Terrorist & Criminal Organizations as International Political Actors

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  • 0:02 Terrorism &…
  • 2:05 Transnational Crime Defined
  • 3:50 Transnational Criminal…
  • 5:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

The globalization process doesn't just involve business. Criminals and terrorists have 'gone global,' too. In this lesson, you learn about terrorists and transnational criminal organizations as actors on the world stage.

Terrorism & International Politics

One of the greatest threats facing the United States and other countries comes not from hostile states but from international terrorist organizations. Terrorism is hard to define, since according to a well-worn cliché, 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.' Nevertheless, we can provide an objective definition that can be applied without political or ideological prejudice.

Terrorism is violent action undertaken by a non-state actor against civilian targets for the purpose of achieving a political objective. Let's break this definition down a bit:

  • An act of terrorism involves an act of violence against a person or property, such as kidnapping, blowing up a building, killing or hijacking.
  • A non-state actor perpetrates it - this means it is undertaken by a person or organization that has no relationship with a state or its government.
  • The act of violence is against civilians - attacking a military installation is not an act of terrorism under this definition.
  • It is undertaken for a political objective, such as for the release of political prisoners or the overthrow of a government. This political objective is what separates acts of terrorism from mere criminal acts.

Al-Qaeda is a current example of a terrorist organization. It was responsible for the attacks on 9/11 against the United States. Another example is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, commonly known as ISIS. It seeks to establish a caliphate, which is an Islamic State. ISIS has executed dozens of people at a time. It has taken over large areas of Iraq.

Transnational Crime Defined

Crime knows no border. The United Nations defines transnational crime as 'offences, whose inception, perpetration and/or direct effect or indirect effects involve more than one country.' You can think of criminal organizations simply as associations of one or more people engaged in criminal activity. For the purposes of this lesson, we are talking about large and highly sophisticated organizations.

According to criminal justice scholar Dr. Stephen Schneider, large transnational criminal organizations:

  1. 'Are located in a number of different jurisdictions worldwide'
  2. 'Operate multiple illegal enterprises'
  3. 'Can be extremely sophisticated in their operations'
  4. 'Have the capacity to smuggle and traffic in large volumes of illegal and legal commodities'
  5. 'Generate revenue and profits that rival multinational corporations'
  6. 'Utilize a division of labor among their members and associates'
  7. 'Insulate the upper echelons of the group from law enforcement'
  8. 'Infiltrate legitimate businesses and markets
  9. 'Rely on such tactical imperatives as corruption, internal conspiracies, money laundering, counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering'

Sounds pretty scary, huh? Let's take a quick look at some well-known international criminal organizations from around the world.

Transnational Criminal Organizations

When you think of organized crime, the Italian mob may be the first thing that pops into your mind. The Italian mafia operates in Western Europe, South America, North America and Australia. It's involved in a wide range of criminal enterprises, including trafficking in heroin, gambling, arms dealing, money laundering and loan sharking just to name a few.

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