Technology & Trade

Presidential Inbox 2013: Prevent Trafficking in the Global Supply Chain

in Program

Click here to view the complete Presidential Inbox series.

The Challenge

Propelled by the forces of globalization, transnational criminal activity and the related trafficking of all manner of illicit items represents one of the most significant challenges to security, public health, democratic institutions, and economic stability in the United States and around the globe. As these threats converge and expand in an era of budgetary restraint, identifying cooperative responses that cut across governments’ responsive infrastructures and traverse the public-private divide, will be central to ensuring that our widening economic interconnectedness is not undermined by the darker underbelly of globalization.

The Context

The President has stated explicitly that the expanding size, scope, and influence of transnational organized crime is one of the most significant challenges to our nation’s economic stability and physical security. Consider this:

  • More than one quarter of the annual USD 4 billion small arms trade is unauthorized or illicit, and each day, upwards of 1,500 people die as a result of armed violence;
  • According to the US government, approximately 800,000 incidents of international human trafficking occur every year, aggregating to more than 12.3 million people around the world in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor, and/or sexual servitude;
  • From January 1993 to December 2007, 303 incidents involving unauthorized possession and related criminal activities were confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Illicit Trafficking Database;
  • Counterfeit goods are estimated to make up 5 to 7 percent of world trade. The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was financed by the sale of fake Nike and Olympic t-shirts; and
  • The global drug trade is worth an estimated USD 322 billion annually with 52,356 metric tons of opium, cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamine-type stimulants produced each year.

Perhaps most distressingly, the illicit networks that purchase, move, or sell these products are increasingly intersecting. It is no longer uncommon for producers, middlemen, supply chain firms, financiers, and insurers that knowingly or unwittingly support one illicit sector to have common ties in another. A local trafficker of drugs may also market counterfeit pharmaceuticals. The hold of an aircraft owned by one company and insured by another may contain illicit arms and also be carrying a dual use nuclear item.

In short, as globalization has opened new doors for citizens around the world to participate in the modern economy, so too has it provided new opportunities for transnational criminal organizations to acquire, market, and move their illicit wares. Meanwhile, governments, particularly in the developing world, have often been either unable or unwilling to combat these activities that increasingly emanate from their own shores, citing either a lack of capacity or alternative and competing priorities. Likewise, legitimate private companies whose interests may be equally threatened by criminal activity have yet to be fully inculcated as partners in prevention.

Meanwhile, given the magnitude of the challenge that any one of these trafficking threats poses, the United States government has traditionally sought to address these challenges vertically, with agencies acting largely in isolation from one another. Program managers at the Drug Enforcement Agency (narcotics), the Food and Drug Administration (counterfeit pharmaceuticals), the Department of Energy (dual-use WMD items); and the State Department (conventional weapons) to name but a few, are under-resourced and overworked, measured against discrete metrics by appropriators, and unable to develop the interagency responses necessary to disrupt these increasingly interconnected illicit enterprises.

Last year, the President announced a new strategy to combat transnational organized crime, outlining 56 priority actions to, among other things, enhance intelligence, protect strategic markets, strengthen interdiction, and disrupt the drug trade. Yet progress has not proceeded swiftly enough to meet the rapidly growing and mutating threat that organized crime and traffickers present. An incentives for government officials to collaborate across threat portfolios remain lacking.

Below are seven illustrative steps that should be made to translate the President’s lofty objectives into pragmatic action, all within a budgetary environment that is diminishing rather than expanding.

Pragmatic Steps:

  • To approach today’s challenges horizontally and leverage the full spectrum of the US counter-trafficking force, the White House must survey broadly current anti-trafficking policies and programmatic capacity-building responses at the national, regional and international levels to analyze how responses developed for one smuggling method or group of illicit trafficking activities can be employed against smuggling overall.
  • Any comprehensive security strategy that seeks to engage governments of the Global South requires leveraging potential synergies between development and security assistance. For instance, whereas proliferation has traditionally been addressed by access controls, safeguards, guards, guns and gates, globalization now necessitates a more nuanced and coherent approach that appeals to the enlightened self-interest of all countries. The US government must revolutionize the Nunn-Lugar program to better bridge the North-South divide, translating it from a WMD effort to one that effectively bridges the security/development divide.
  • Other existing efforts can also become multi-purpose. The Obama Administration should increase funding for and the focus of the Export Control and Border Security program for conventional weapons. Historically, the program has focused on training and developing regulations to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, EXBS is equally well equipped to help establish stronger export controls to simultaneously stop diversion of conventional weapons from the legal to the illicit market, and also to assist transshipment countries better interdict illicit transfers as they enter and transit their territories. EXBS has the mandate to work on conventional weapons and should pursue growing the conventional arms aspects of their trainings and exchanges.
  • The United States has myriad programs that focus on democracy building, good governance, security sector reform, and judicial sector reform, as well as other development initiatives. Practical anti-trafficking measures should be included as part of the regular planning and implementation of these programs. Such steps could include ensuring that law enforcement and security forces understand national regulations and international standards. At a bureaucratic level, personnel responsible for development assistance, such as from the US Agency for International Development and other similar programs, will mirror approaches by other governments, as well as ensure that development voices are heard in program planning.
  • Multiple agencies have one or more offices with private sector outreach activities. For narrow mission areas or highly technical issues, independent outreach mechanisms make sense. But in many cases, redundant or even conflicting government efforts discourage industry involvement and complicate the already difficult work at the national level of reconciling public security with trade facilitation and other economic imperatives. As the National Security Staff begins drafting a new National Security Strategy, and as implementation of the 2012 National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security continues, the administration has an opportunity to issue both high-level policy guidance and operational-level program guidance that streamline how government collaborates with industry.
  • In an era of financial austerity, the Aerospace, Defense, and Security community can be a critical partner to government and other commercial sectors in building capacity and resilience against today’s diverse threat environment. As part of a broader industry outreach initiative, the President should convene a senior level government-industry forum to exchange ideas on the role of the high technology industry in meeting global challenges-in a role beyond its traditional defense focus.
  • Most of government’s supply chain security initiatives, such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), have sought to reduce the risk of inbound cargo. But the vast trade in intermediate goods (both into and out of the US) and the need for US exporters to comply with other countries’ equivalents of C-TPAT have policymakers intent on additional regulation of US exports. One key lesson of the last decade is that the design and implementation of programs to promote supply chain security have better prospects when government empowers industry to fully articulate the relevant capabilities it has, the constraints it faces, and the incentives that would actually change its behavior. Starting small with pilot initiatives can be instructive for all stakeholders-both in terms of understanding incentive structures and building relationships of trust.


Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Part of the Presidential Inbox Project
Choose Your Subscription Topics
* indicates required
I'm interested in...
38 North: News and Analysis on North Korea
South Asian Voices