Crime and criminals have always crossed national borders and hence the notion of transnational crime is far from a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is the intense official concern it has generated. Such organized crime has traditionally been seen as a domestic law-and-order problem. Over the past two decades however, crime has taken on new international and technological dimensions as elicited by the effects of globalisation. It is that the dispersion of technology and global mobility permit it to threaten the stability of nation states.
In short, what was formerly a criminological challenge has become a national security threat. This essay aims to explore how official and unofficial sources define transnational crime and the way these definitions influence the way it is dealt with. Through the use of examples such as drug trafficking and cyber crime, the ways in which international and national authorities respond to transnational crime will thus be highlighted. The notion of globalisation is inherent to understanding why and how transnational crime is suddenly such a pressing issue on national and international agendas.
The dynamics of globalisation have led to the rapid execution of transactions and the more efficient movement of people and goods across national borders (Passas 1998). It can be argued that just as transnational legitimate enterprises and operations have increased, illegal ones have too. Globalisation is said to effect crime as it helps strengthen the demand for illegal goods and services and generates incentives for particular actors to engage in illegal practices. Globalisation is said to also contribute to the reducing of the ability of authorities to control such activities.
Thus as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and interdependent, the nation-states seem to be losing more of the sovereignty and autonomy as formal control systems are weakened and diluted (Jessop 2004). The term transnational crime was developed by the UN Crime and Criminal Justice Branch in 1974 to guide discussion at a UN crime conference. In 1995, the UN developed the following official definition, “Offences whose inception, prevention and/or direct effect or indirect effects involved more than one country” (United Nations, 1995). This definition is generous and road so as to ensure that many different forms of crime can be classified as transnational. This definition however doesn’t specify whether transnational crime is an external or internal issue, but rather alludes to it being a matter for both. Some academics distinguish between international crime and transnational crime. International crimes are those prohibited by international law, including treaties and custom (for example, piracy and war crimes) (Bassiouni 1983). Transnational crimes on the other hand are often regarded as those acts which are criminalised by the laws of more than one country (Bossard 1990).
This would make it a matter for internal authorities to deal with it seeing as it is criminalised locally. Passas (1998) defines crime as ‘misconduct that entails avoidable and unnecessary harm to society, which is serious enough to warrant state intervention and similar to other kinds of acts criminalised in the countries concerned’. Crime becomes transnational, Passas elaborates, when offenders or victims are located in, or operate through, more than one country. In a workshop initiated by members of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) held in 1998, different academics gathered together to discuss the issues of transnational crime.
They arrived at the definition that transnational crime involves “acts that are offences in one state that involve actions or actors in another state, requiring more than a single opportunistic transaction between individuals” (Reuter & Petrie 1999, p8). The first part of this definition neglects the question of whether both jurisdictions criminalise the same activities, and the second part makes the distinction between transnational organised crime and the broader phenomenon of transnational crime.
Until recently, state law enforcement generally paid insufficient attention to such multi-country challenges in favour of addressing locally recognised priorities (Brown 2008). However, the threats from transnational crime can no longer be so easily cast aside (Shelley 2006). Governments and national authorities are working to remedy this past failure to engage properly against international criminality by backing a growing array of international initiatives and frameworks (Scherrer 2009). But the task is far from simple.
The diversity of crimes, criminal justice systems and policing doctrines means that it is impossible to find one solution to fit every set of circumstances. It also means that a solution found in one part of the world may not fit comfortably with that used in another. Governments have sovereign or exclusive power within their own borders yet virtually none elsewhere (Nadelmann cited in Reuter & Petrie, p. 29). Countries affected by these crimes differ in their political, social, economic and legal culture and such differences generate friction for the police.
Their law enforcement powers are severely restricted when a criminal investigation crosses the border and their investigative efforts are complicated by a lack of understanding of political and legal structures and language (Reuter & Petrie 1999). A natural consequence to the fact that each country differs in its political, legal and social agendas means that they ways in which they deal with transnational crime will vary. In the US, the federal government has increasingly taken ownership over the issue of TNC for the following several reasons.
