By John J. Metzler
UNITED NATIONS ― ``The same forces of globalization ― openness in commerce, travel and communications ― that have created unprecedented wealth have also unleashed massive opportunities for organized crime.''
That's the verdict from the U.N.'s top official on drugs and crime. In a stinging report, the U.N. crime czar Antonio Maria Costa adds that while ``in the past the problem was mostly national (mafia, cartels, triads) now as a result of globalization, it poses a threat to international security.''
The ``Crime and Instability'' report by the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime goes beyond the usual suspects and makes a connection between the criminal players and the geography of their transit operations.
Costa stresses, that if you superimpose a map of conflicts and then view narcotics traffic routes, ``it is no coincidence that the intersections of crime and instability are the troubled regions where the United Nations is called upon to keep the peace.''
So while Colombia still remains a major cocaine producer, the major drug traffic routes go through Central America and Mexico toward the U.S. and increasingly Venezuela going toward Western Europe.
Equally Afghanistan proves the principal global nexus of opium production with the narcotics routes running like a freeway through Iran, Turkey and the Balkans into the lucrative European markets.
What is less apparent and something the U.N. is stressing more is that offbeat places, nearly totally forgotten by the world, have emerged a medium grade players.
West African states, beset by instability and violence come to mind. Guinea Bissau, a tiny impoverished land beset by long-term political violence, turns out to be a major drug traffic point between South America and then transiting to Europe. Why? Well look at the geography.
Then add chronic chaos and corruption and you have a recipe for trouble. A U.N. official warned, ``drug trafficking and organized crime remain a significant challenge for stability in Guinea-Bissau and the sub-region.''
Concerning Africa, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed, ``Criminal networks are very skilled at taking advantage of institutional weakness on the ground.''
According to the report, various insurgent forces often ``draw funds from taxing, or even managing, organized criminal activities, particularly drug trafficking.''
Importantly Costa says, ``In the absence of the sort of outside founding found during the Cold War, rebel groups must derive their sustenance from the regions they control and these unstable areas are often enmeshed in drug trafficking.''
Various leftwing groups in Colombia come to mind as do paramilitary forces in a half dozen African conflicts.
Costa states poignantly, ``Empowered by the bullet and the bribe, criminals take advantage of a government's inability to provide security.''
This is sadly true in Guatemala, the Central American land being subverted by Mexican drug cartels. The chief of the Guatemala National Police as well as the country's anti-narcotic unit were recently arrested on drug charges.
A new U.S. State Department narcotics report warns that Guatemala has emerged as ``the epicenter of the drug threat'' in the region. The document asserts, ``Entire regions of Guatemala are now essentially under the control'' of narco-gangs.
But even in the developed world, sadly the market for much of this illicit commerce, a wider issue rests with the ease of movement across national frontiers. The European Union notably allows totally free and unchecked travel across most of its 27 national borders.
For example, due to the Schengen Agreements, once you gain legal access to one country in the EU, then the individual has totally unhindered movement across the continent.
Britain remains a notable exception where additional identification is needed. Such a Europe without national borders, through facilitating commerce, tourism and free access, is equally a boom for organized crime syndicates who have an amazing degree of unhindered movement.
Today transnational terrorists as featured in popular American TV series such as ``24'' where the criminals are often loosely tied to formal governments, could become a grim reality as such well-armed and funded groups can subvert weak and corrupt governments.
Narco-terrorists could possibly find common ground with al-Qaida groups attempting nuclear or biological blackmail or attacks and thus bring a global threat to a whole new level. The clock is ticking.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of ``Divided Dynamism ― The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China" (University Press, 2001). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.