Friday, March 10, 2006

Illicit : How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy by Moises Naim

You probably didn't think, that time you downloaded an MP3 online or bought a bootleg DVD of the latest Hollywood release, that you were tied into one of the most dangerous and potentially destablizing political and economic forces on the planet...

Illicit by Moises Naim, takes a long, hard look at a new phenonoma in the international arena - the role of traffickers and trafficking networks in transforming politics, economics and borders. Naim, the Editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, has penned a darkly intriguing look at the underground economy of trafficking. Illicit looks a the intricate, intertwined worlds of smuggling, illegal migrants, narcotics, organ-legging, the international sex trade, slavery, the arms trade, money laundering, weapons of mass destruction and counterfeit goods.

Naim makes a strong case that the same value-chain enabling technologies that permit the Wal-Marts of the world to exist, have also given birth to illicit and illegal networks and enterprises - from Al Quada to pirated software. He traces the connections between points of international instability, legitimate trade, weak governments and porous borders and the rise of highly flexible, de-centralized networks that transcend state boundaries.

These networks are not Pablo Escobarean-style structures, run by a single boss, but rather a loose and ever-changing adaptable network of illegal and legal enterprises that can recombine, shift and take advantage of the restrictions inherent in states and state bureaucracy. They are, in essence, entrepenuerial power set free. They are networks - connections - the goods being trafficked are secondary to the linkages and capabilities the traffickers demonstrate.

One example Naim cites is the underground nuclear trade network of Abdul Quadeer Khan, Pakistan's father of the Islamic bomb. Khan's commercial network shipped centrifuges to Libya (uncovered in 2003) using, among others, a Malaysian enginnering firm, a Swiss engineer, a Sri Lanken intermediary, and a partially-owned British-owned Dubai corporation. The centrifuge was shipped on a German-registered ship.

The ability of these networks to heighten political instability, particularly in regions with marginal governmental / state controls or in regions where those particular states are weak, corrupt or permeable, is very high. Columbia, Peru and Bolivia for cocaine; Afghanistan for heroin; South Africa and Israel for illegal organs; China for counterfeit goods, software, DVD's, clothing; migrants from Africa and Asia; prostitutes from Hungary; optical disks from Ukraine...the list is endless and it is not just consumer goods but commercial industrial goods and medications.

Here's a quick excerpt description of Transdniester, a breakaway region of Moldova:

"Weapons are to Transdniester what chocolate is to Switzerland or oil to Saudi Arabia. Some countries export oil and gas, others, cotton or computers. Transdniester exports weapons - illegally. What kinds of weapons? Vast quantities of Soviet shells and rockets. Newly manufactured machine guns, rocket launchers, RPGs, and more, produced in what are described as 'at least six sprawling factories'".

Moldova has little to no authority over Transdniester. The region, which holds much of Moldova's industrial capacity, is essentially run by a family-owned company - the Sopranos writ large. They supply endless streams of weapons clandestinely around the world, a function previously controlled by and occupied by state players, now gone entreprenurial in the post-Cold War world of the 21st century.

Naim links the rise in trafficking networks of all types with other transnational networks such as Al Quada and offers the strong suggestion that where one is found, the other is not far behind. He also outlines the difficulties in fighting these criminal networks with the highly centralized, nation-based bureaucracies that now exist (i.e. Homeland Security) and the frictions and problems they face manifest in the fact that they are merely states. For the illicit networks of the world, borders and regulations spell opportunity. They are not going away. They are driven by high profits and markets not by morals. Like it or not, the Sprawl is now here.

In short, Illicit is probably one of the most important books for anyone looking to understand this "brave new world" which we inhabit, and the new influences and players operating within it. I seriously recommend you crack it will make you think carefully about connections the next time your download your tunes.

I also recommend cracking open The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman. Reading both books gives you a fairly complete picture of the impact, both legal and illegal, that freed-up, easily-moving capital and supply can have on the world's economies and on political stability.

Wondering where Moldova is? Wonder no further....

Thanks for reading BookLinker! Comments & feedback are always welcome.


Anonymous said...

So you like Gwynne Dyer and think he has some brains? Think again - he recently said on a Canadian talk show (Vicki Gabereau)that the terrorists are not to be taken seriously because "they only kill a few thousand every year." He also compared Nelson Mandela to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists in an effort to show how he minimizes the impact of the threat of Islamic terrorists and maximizes his disgust for the West (Bush has always been his No. 1 target).

I don't think that Dyer is intelligent at all. In fact, I think that he is a big apologist for terrorists and he is very confused about what it means to live in the West which, by the way, has served him rather well despite his hatred for the West which he has managed to turn into a real money maker in article after article.


Dean said...

I'm assuming you posted your comments on the Gwynne Dyer review here rather then on the Ignorant Armies review page because the comments don't seem to be showing up on the review worries.

In answer to your question, yes I think Gywnne Dyer has brains and I think you are selectively taking some of what he has said in the media and using it without placing it in context.

My understanding of the Vicki Gabereau comment is Dyer was speaking of how, in the context of global security and at a major strategic level, the activities of terrorists are not a strategic threat because they do not have the power to kill millions of people and devastate populations, as can happen in a major war, specifically the potential that a WWIII has. He was not stating that they are insignificant security threats but that their impact has been overstated and hyped in order to validate a political response that is out of proportion to their threat level.

As it happens, I agree with some of this statement but not all of it as the threat level potential for biological warfare is, I think, a strong possibility from areas that were once considered low-threats.

My recommendation is that you read some of the work you are complaining about.

I don't agree with Dyer on all things, on some areas I think he is profoundly off, on others, I think he makes for the most part he makes a very strong and well-reasoned case. I have never read him as an apologist for terrorists, I suspect that is more your opinion and spin on his work then it is a valid assessment of his thinking.

Thanks for the feedback.