In considering the ways in which transnational organised crime has affected national security regarding the position of individual countries across what is now the former Soviet Union, this essay will look to first define what transnational organised crime consists of so as to then put this essay's discussion into context. Therefore, it is also important to look to show how these different kinds of transnational organised crime serve to affect systems of national security in individual countries within what is now looked upon as being the former Soviet Union. In addition, there is also a need to talk about how instances of transnational organised crime can affect all of the states across most of Eastern Europe and Asia by looking to then provide what may be looked upon as being a few key examples of those countries experiencing difficulties - particularly those with social problems such as poverty - and how this affects instances of national security. Finally, this essay will seek to conclude this essay's discussion with a summary of the key points that have been derived from this discussion regarding the ways transnational organised crime has affected national security in relation to the position of individual countries across the former Soviet Union.
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Transnational organised crime generally refers to a transnational grouping of centralised enterprises operated by a criminal element to partake in illicit activities including narcotics, prostitution, human trafficking, firearms, counterfeit goods, organized crime, nuclear weapons, and chemical weapons to achieve economic gain (Williams & Savona, 1996). With a view to better illustrating the point it is interesting to consider the fact that the narcotics trade has been strictly organised in different networks so as to then be able to better control criminal activity from production to consumer markets (Swanstrom, 2007). Those networks that serve to organise this kind of trade are international but the leaders are primarily based in Europe and Russia even in the event that they are also represented in the Balkans, the Caucasus, North Korea, and Nigeria. Below the international level, local leaders have looked to control their own territory and are often paid in narcotics rather than hard currency (Swanstrom, 2007). Therefore, rapid increases of consumption in the production and transit regions as great quantities of the narcotics are sold locally for direct use so it is estimated that the narcotics trade in the regions of transit provides the majority of the revenue in some countries (for example, Tajikistan) or a very significant proportion in others (for example, Burma and North Korea) (Swanstrom, 2007). But then, as will be referenced again in this discussion, corruption and direct state involvement in the narcotics trade has penetrated most of the transit and production states because there is no difference between political groupings, military or law enforcers in such regions since they all receive their share of the narcotics money (Ivelaw, 1999).
Instances of this kind of organised crime are then often founded within ethnic minority communities or other socially marginalised groups, whose membership may not trust either local governments or their agents - although the most recent organised crime growth sectors have been recognised as being identity theft and online extortion in more contemporary times (Nissanoff, 2006). These illicit criminal activities are considered to be somewhat troubling since they served to discourage consumers from then being able to utilise the Internet for the purpose of carrying out Electronic Commerce (E-Commerce) activities in order to purchase goods and services (Nissanoff, 2006). This means that whilst the internet is capable of allowing small businesses to compete with larger businesses, many are unable to afford serious protection from the strategies used including selected 'denial-of-service attacks (Aldrich, 2008). In addition, it is also to be appreciated that the Internet's use by organised criminal groups is significantly more difficult to trace, even despite technological advancements in criminal investigations (Graham, 2008). This is because the majority of police forces and law enforcement agencies have been found to function within what is a localised or national jurisdiction - although the Internet has made it somewhat easier for organised criminal groups to function across territorial boundaries without their detection (Aldrich, 2008).
However, although criminal activity may be thought of as being a largely urbanised phenomenon in view of the more valuable potential targets that the criminal element can look to focus in upon, for the majority of history to date criminal activity has largely taken place in the rural world (Williams, 2003). For example, highwaymen, pirates and bandits have looked to ambush trade routes to critically disrupt commerce and raise consumer costs, insurance rates and prices (Lunde, 2004). But the reality in the modern world is it has proved somewhat difficult to recognise the distinction between corrupt and lawless governments and organised criminal groups in the former states of the Soviet Union in particular (Marat, 2007). This is because the Soviet Union's dissolution and the resultant market-oriented economies was perhaps the most significant individual socio-political event of recent decades that led to new opportunities for transnational organised crime concurrent with new government institutions ill-equipped to address the growing problem (Bouloukos, Farrell & Laycock, 2003) with over a hundred transnational criminal groups based in Russia, operating in 40 countries (United Nations, 2000, p.27). These include six large groups in Moscow - three Chechen groups (the Tstentralnaya, Ostankinskaya, and Avtomobilnaya) who have about 1,500 members between them, the Solntsevskaya and Podolskaya organisations, and the '21st Century Association' - four major groups in St Petersburg, two major gangs in Yekaterinburg (the Uralmashkaya and the Tsentralnaya) and nine major gangs in Vladivostok (Dunn, 1997, pp.63-87).
