Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague
Date 31 January 2012
Re Request for advice on the nexus between crime, corruption and instability
Dear Mr Korthals Altes,
Transnational crime has a disruptive and destabilising impact on many countries and regions. Together with the Ministers of Security & Justice and Defence, we would therefore like to ask the AIV for an advisory report on ways of strengthening international cooperation on preventing and combating this phenomenon.
As a result of globalisation, organised crime has taken on a pronounced transnational character. The issue is closely linked in many countries to political corruption and to the illegal appropriation of countries’ natural wealth and mineral resources for the benefit of special interests. Global and local factors reinforce each other in this process. Transnational organised crime is spreading in the shadow of globalisation, sometimes visibly but more often invisibly, ‘like an assassin taking aim at global stability’.1 In combination with political corruption it is undermining or hampering the growth of state structures and public agencies, resulting in far-reaching destabilisation in some regions. This makes transnational crime a complex problem whose solution demands close international cooperation and an integrated approach.
In his book Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy, Moisés Naím discusses an ‘explosion’ of illicit trade. Factors such as globalisation, new technologies and national governments’ limited oversight of transnational networks, Naím writes, have given illegal activities a whole new dimension.
The EU Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA) issued annually by Europol gives a clear picture of the reality of organised crime in Europe.
A global overview can be found in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment, which examines 16 forms of crime. In terms of value flows and degree of organisation, drug trafficking is the most extensive form of transnational crime. The report makes clear that the problem encompasses multiple other forms of illegal activity, however, ranging from environmental crime and trafficking in endangered species to the production of a great variety of counterfeit products.
The report shows that illegal goods and services find their way to rich destination countries by being intermingled with legal trade. It concludes that law enforcement, while important, is not sufficient: for every criminal gang that is eliminated another one is there to take its place. The solution must be sought in a broader international strategy focused on combating trafficking flows as a whole, disrupting illegal markets and strengthening the rule of law.
The last chapter of the UNODC report is devoted to ‘regions under stress’: regions where conflicts, transitions and crime form a dangerous combination with far-reaching disruptive consequences that can create failed states. A recent study by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’, entitled ‘Building Resilience to Transnational Organised Crime in Fragile States’, points to a vicious circle in which fragile states risk being caught. Even in developing and transition countries that would not usually be characterised as fragile or failing, corruption and crime undermine the proper functioning of state institutions. Politics can in such conditions be entangled with organised crime to varying degrees.
In his book The World of Crime: Breaking the Silence on Problems of Security, Justice and Development across the World, Professor Jan van Dijk highlights the far-reaching consequences of political corruption and crime for governance structures and development potential in weak and fragile states. Van Dijk states that without a properly functioning justice system, government and society are helpless in the face of mushrooming crime. He therefore advocates devoting considerable attention in development strategies to building and strengthening the rule of law. Specifically, he favours the establishment of specialised, well equipped anti-mafia and anti-corruption units.
Many of the countries in question also face the problem of ‘resource capture’, in which private if not criminal interests gain control of mineral and other natural wealth that should benefit the country’s entire population. Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University discusses this at length in a book with the revealing title The Plundered Planet.
These are all serious obstacles to reducing poverty or achieving other major development objectives such as good governance, human rights and environmental preservation.
Consequences for the Netherlands
In a world where distances are shrinking and borders are losing their significance, these developments affect Dutch society in palpable ways, both in the European part of the Netherlands and in the wider Kingdom. The effects could be felt even more strongly in the future if the downward spiral of instability and crime continues. With its open economy, the Netherlands is highly dependent on a stable, orderly international environment. This applies equally to the Kingdom’s Caribbean countries, located in a vulnerable region crisscrossed by drug trafficking routes from South to North America and to Europe in particular.
As set out in the coalition agreement, the government is working to tackle crime more directly and effectively. Many criminal organisations operate transnationally, in part to stay outside the radar of national authorities. This makes international cooperation essential in combating crime.
