Case Study

Global crime, sovereignty and global governance

Transnational criminal organisations have thrived under globalisation. The opportunities offered for legitimate business by the shrinking of the world and opening up of many of its borders are there also for the world’s growing band of illegitimate businesses.

The sheer volume of goods crossing borders makes it ever easier to smuggle in illegal cargos and the increased ease of moving money across borders makes it ever easier to launder the profits of such transactions and other criminal ventures. When criminal organisations then learn to break up their operations into different countries, corrupting officials in some and perhaps investing in legitimate business in other countries, it then becomes even less likely that they will be brought to justice. Few now doubt that the robbers are more globalised than the cops. Though Interpol dates back to the 1920s (see Chapter 12) it still amounts to little more than a means for national police forces to exchange information on request and is constrained by sovereignty. As in the old US movies, the villains have come to learn that if they can cross the borderline the police will have to call off the chase. Interpol is no global police force and its reach and budget are dwarfed by groups like the Russian mafia with tentacles in dozens of countries and strategic alliances with other n’er do wells such as Latin American drug cartels.

Crime has risen on the global political agenda and some robust state responses have been deployed but the problem continues to grow. In 2007, in a neat encapsulation of the impact of globalisation on crime and sovereignty, at the same time as British and US troops were being despatched to Colombia to help its government fight drug barons, the Colombian government were sending ministers to London and Washington to plead for help in curbing the demand for cocaine amongst their populations which was, ultimately, fuelling the whole phenomenon.

Interpol are unequivocal in recognising their impotence in the face of the globalised criminals:

No one country can effectively fight transnational organised crime within or outside its borders. Therefore, I submit, countries must relinquish some of their procedural or

substantive sovereignty in order for the purpose for which sovereignty exists in the first place to remain intact. (Noble, 2003)


Noble, R. (2003) ‘Interpol’s way: thinking beyond boundaries and acting across borders through member countries’ police forces’, speech delivered at Tufts University, Boston, 1 March. Available at (accessed 10 October 2009).