Assessing Strategy and Organized Crime

Juan Manuel Perez has served in the Guatemalan Army. He presently is retired. Throughout his military career, he took various military training courses as part of his professionalization including Strategic High Studies, War College, Command and Staff College, Human Rights, and Peacekeeping Operations. He can be found on Twitter @r_juanmanuel. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing Strategy and Organized Crime

Date Originally Written:  September 15, 2021. 

Date Originally Published:  February 7, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is a retired military member. He believes the deep understanding of strategic theory helps people educate and discipline their thinking to align ends, ways, and means to protect national interests. 

Summary:  Organized crime organizations have stablished a global criminal system.  This influence and power wielded by this system has allowed them to damage the geopolitics, economic, social, and security situation in many countries. The deep understanding of both the threats posed by organized crime organizations, and the capabilities and limitations of strategy, will assure effectiveness when fighting these criminal organizations.

Text:  Illicit money is serious and appealing to criminals. Criminal activities pursuing illicit money progressively scale into criminal networks.  Drug trafficking also enables a criminal modality, establishing the core of organized groups where gangs, maras, and mafias play a starring role. 

The tracking and detection of illegal money into legal economies is a challenge.  Governments struggle to disrupt and cut off illicit capital flows.  This evil advances and progresses between a legal and illegal economy, resulting in a large-scale global network with geopolitical and geostrategic repercussions.  These criminal networks embedded into the financial system become practically undetectable, using technology, artificial intelligence, big data, social media, modern transportation, etc. to conceal and protect their activities[1].   

Criminal networks use geography to their advantage.  Robert D. Kaplan, in his book “The Revenge of Geography[2]” wrote about what the maps predict regarding coming conflicts and the battle against fate. In this sense, the mafia uses geography when it moves illicit shipments, controls multiple regions, zones, and places. The mafia’s global effect and quick process of replacement allow criminal partners to generate new routes and maps, and increase their criminal activity, including the movement and sale of illegal drugs.

The flow of illegal drugs is and will continue to be a critical social problem.  The use of drugs fuels the traffic of them leaving death and violence in its path.  American researchers Edwin Stier and Peter Richards write widely and rigorously about organized crime and point out its evolution in three fields of action.  Stier and Richards make an analogy of biological functions of living beings, where they describe the structural causes and reasons of gestation and development[3]. 

The first phase:  called the predatory phase, is the beginning and characterized by territorial reaffirmation of criminal groups that spread their power through violence, trying to defend their organizations, eliminate rivals, and gaining physical space and to hold their private monopoly on the use of force.  

The second phase:  called the parasitic phase, sees organized crime gain notable economic and political influence combined with a powerful capacity to corrupt public and private organizations.

The third phase:  called the symbiotic phase, is the final state and sees the political and economic system becoming so dependent on the parasite (the organized crime organization) that it expands its activity to satisfy the parasites needs.

Stier and Richards’ analogy symbolizes, in many ways, the features of Hydra, the fresh-water organisms, with many heads and the ability to regrow its tentacles when maimed. 

While Colin S. Gray, one of the great strategic thinkers of his age wrote: ‘’Strategy has a complex nature and a function that is unchanging over the centuries[4]’’, the development and execution of strategy in order to fight organized crime and the threats associated to it (i.e. illegal migration, drug trafficking, cybercrime, weapons trafficking, etc.) require constant reevaluation.  Harry R. Yarger’s book “Strategic Theory for the 21st Century: The little book on big Strategy[5],” aligns well with the dynamic threat posed by organized crime organizations.  As resources or budgets (means) are always limited, it is important to invest enough time defining, designing, and developing appropriate strategic guidance to reach the desired outcome. 

Finally, organized crime has taken advantage of the pandemic, increasing their criminal activities by others means. Right now, the organized crime is an authentic threat that affects the societies, governments, states, the security of financial institutions even the functioning of democracy and the international geopolitical equilibrium.  The security, defense, and protection of the citizens will continue one of the top priorities for the states.  


Endnotes:

[1] Phil Williams, “Crime Illicit Markets, and Money Laundering”

[2] Robert D. Kaplan, “The Revenge of Geography”

[3] Edwin Stier and Peter Richards, “Strategic Decision Making in Organized Crime Control: The Need for a Broadened Perspective”

[4] Colin S. Gray, “Modern Strategy,” Oxford: Oxford University Press

[5] Harry R. Yarger, “Strategic Theory for the 21st Century: The little book on big Strategy,” https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/20753/Strategic%20Theory%20for%20the%2021st%20Century.pdf

Assessment Papers Criminal Activities Drug Trade Juan Manuel Perez