic activities, but profit does not become their main objective. The Provisional IRA is an example. The second, pragmatic, is characterized by terrorist-criminal cooperation leading to a “pragmatic shift” in the militant group’s agenda. Their political goals are not entirely abandoned; however, the focus on material gain begins to take primacy. FARC – the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – is an example. The third, predatory, is characterized by the terrorist organization’s agenda shifting completely away from its previous political objectives and instead focusing entirely on material gain. The authors describe these groups as “social bandits”, who generally manifest themselves as “marginalized rural groups for whom banditry displaced explicit political objectives.” A prime example is the Sicilian Mafia. The last category is the opportunistic-interdependent. This pattern of collaboration is focused on opportunism, neither political goals nor material gain take primacy, but are pursued relatively equally. Such organizations shift from one goal to the other easily and quickly adapt to changing circumstances. The authors refer to such groups as “political-criminal hybrids”. These collaborative endeavors are distinctive from the others by the pursuit of both political and criminal objectives at once. A good example are the various hybrid groups that have operated in the Balkans.

                Mincheva and Gurr’s work focuses primarily on the characteristics of the “opportunistic interdependent” phenomenon, which they claim is “engendered by trans-border (trans-state) identity movements that provide networks for collaboration between trans-state terrorists and organized crime.” These movements “straddle interstate boundaries and make renewed claims for ethno-national liberation at times of nation-state building or boundary adjustments.” Their research found several factors that make “alliances” between terrorist and criminal organizations more likely: “the existence of trans-state nationalist, ethnic and religious movements”; “the occurrence of armed conflict, which provides incentives and opportunities for interdependence”; and “the constraints that facilitate or impede complex transnational exchanges of illegal commodities, exchanges that frequently involve third and fourth party intermediaries and corruptible internal security forces.”

                Crime-Terror Alliances and the State is a relatively distinct work given its attempt to systematically describe, characterize, and exemplify collaboration between terrorist organizations and criminal networks. Few other works have addressed this phenomena. Given its uniqueness, it is difficult to compare it. However, this reveals the need for additional research in this field, and Mincheva and Gurr have taken a big step in establishing a typology that future research can build and improve upon. Overall, the work is straightforward and effectively helps the reader understand their argument by applying it to several examples. It has already been a very useful work for me by providing a framework to apply to terrorist and criminal involvement in Central Asia, and would be useful to anyone attempting to analyze criminal-terrorist collaboration in regions across the globe. Hopefully, others will step in and continue to build this research agenda by applying this work to other areas, and progressively improve it.


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