Keeping the Enemy Closer

You’re in the middle of your Godfather marathon when suddenly, your attention is diverted to your shadow. You find yourself getting sucked into a portal that takes you into the anti-world. It’s a lot like the world we live in – except the economy is the black market, a normal job involves stealing, murder and violence; and actors that form the foundation of the system are institutions of organized crime. Such a world has existed in parallel to our conventional political system for centuries!

I’ve always thought that the relationship between the two worlds is like a Star Wars franchise, where there is a clearly defined good and evil. In reality, though, their relationship mirrors more of a Dark Knight dynamic. In other words, the trend today suggests that the lines between conventional politics and organized crime are blurred.

I don’t like violence, Tom, I’m a businessman

While there isn’t a set definition for the term, organized crime is essentially a network of enterprises set up for the purpose of engaging in activities such as drugs, prostitution, loan sharking etc. They may be illegal, but have continued to have a large public demand only since the birth of any form of political order.  Especially today, with the emergence of sophisticated technological advancements, these syndicates are challenging conventional concepts such as rule of law, power and order.

And its not as if states haven’t identified the issue. Indeed, recent research from the United Nations University shows that wherever there is armed conflict, there are usually links to organized crime. Why, then, does this continue to exist? The short answer is that it’s trickier than you think.

It should be clear that organized crime poses as a threat to peace and security globally. The problem, though,  is that organized crime networks are intertwined with the global economy. The fact that some of the world’s top criminal organizations currently generate more revenue than select nation states is astounding!

Fortune’s list of the top five organized crime groups estimates the “Solntsevskaya Bratva” (Russian mafia) creating a revenue of $8.5 billion and “Yamaguchi Gumi” (aka the Yakuza from Japan) a revenue of $6.6 billion in a year. This massive revenue is then laundered into legal businesses that pay taxes which – in the larger scheme of things – contribute to the country’s economy.

Like it or not, sometimes organised crime groups tend to complement states by getting their hands dirty for activities that “white knight” governments can’t acceptably do. That extends to trafficking drugs and arms, assassinations, extortion, money laundering, and strategic offshore investment — including in foreign politicians. Consequently,  there is oftentimes a tendency for organized crime groups and governments to scratch each other’s backs.  

Rise of the Mafia State?

The elephant in the room needs to be addressed. The current president of the most powerful country in the world is under investigation for collusion with the Russian mob during the election campaign. Journalist Craig Unger, in his House of Trump, House of Putin goes in detail to illustrate that Trump’s ties with Russian organized crime isn’t new and has a 30 year history. This is a watershed case to highlight that the relationship between the Russian government and its mob is symbiotic.

But this game has had many players. For instance, the release of previously confidential U.S. government materials on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy seem to confirm that the CIA worked with the American mafia to try to assassinate Fidel Castro. It’s sort of like a priest hiring a consulting firm to engage in blasphemy on his behalf.

It’s a no-brainer, then, that the sins of organised crime can’t be put to justice overnight. But what does the crystal ball say?

Leave the gun, take the Cannoli

The UN University predicts that collusion between political and criminal actors will only increase in the future, playing an even bigger role in national and global governance over the next three decades.

This is unsurprising, for the betting man would double down after seeing trends such as the migration crisis today, where government policies leave loopholes for the illegal transport of refugees. Additionally, economic and political vulnerability has always been good for business which can exploited more efficiently today in a world of globalization. However, a growth in anti-state activities would lead to the growth of the state executive. The car wash scandal- possibly the biggest corruption scandal in history shows that at some point, complex networks can be dissolved.

This compels me to disagree with the romanticized notion that the mafia and the state would be interchangeable concepts in the future. Institutions of organized crime are agents of the anti-state, i.e. the potential of their power is determined by the state as a point of reference. Thus, even with the imminent growth of organized crime in the future, there’s always going to be an equilibrium between the conventional world and the anti-world.

 

By Nikhil Gupta

Photo Credits:

Crime Hmm, Tobyas Reaper– CC BY 2.0

Putin is coming, Yuri Akopov– CC BY NC-2.0

Gun, hands back, weapon, Skitterphoto

Agent Dangerous, Open Clipart-Vectors