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As a result, it has come to be broadly accepted Russian organised crime groups are active in its many neighbouring countries including Estonia, Lithuania, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and the Ukraine (United Nations, 2000, Chapter 3, p.18). These kinds of organised crime groups could develop a strong position by infiltrating both public and private institutions along with particular industries to legitimise themselves so the line between what is legal and illegal becomes blurred. This is then reflected by the fact that these groups have become major employers replacing the state run labour markets and trade unions (Voronin, 1996). In addition, significant levels of corruption have arisen in both public government and private industry to bring about a reduction in public trust and the willingness of foreign firms and agencies to invest in the area due to an outpouring of capital estimated at around $1 billion per month that will include laundered funds (United States, 2000). Moreover, it has been claimed Russian groups are completely familiar with modern technologies and business practices so as to be able to utilise documentation fraud, health care fraud, and credit defaults to avoid detection (Hancock, 2006). The situation then only further enhanced the use of 'middlemen' with countries including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic each possessing a sufficiently complex and near-Western infrastructure of roads, railways, and telecommunications but lacking the law enforcement and institutional mechanisms to stop these infrastructures being infringed so they are more likely to be utilised to breach national security (Novikov, 2007).
As a result, such a regime has proved somewhat characteristic of the many now independent former Soviet Union states using the state apparatus with a view to better controlling the countering of organised crime and achieving economic growth and prosperity within the country itself (Novikov, 2007). This is because if one looks at the bigger picture - i.e. international - it would then appear to be evident even organised crime has a significant heritage (Sullivan, 2002). Organised crime usually flourishes when the central government of an individual state does not exert sufficient legal control, and especially where there is a lack of established institutions along with the rule of law (Sullivan, 2002). For example, the former Soviet Union's collapse emanated at least in part from the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 that saw the then Communist Bloc's downfall allied to new systems of democracy and free market capitalism's establishment within the region to create a significant spur for organised criminal groups to come to fruition (Steele, 1994). This is because most former Soviet Member States like Latvia and Lithuania fell into a significant state of economic turmoil upon their assertion of independence with their own domestic markets almost immediately being flooded with innumerable western products previously barred by the communists regimes at exceptionally high prices allied to a lack of interest in Eastern European importation (Steele, 1994). As a result, many turned to illegitimate methods for achieving a profit backed by the authorities including the former secret service and police force in former Soviet Member States now out of their jobs following the communist bloc's collapse as in Azerbaijan where there is a significant state of poverty recognised within the country (Galeotti, 2008). Therefore, this has served to mean that organised criminal groups could then operate with significantly less fear of them then being interfered with by those that are considered to be still actively involved in law enforcement and could also offer their 'customers' consistency (Steele, 1994).
However, reflecting back upon the threats to national security, the issue that has aroused what may be considered to be the greatest matter of trepidation in this area is that of nuclear material smuggling that is growing increasingly prominent within contemporary society. The reason for this is that lack of security at some nuclear facilities along with what may be looked upon as being poor inventory management has served to then provide a number of opportunities for disgruntled workers in the nuclear industry (Williams, 2006). As a result, it is possible workers could look to offer weapons grade material to criminal organisations with a view to then achieving illicit economic gain that range from large scale environmental damage to nuclear terrorism or extortion (Novikov, 2007). But the problem is ostensibly with the extent to which nuclear material trafficking is considered to be a core activity of Russian criminal organisations. This is because it has been recognised, for the most part, nuclear material trafficking has come to be looked upon as being the preserve of amateur smugglers rather than what may be deemed to be well-established criminal groups (Williams, 2006). Nevertheless, there is also still some significant evidence in place that criminal organisations have been involved on a limited basis in this activity since, for example, one arrest in this context seems to have involved twelve members of the Solntsevskaya in possession of radioactive material and in another case a group of criminals from Yekaterinburg became involved in the smuggling of large amounts of zirconium to the US and Cyprus as a reflection of the growing problems in this area (Williams, 2006).
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To conclude, having sought to consider the ways in which transnational organised crime has affected national security regarding the position of individual countries across what is now the former Soviet Union, it is clear the ease with which organised criminal groups are able to move across borders has served to negate the recognition of measures for the purpose of national security. As has been recognised throughout this discussion, criminal organisations like those which arose in the former Soviet Union (now largely centred in Russia) have served to add turbulence to domestic politics and also challenge what is considered to be the normal functioning of government and law. But what is arguably of most pressing concern in this regard is the fact that organised criminal groups have looked to move with the times in seeking to enhance the illicit economic gains that they are able to achieve from their activities emanating from out of the former Soviet Union. By way of illustration, these kinds of organised criminal groups have looked to freely partake in identity theft through the advancement of systems of E-Commerce whilst, perhaps more worryingly, those more serious groups have looked to move into areas of significant international concern like the smuggling of nuclear materials that could have a much more significant regional and even global impact from out of the former Soviet Union.