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How Globalization aided trans-national criminal activities

Updated on October 21, 2010



Globalization and Criminal Activities

My Argument

I seek to argue that state institutions have not effectively managed trans-national criminal activities. Taking advantage of globalization forces, the criminal organizations have grown and thrived under the current world environment. State institutions have, on the other hand been bogged down by sovereignty issues and bureaucratic red tape. These criminal organizations have made better use of the globalization process than state institutions to promote their activities.


While international criminal gangs are not new to the scene, what is new is that these organizations have utilized trans-national networks and increased the speed and frequency of its operations. According to Mette Eilstrupp Sangiovanni, in her piece, ‘Trans National Networks and New Security Threats,’ Cambridge review of International Affairs, No. 18:1 (2005), this phenomenon has also increased its degree to challenge the authority of the state! These organizations, while based in one country, can plan, direct and organize criminal operations in other countries.

Globalization has become the dominant form of structure in thinking and practice since the early 1990’s. According to Jan Aart Scholte’s Globalization (Palgrave ,2000), globalization can be defined as ‘internationalization or cross border relations between countries as experienced through enlarged movements or mobility between countries of people, message and ideas or the process of removing government imposed restrictions in order to create an open, borderless world economy. Globalization has lead to interconnectivity through networks among the world’s populations and an increasing devolution of the state structure.

So how have trans-national criminal organizations challenge state’s institutions? In his book, ‘Seeing the Invisible (2007), Thomas Quiggin stated that trans-national criminal organizations used the rapid changes and advancement in technology, mobility of people and goods to cross borders through social networks while capitalizing on the lack of international cooperation between states and different legal frameworks between countries to successively undermine the states effort in curbing their illicit activities.

Technological Advancement

Technology is advancing to provide convenience to the end users but me must also realize that it is a double edged sword. While it can be used positively such as the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to pin-point one’s location, it can also be harnessed for criminal activities. Mobile hand phones have been used by criminals and terrorists alike to coordinate and plan their operations overseas. Internet technology has also enabled people to conduct business online and communicate with each other. Criminal gangs used it to conduct their illicit activities. The internet has been the medium used to solicit customers for drugs and child pornography. On 19 Nov 2003, a 24 year old Chinese female was arrested in Singapore after selling Ephedrine tablets over the Yahoo auction website. Ephedrine can be used as a chemical precursor in making controlled drugs.

While arrests of the drug trafficker mentioned above highlights the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies, the case mentioned is exceptional. As any observant criminology student will state, for every one that gets caught, many goes unnoticed and some goes un-reported. In an industry that is not keen on transparency the only data that is available is through government criminal press releases and seizures. Since there are too much unknown variables such as under-reporting, the figure released may not be an accurate reflection of the actual situation on the ground. The actual figure may never be known.

Child pornography receives its customers through the internet websites. Customers pay online to receive daily pictures or images of underage children in sexual activities. Web sites, personal blog sites, personal emails and even chat rooms on the internet have been used to disseminate child pornography. The legislation used to close some blog sites may not be applicable to servers based in another country. There are still active child pornography web sites.

Mobility of People and Goods through Social networks

Globalization has allowed an increase in the mobility of people and resources across borders in an ever increasing commerce industry. Globalization made air travel cheaper and has effectively made the world a smaller place. These trans-national organizations made use of this process to maximize their profits.

The Golden Triangle region of Burma, Thailand and Laos produced 65% of the world opium market worth about US $160 million. In Singapore the total seizure in 2006 of heroin was 6.1kg. In Alan Dupont’s, ‘Trans National Crime, Drugs and Security in East Asia,’ Asian Survey, No. 39:3 (2007), the number jumped to 17.2 kg. Drug seizures of cannabis, ‘ecstasy’ tablets and ‘Ice’ have also doubled in 2007. Most of these seizures occurred during the trans-shipment areas such as ports and immigration check points in Singapore. Not every cargo in container ships is checked and only until recently, not every vehicle entering Singapore is checked.

The migration of people from one country to another has also been utilized by the trans-national criminal organizations. While human trafficking and smuggling are the obvious activities, the legal migration of people in order to set up a social network is the basis of a more serious criminal activity. It is the most significant aspect in the criminal organization. Accordingly, trans-national network can be understood as a series of nodes that are connected through links of communication and/or exchange of resources. These cross border social networks acts as intermediaries or facilitates movements of resources just like a multi national corporation has branches all over the world. In a recent article in The Economist, the Camorra, a Naples based Mafia using its social networks around European ports, ‘eases un-inspected Chinese goods into Europe.’ The Mafia also ‘imports weapons from Eastern Europe and exports them to Basque guerillas.’ These social networks facilitate information and knowledge unhindered between social nodes. It focuses on flexibility and initiative. Unlike the older structure, it has a flatter and linear distribution of social nodes that allows maximum efficiency in decision making. Therefore, they can react quickly and flexibly to their environment, especially when the authorities are on to them. This dynamism allows them to be highly resilient. Even though one of the social networks is down, another network is able to facilitate the criminal operation.

Lack of International Cooperation

State institutions also played a crucial part although indirectly in ineffective management of trans-national crime. While there are many platforms within the United Nations and Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) on cooperating with regards to information and intelligence sharing to curb trans-national crime, the reality is that very little is done on the ground to facilitate this information sharing. While diplomatic missions are based internationally, very few law enforcement agencies par-take the same objective. For instance, some Police Force’s only has Police Attaches in regional areas or according to regional priority. Trans-national criminal groups such as Hells Angels motorcycle gang have social networks or ‘chapters’ throughout the world. There are chapters in the United States, Europe, Malaysia, Jakarta, Manila and even Singapore.

Countries such as Switzerland and Lichtenstein have tight financial regulation secrecy laws that disallow divulging of their client’s personal wealth to international law enforcement bodies. Organized crime favourably used this system to evade capture and assets being frozen by the authorities.

Legal Framework

The legal framework in every country differs. What may be legal or burden of proof in one country may not necessarily be so in another country. While drug traffickers in Singapore can be charged under the criminal conspiracy act, which requires little evidence or proof, the laws in the United States requires that much more evidence or proof of conspiracy. The burden of proof weighs differently in different countries. Trans-national criminal groups take advantage of the globalized world and base their operations in countries that have lax legal frameworks to conduct their operations.


Please do not get me wrong. I am not an anti-globalization crusader. However, I am oncerned that the the forces of globalization are being utilized for negative effects. Trans-national criminal organization has taken advantage of the globalization process to increase its speed, frequency and evade detection in their illicit activities. The state and its institutions who are bounded by sovereignty, bureaucracy ‘red-tape’ and the international system is unable to catch with up with this flow of dynamism that criminal organizations employ. In order to meet this challenge, the state needs to employ globalization forces to counter the threat of the trans-national criminal groups. In other words, use the exact same forces that the criminal gangs are using for law enforcement purposes. It has to demand greater international cooperation between states and a more ‘harmonized’ legislation and between these countries in eradicating trans-national crime. Until then, the international crime trend will look favourably to increase.


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