This includes cooperation within the European Union. The EU is increasingly becoming a common judicial area with free movement of persons, goods and services and with common legislation. This increasingly necessitates a common approach to crime within Europe. The Justice and Home Affairs Council, in which the Netherlands is represented by the Ministers for Immigration, Integration & Asylum Policy (on behalf of the Minister of the Interior) and of Security & Justice, is responsible for this common approach. The EU is also working to strengthen controls at its common external borders; the agency Frontex was established for this purpose. Moreover, special attention is being paid to the Union’s neighbouring countries.
In his speech to the Ambassadors’ Conference on 17 January 2011, the Minister of Security and Justice stressed the importance of capacity building in the countries where transnational crime affecting the Netherlands originates. He called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to step up diplomatic and financial efforts to this end.2
In criminal investigations and international cooperation, the Public Prosecution Service plays the lead role, while the Minister of Security and Justice sets the main policy priorities. Other ministries and agencies can also be involved in such activities, and their interests and functioning can be affected. The complex and far-flung nature of transnational crime means that the issue relates, directly or indirectly, to many different ministries’ policy areas. It therefore calls for a comprehensive approach, with the different ministries and other government bodies reinforcing and complementing each other’s efforts and policy. Law enforcement agencies, too, regularly deal with the international dimension of crime: mainly the Public Prosecution Service and police, but also specialised investigative agencies like the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD), the Social Security Intelligence and Investigation Service (SIOD) and the VROM Intelligence and Investigation Service (VROM-IOD). By the very nature of its work, the Royal Military and Border Police deals with foreign countries as it monitors the Netherlands’ borders and, via Frontex, the EU’s external borders, combating such crimes as passport and visa fraud, people smuggling and drug trafficking.
The armed forces also play a major role in combating various forms of transnational organised crime. The coalition agreement calls the military ‘a full partner in the fight against drugs, terrorism, illegal immigration and piracy’. For example, the armed forces have been deployed at sea to combat drug trafficking in the Caribbean and have supported the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ Caribbean Coastguard, in both cases under the authority of the criminal justice system. The armed forces also contribute to global security, for example in counter-piracy operations off the Somali coast and through Frontex.
During stabilisation missions, the most rapid possible restoration of law and order is a crucial objective, so as to prevent the emergence of a power vacuum that criminal gangs could exploit. The lesson of past stabilisation operations is that creating a safe environment for ordinary people is vital to an operation’s success. Establishing a properly functioning police force is thus a key aspect of reconstruction.
Against this background, the government would request that the AIV address the following questions.
- How does the AIV assess these problems of organised crime, corruption and instability? What Dutch and European interests are at stake? What should we focus on? How could international efforts to prevent and combat transnational crime be strengthened, especially in unstable regions, using an integrated approach? What preventive and flanking measures would most effectively complement a criminal justice approach? How can illegal markets be disrupted, as the UNODC suggests, and how can the Netherlands help develop international strategies and initiatives?
- What is the best way to help developing countries resist the destabilising effects of the interlinked problems of crime, corruption and illegal appropriation of natural wealth? How could building the police and justice system, as well as promoting the rule of law more broadly, be better integrated into national and international development programmes?
- How can the Netherlands use a comprehensive approach to make the best possible contribution in this field? In what ways could the different ministries strengthen each other’s efforts, and how could their different programmes be most effectively integrated into a policy to combat transnational organised crime in transition and developing countries, particularly in countries from which crime spreads to the Netherlands? How can the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ financial instruments be optimally employed for this purpose? In the light of the quote from the coalition agreement cited above, how does the AIV view the role of the armed forces in the fight against transnational organised crime?
We look forward to receiving your report.
Uri Rosenthal Ben Knapen
Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation
- Speech on security policy by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Breda on 24 May 2011.
- Speech by the Minister of Security and Justice on capacity building in the field of police and criminal justice, Ambassadors’ Conference, 17 January 2011, and report of the discussion.