One of the more dangerous contemporary threats to the quality of life is the collaboration of the political establishment with the criminal underworld—the political-criminal nexus (PCN). These partnerships increasingly undermine the rule of law, human rights, and economic development in many parts of the world, especially in states in transition.
The problem is chronic in, for example, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, and Taiwan. Only the forms and balance of power among the players change. In other areas, such as Colombia, the Andes, Afghanistan, Southwest and Southeast Asia, the Balkans and the Caucuses, the problem is more acute, violent, and kaleidoscopic, and often it dominates political, economic, and social life.
Despite the potential magnitude, there is little understanding of the security threats posed by the PCNs and how and why political-criminal relationships are formed and maintained. Nor has there been systematic study of policy prescriptions for disrupting existing relationships or methods for preventing future ones from developing. Menace to Society (Transaction, 2003) is the first attempt to develop an analytical framework. Case studies of Colombia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and the Ukraine, and the United States by leading scholars and practitioners answer such key questions as:
How do PCNs get established?
How is a PCN maintained, and destroyed?
What do the participants want from each other in a PCN?
What can be learned from those who have successfully countered the PCN?
When state institutions are weak, as in Nigeria and Colombia, the state often cannot prevent political-criminal collaboration. A lack of checks and balances, either from civil society or opposition political parties, is a key factor.
The findings indicate that political, economic, and cultural factors play a significant role in the formation and evolution of PCNs. When state institutions are weak, as in Nigeria and Colombia, the state often cannot prevent political-criminal collaboration. A lack of checks and balances, either from civil society or opposition political parties, is a key factor. Cultural patterns tend to facilitate this kind of collaboration. In patron-client relationships, individuals, criminal and noncriminal, come to accept that solutions to economic and personal needs and conflicts depend on certain leaders.
Markets and economics are also affected. In many countries, the supply and demand for illegal goods and services, not only drugs, creates a market controlled by criminals who need political help to “run” their business. In Colombia, for example, the scale of illicit funds made creation of a national level PCN a major goal of the cartels. The line between legitimate and illegitimate business is increasingly blurred.
As local problems become global, and global problems have local effects, the complex relations between criminals and political elites appear to explain much, not only about local politics, but also regional and global trends in world politics. These increasingly complicated dynamics have also created a new kind of security challenge, the contours of which are only gradually coming into focus.
There has been some progress in countering the PCN. Lessons can be learned from experiences in Hong Kong and Sicily, for example, where law enforcement has been boosted by cultural changes that have diminished political-criminal collaboration. These examples may illustrate a promising approach that has applicability elsewhere.