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GANGS AND OTHER TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS

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GANGS AND OTHER TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATIONS (TCOs) AS TRANSNATIONAL THREATS TO NATIONAL SECURITY AND SOVEREIGNTY Max G. Manwaring [email protected] A new kind of war is being waged in various parts of the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and everywhere else around the world today.1 Some of the main protagonists are those who have come to be designated as first-, second-, and third-generation street gangs, as well as the more traditional Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) such as Mafia families, Illegal Drug Traffickers, Warlords, Terrorists, Insurgents, etc. In this war, TCOs are not sending conventional military units across national borders or building an industrial capability in an attempt to “filch some province” from some country.2 These nonstate actors are more interested in commercial profit and controlling territory (i.e., turf) to allow maximum freedom of movement and action. That freedom within countries and across national frontiers ensures commercial market share and revenues, as well as secure bases for market expansion. That freedom of action also allows these criminal organizations to expand their activities from drug smuggling, to smuggling people, body parts, weapons, and cars; along with associated intimidation, murder, kidnapping, and robbery; money laundering; home and community invasion; and a host of other lucrative societal destabilization activities. What makes all of this into a new kind of war is that the national security and sovereignty of affected countries is being impinged every day, and TCO’s illicit commercial motives are, in fact, becoming an ominous political agenda.3 Thus, whether a gang or another TCO is specifically a criminal or insurgent type organization is irrelevant. The putative objective of all these illegal entities—the common denominator that links gangs and other TCOs-- is to control people, territory, and government, to ensure their own specific ends. That is a good working definition of insurgency, and a serious political agenda.42 Thus, rather than trying to depose a government in a major stroke (golpe or coup) or a prolonged revolutionary war, gangs and other TCOs more subtly take control of turf one street or neighborhood at a time (coup d’ street), or one individual, business, or government office at a time. At the same time, instead of directly confronting a national government, sophisticated and internationalized gangs and their TCO allies use a mix of complicity, indifference, corruption, and violent intimidation to quietly and indirectly co-opt and seize control of a state, a portion of a state, or controlling institutions of a state.5 This indirect and primarily political-psychological approach in contemporary unconventional conflict is not well understood. To help leaders and opinion makers come to grips analytically with the most salient strategic aspects that dominate contemporary asymmetric gang and TCO-related violence, we, first, clarify the conflict context within which the worldwide gang phenomenon and other TCOs operate. With this as background, we can begin to answer the fundamental “What, Who, and Why?” questions, and set out to understand the adversary, and the type of conflict and threat we face. Second, we briefly examine selected cases from Central America, the Caribbean, and South America that demonstrate how differing types of criminal activities contribute to the instabilities that lead to the erosion of nation-state sovereignty and the processes of state failure. With these cases as background, we can more fully answer the necessary “Who, What, and Why questions, and begin to deal with the “How?” question. Then, as part of this section of the paper, we can advance our understanding of the political-psychological and military-police factors that lead to strategic success or failure in contemporary unconventional war—that is, the outcome. The explanation of outcome will answer the “So what?” question. Third, on a positive note, we examine a seminal example of past counter-gang success. That discussion centers on the Italian government’s strategy that contributed to the failure of that country’s gang phenomenon, and the success of its counter-gang strategy. Finally, we conclude with a challenge to political and military leaders, and a succinct list of strategic-level tasks that can, if applied carefully and prudently, lead to success in contemporary irregular wars. All this is designed to lead to the broad3 strategic vision necessary to understand and win such a political-psychological kind of war—not only the battles, but the war itself. CONTEXT This challenge to rethink contemporary asymmetric conflict, as conducted by unconventional “irregular” non-state actors, takes us to the direct linkage between gangs, other TCOs, and insurgents. Although these various organizations may differ in terms of motives and modes of operation, each type of non-state actor must eventually seize political power to guarantee the freedom of action, as well as the ideological or commercial enrichment environments he wants. Additionally, the protean nature of the gang phenomenon, organized crime, and contemporary insurgency does not accommodate complete conformity to any prescribed definition. Thus, we maintain the position we took in 2005—that is, the common denominator that defines gangs and TCOs as mutations of insurgents is the irrevocable need to depose or control an incumbent government. As a consequence, the “Duck Analogy” applies. That is, when second and third-generation gangs and other TCOs look like ducks, walk like ducks, and act like ducks--although they may be a peculiar breed, they are, nevertheless, ducks!6 The Theoretical Conflict Terrain in Which Gangs and TCO Allies Operate Before examining the characteristics of the gang phenomenon, its links to transnational criminal organizations and insurgents, it is useful to sketch the basic outlines of the larger picture of the current conflict situation and the place of gangs and TCOs in it. First, Metz and Millen argue that four distinct but interrelated battle spaces exist in the contemporary security environment. They are: 1) traditional direct interstate war; 2) unconventional indirect non-state war; 3) unconventional intrastate war (which tends to involve direct vs. indirect conflict between state and non-state actors); and


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