The state and transnational organized crime: a case study analysis of criminal opportunities in the Russian Federation and the United States

Zabyelina, Yuliya (2013) The state and transnational organized crime: a case study analysis of criminal opportunities in the Russian Federation and the United States. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

PDF - Doctoral Thesis


The concern with the role of failing and post-conflict states as incubators of transnational organized crime (TOC) was a recurrent theme in research in the 1990s. Because of deep-seated institutional failures, instability and impoverishment, weak states were considered as crime-facilitative environments, in which criminal organizations were provided with rewarding criminal opportunities and a high degree of immunity. The resilience of properly functioning states has often been taken for granted in mainstream accounts of TOC. Fragmented but nevertheless important empirical data provide evidence that TOC has established in many countries around the world irrespective of high levels of economic development and outstanding governance. This dissertation studies the nexus between state features and TOC. In order to do so, a qualitative analysis of the formation of criminal opportunities within different types of states is offered. Two case studies, the Russian Federation (the North Caucasus region) and the United States (the US-Mexico border area) were selected for the analysis. Although the two states have encountered similar security problems such as those related to securing extended borders, fighting terrorism and TOC, they have experienced different patterns of relative success and failure circumscribed by their contrasting governance, economic and security capacities as well as different roles, perspectives and ambitions on global and regional agendas. Based on the data collected from interviews with experts in Moscow and in Washington, D.C., the analysis of official reports, secondary literature and the mass media, the dissertation offers both the knowledge base on organized crime groups and specific criminal offences, as well as develops a comparative framework for the study of criminal opportunities in the context of poorly functioning and properly-performing states defined along Weberian categories of statehood. The analysis of the data was performed to develop a typology of criminal opportunities for TOC. Three major categories are distinguished. Criminal opportunities of a-type are characteristic of poorly functioning states and presuppose a vicious downward spiral, in which deteriorating political, economic and security institutions as well as the presence of illicit armed groups and lawless zones generate unprecedented criminogenic opportunities such as in the case of the Russian Federation during the two large-scale wars in Chechnya and the post-conflict reconstruction years. Criminal opportunities of b-type refer to situations, when policies adopted by developed democracies accidentally facilitate transnational criminal activities, thus, creating more lucrative criminal opportunities. Based on the analysis of criminal activities at the US-Mexico border, the dissertation argues that properly functioning states that endorse vastly penalizing security policies create the criminogenic environment that instigates more sophisticated and resourceful criminal strategies. Finally, not only state qualities define criminal opportunities. The nature of the systemic environment is a crucial contributing factor to the formation of criminal opportunities of c-type. The findings suggest that TOC triumphs in the circumstances of criminogenic asymmetries constituted by systemic gaps between those states that are affluent and secure and those that are poor and ungoverned. Discrepancies between properly functioning states and zones of instability generate lucrative opportunities for the creation of black markets. This said, criminal opportunities may not only be produced by states but also by a particular composition of asymmetric relationships among states. Although non-exclusive and often overlapping, the patterns of the formation of criminal opportunities studied in this dissertation are important as they provide greater detail about the concept of a criminal opportunity and shed light to the role of the state as target and a facilitator of TOC.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:International Studies
PhD Cycle:24
Subjects:Area 14 - Scienze politiche e sociali
Repository Staff approval on:12 Nov 2013 09:52

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