Foremost, the cultural, political, legal and language differences among different nations can be handled only at the federal level. State and local governments lack the authority to enter into treaties and the requisite knowledge of international law to deal with these issues on their own. They must relinquish jurisdiction to the federal government in matters of national security. And the resources, expertise and personnel required to investigate and prosecute organizationally and technologically complex cases reside at the federal rather than the state and local levels (Reuter & Petrie 1999).
McCulloch (2007) maintains the dissenting view that the divide between state and national authorities is not so clear-cut. McCulloch acknowledges that in liberal democracies such as Australia, the UK and the US, the national border has served as a dividing line between the police who deal with internal crime and military forces who deal with external enemies and threats (Hocking as cited in McCulloch 2007). However the increase in concern over transnational crime in the past two decades has led to an “incremental and progressive blending of military and policing functions” (McCulloch 2007, p 20).
Despite this merging of the border between the two spheres, there is a tendency within criminology to think in terms of either national security or criminal justice. The response from the US and other countries like Australia is loud and clear, as McCulloch (2007) asserts, that it is not either or but rather an increasingly indistinguishable and intermeshed combination of both. National security and criminal justice are increasingly blended in hybrid military and policing responses. The development of transnational police cooperation is an increasingly common response strategy to transnational crime (Reuter & Petrie 1999). The International Criminal Police Organization, otherwise known as Interpol has been guided by the principle of enhancing ways in which member countries’ police services can co-operate across borders irrespective of their national policing or criminal justice systems (Brown 2008). Interpol, now with a membership of 188 countries, is the only structure that enables law enforcement agencies from across the whole world to collaborate bilaterally or multilaterally using a single platform (Interpol 2009).
The illegal drug trade is not only a primary example of transnational crime but also highlights the blended national and international initiatives taken in response to it. Illegal drugs are a global US$400 billion industry supported by tens of millions of hard-core consumers (Press 2001). The United States spends $17 billion on combating the war on drugs which claims 16,000 lives per year (National Drug Control Strategy 2009). In Australia, 1000 lives a claimed per year (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2009).
Drug abuse and the problems associated with it continue to grow in most parts of the world. The global abuse of drugs and the drug trafficking situation is becoming more complex, in part due to political and economic changes around the world which have led to increasingly open borders between many countries (Interpol 2009). Additionally, drug trafficking is frequently linked to other serious crimes such as people smuggling and organized prostitution. For these reasons, drug trafficking embodies what it is to be considered a transnational crime.
Not only does its execution require the crossing of borders, but the consequences, both indirect and direct, affect more than one country. Due to the severity of drug trafficking, both international and national agencies are required to combat it. Interpol’s primary drug-control role is to identify new drug trafficking trends and criminal organizations operating at the international level and to assist all national and international law enforcement bodies concerned with countering the illicit trade of illegal substances (Interpol 2009). Interpol is not the only international initiative designed to combat the drug trade.
The last 80 years has seen the development of a worldwide system for control of drugs of abuse through the adoption of a series of international treaties. The important multilateral conventions currently in force, as set up by the UN, and to which Australia is a party, are the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 (1961 Convention), as amended by the 1972 Protocol; the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 (1971 Convention); and the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988 Convention) (UNODC 2009).
United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is another important global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime. The UNODC is founded by its principle work in research to increase knowledge and understanding of drug and crime issues. The UNODC is also heavily involved in assisting States in the ratification and implementation of the relevant international treaties and the development of domestic legislation on drugs and crime (UNODC 2009). Additionally, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is the independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the
United Nations international drug control conventions. The primary role of the INCB is to regulate the manufacturing of licit drugs for the purpose of medical and scientific uses and to ensure the prevention of its diversion into the illicit drug trafficking world (INCB 2010). The INCB maintains that lasting progress in the fight against drug trafficking depends on the strong commitment of Governments to prioritise the drug issue and allocate it sufficient resources. To achieve maximum impact, all such national endeavours must be coordinated at both regional and worldwide levels.
In Australia, we see a strong domestic commitment to the fight against the illegal drug trade world. The National Illicit Drug Strategy “Tough on drugs” was launched in November 1997 and is based on a harm minimisation approach which refers to policies and programs aimed at reducing drug-related harm (Burton 2004). Australia’s National Drug Strategy involves a balance between demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction, and includes a renewed emphasis on prevention. The national response to the drug problem is an integrated one, involving law enforcement, health, prevention, education and treatment services (AFP 2009).
