02 June 2009

Gangs & Insurgencies

John P. Sullivan from the LA Sheriff’s Office and the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST) has an interesting analysis this week, published in Small Wars Journal, on the connections between gangs, crime and war. This article summarizes and builds upon some of his work on the topic over the past decade. He proposes a “framework for understanding ‘criminal insurgencies’ where acute and endemic crime and gang violence challenge the solvency of state political control.” Sullivan’s work represents an excellent opportunity to apply criminological research to global security issues. It also causes me to reflect on how the analysis of transnational gangs might also benefit from research and analysis on “armed groups,” including the thoughtful work of folks like Richard Schultz and Andrea Dew. The following are excerpts from Sullivan’s article - RB:

Gangs dominate the intersection between crime and war, particularly in ‘criminal enclaves’ or ’lawless zones’ where civil governance, traditional security structures, and community or social bonds have eroded.

Criminal gangs come in many forms. Some advanced gangs—known as ‘third generation gangs’ and/or maras—are waging ‘wars” and changing the dynamics of crime. In some extreme cases they are waging a de facto criminal insurgency. They are transnational in scope and impact and have the potential to change the nature of war and politics.

Samuel D. Porteous, in “The Threat from Transnational Crime: An Intelligence Perspective,” explains that transnational crime:

    • undermines civil society, political systems and state sovereignty by normalizing violence and legitimizing corruption
    • erodes society by distorting market mechanisms through the disruption of equitable commercial transactions
    • degrades the environment by sidelining environmental regulation and safeguards.

Examining Cartel Evolution

1st Phase Cartel (Aggressive Competitor) : The first phase cartel form originated in Colombia during the 1980s and arose as an outcome of increasing US cocaine demand. This type of cartel, characterized by the Medellín model, realized economies of scale not known to the individual cocaine entrepreneurs of the mid-1970s. This early cartel was an aggressive competitor to the Westphalian state because of its propensity for extreme violence and willingness to directly challenge the authority of the state.

2nd Phase Cartel (Subtle Co-Opter): The second phase cartel form also originally developed in Colombia, but in this instance, is centered in the city of Cali. Unlike their Medellín counterparts, the Cali cartel was shadowy organization devoid of an actual kingpin. Its organization is more distributed and network-like, rather than hierarchical. Many of its characteristics and activities were stealth-masked and dispersed, which yielded many operational capabilities not possessed by the first phase cartel form. Specifically, it possessed leadership clusters that are more difficult to identify and target with a decapitation attack.

3rd Phase Cartel (Criminal State Successor) : Third Phase Cartels, if and when they emerge, have the potential to pose a significant challenge to the modern nation-state and its institutions. A Third Phase Cartel is a consequence of unremitting corruption and co-option of state institutions. While this "criminal state successor" has yet to emerge, warning signs of its eventual arrival are present in many states worldwide. Of current importance in the United States are the conditions favoring narco- or criminal-state evolution in Mexico. Essentially, third phase cartels rule criminal enclaves, acting much like warlords.

Transnational gangs are another state challenger. Transnational maras have evolved into a transnational security concern throughout North and Central America. Transnational gangs can be defined as having one or more of the following characteristics:

    • criminally active and operational in more than one country;

    • criminal operations committed by gangsters in one country are planned, directed, and controlled by leadership in another country;

    • they are mobile and adapt to new areas of operations; and
    • their activities are sophisticated and transcend borders.
Gangs have evolved as they have been influenced over time by : politicization, internationalization, and sophistication. The three generations of gangs can be described as follows:

Turf: First Generation Gangs are traditional street gangs with a turf orientation. Operating at the lower end of extreme societal violence, they have loose leadership and focus their attention on turf protection and gang loyalty within their immediate environs (often a few blocks or a neighborhood). When they engage in criminal enterprise, it is largely opportunistic and local in scope. These turf gangs are limited in political scope and sophistication.

Market: Second Generation Gangs are engaged in business. They are entrepreneurial and drug-centered. They protect their markets and use violence to control their competition. They have a broader, market-focused, sometimes overtly political agenda and operate in a broader spatial or geographic area. Their operations sometimes involve multi-state and even international areas. Their tendency for centralized leadership and sophisticated operations for market protection places them in the center of the range of politicization, internationalization and sophistication.

Mercenary/Political: Third Generation Gangs have evolved political aims. They operate—or seek to operate—at the global end of the spectrum, using their sophistication to garner power, aid financial acquisition and engage in mercenary-type activities. To date, most third generation (3 GEN) gangs have been primarily mercenary in orientation; yet, in some cases they have sought to further their own political and social objectives.

Bruneau, paraphrased below, describes five (multi) national security threats or challenges associated with transnational maras:

    • They strain government capacity by overwhelming police and legal systems
      through sheer audacity, violence, and numbers.

    • They challenge the legitimacy of the state, particularly in regions where the culture of democracy is challenged by corruption and reinforced by the inability of political systems to function well enough to provide public goods and services.

    • They act as surrogate or alternate governments. For example in some regions (i.e., El Salvador and Guatemala) the “governments have all but given up in some areas of
      the capitals, and the maras extract taxes on individuals and businesses.”

    • They dominate the informal economic sector, establishing small
      businesses and using violence and coercion to unfairly compete with legitimate
      businesses while avoiding taxes and co-opting government regulators.

    • They infiltrate police and non-governmental organizations to further
      their goals and in doing so demonstrate latent political aims.

Sullivan’s Conclusion: "Intelligence and operational art need to be closely integrated. A high degree of co-ordination and co-operation among government agencies and community groups at all levels of governance is needed. This requires both police forces and intelligence services need to co-operate across borders to gain understanding and achieve the ‘co-production” of intelligence necessary to counter transnational criminal threats."

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