The AFP has the lead role for the Australian Government relating to the detection and prosecution of persons who attempt to import or export border controlled drugs into Australia. Effective border control through the AFP’s collaboration with domestic partner agencies such as the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS), state and territory police and the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) is the primary line of defence for combating drug importation into Australia (AFP 2009). It is clear that the response to drug trafficking is taken seriously on both the national and international level.
On one hand there are the international agencies which act as conduits for circulating information relating to drug trafficking as well as ensuring the proper implementation of treaties and legislation. On the other hand, there are the national law enforcements, who work parallel with international guidelines in helping combat this serious crime specifically within their borders. Only such a collaborative effort as this is likely to be effective in tackling this case of transnational crime. An additional example which satisfies the definition of transnational crime is cybercrime.
This involves the use of the internet and computers as a means to commit crime (Cybercrime Act 2001). Cybercrime falls well within the definition of transnational crime as it is inherently transnational by nature. This is facilitated by the effects of globalisation, whereby communication across borders is made simply and efficiently through the internet. Ranging from crimes that are specific to computers or crimes that use computers as a means of execution, cybercrime takes form in hacking, copyright, infringement, child pornography and child grooming (Grabosky 2006).
As cybercrime is something that can so easily and quickly affect people anywhere in the world, it cannot be dealt with on just an international scale, or just a national scale. The UNODC, being the only global intergovernmental body working in crime prevention, is dedicated to assisting Member States in legislative drafting for cybercrime. Additionally, the UNODC aims to build operational and institutional capacity of law enforcement and judicial bodies in relation to investigation and prosecution of cybercrime as well as to improve international cooperation between law enforcement authorities (UNODC 2010).
On a more local level, Australia has specific legislation in regard to the matter of cybercrime. The Cybercrime Act 2001 legislates against the use of computers as a means to carry out crime. Further, the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) is an agency dedicated to strategic intelligence support and crime prevention and education. The role of the AHTCC is to provide a nationally coordinated approach to combating serious technology enabled crimes, especially those beyond the capability of single jurisdictions (AHTCC 2008).
The Australian Federal Police Child Protection Investigations performs an investigative and coordinated role within Australia for multijurisdictional and international online child sex exploitation matter (AFP 2009). In particular, investigations focus on Internet sites carrying this sort of material operating within Australia. Any similar sites outside of Australia are referred to overseas law enforcement agencies (AHTCC 2008). The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has undertaken extensive research into various forms of crime relating to the use of electronic communications and computing systems.
The AIC’s work in this area has received international recognition with researchers being invited to advise various government agencies in different countries around the world on electronic crime and its control (AIC 2009). The recent improvement in technology has enabled adults with a perverted interest in children to use the internet as a means to establish contact with children and groom potential victims for sexual abuse. Known as child grooming, this is just one form of cybercrime that is on the rise in Australia and the rest of the world and is the subject of the latest research of the AIC.
This crime can involve criminals whose actions in one location can seriously affect others in another, and hence it becomes a transnational criminal matter. In the US Youth Internet Safety Survey conducted in 2006, the 1,500 young people aged between 10 and 17 years reported frequent exposure to unwanted sexual material, sexual solicitations and harassment online (Wolak, Mitchell & Finkelhor 2006). In Australia, Griffith and Roth (2007) reported that there have been over 130 completed prosecutions for online procuring, grooming and exposure offences to date.
Fighting online child exploitation is clearly a multidimensional challenge that requires effective coordination and collaboration on the part of a wide range of government and private-sector entities. For this reason, a multidimensional response to combat online child grooming is best implemented. This approach focuses on effective coordination and collaborative activities among governments, law enforcement agencies, professionals such as teachers and health workers, and other private organisations (Choo 2009).
With the effects of globalization reaching the criminal world, the national and international community is faced with the now highly prevalent challenge of transnational crime. This essay has outlined the several definitions, both official and academic, for this not exactly new but rather more obvious phenomenon of transnational crime. Despite differences in the definitions provided, the underlying common denominator amongst them all is that transnational crime is not something that can be fought alone. A collaborative effort between the international and national authorities is the only viable way to truly tackle transnational crime.
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