Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Failing States and Dark Networks

The Cultural Foundations of Organized Crime and Terror

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Seibel, Dr. Jörg Raab, Prof. Dr. Patrick Kenis, Prof. Dr. Brint Milward, Prof. Dr. Keith Provan


Since the terror attacks on the United States in 2001 transnational criminal networks have received increasing scholarly attention (Akyempong 2005, Bruinsma & Bernasco 2004, Krebs 2001). “Dark networks” (Raab & Milward 2003) in illegal weapons trading, drug and human trafficking as well as terrorism often span the globe and have the ability to turn fragile states into failing states. Failing states in turn provide dark networks with a territorial base and vital resources (Milward & Raab 2006). In a symbiotic relationship, political and social conditions in failing states are major drivers for people to get involved in one of the aforementioned activities and therefore these states provide an almost unlimited pool of potential new recruits for these dark networks which grossly enhances their resilience even in case of massive attacks by military and law enforcement. For unemployed young men, working in the opium trade in Afghanistan or as a fighter for the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia may seem more viable as a trade than subsistence farming or subsisting on international aid at a refugee camp. Once taking hold dark networks are a major obstacle for peaceful and democratic development, since they do not have any interest in having a democratically legitimated monopoly of power installed and will usually try to sabotage it as can be seen for example in the case of drug trafficking in Columbia and Afghanistan or in case of illegal weapons and diamond trading in West Africa.

As daily reports in the news media demonstrate, the effects of the interplay between transnational dark networks and failing states such as an increasing number of refugees and illegal immigration to name but one cannot safely be ignored. In addition, the credibility of Western democracies is at stake, if they continuously close the eyes to the massive violation of human rights. Therefore, the political pressure to actively intervene is very high.

However, as past experiences for example in Somalia or now in Afghanistan have shown, direct intervention and the attempt to “solve the problem” have a high probability of failure since the willingness of Western societies to devote a massive amount of resources, lives and legitimacy in the wake of enormous often long-term problems to these missions is limited. Previous research has shown that both the attempt to destroy the cocaine cartel in Columbia and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan did not solve the problem of drug trafficking or terrorism but rather worsened it (Milward & Raab 2006). It therefore seems a more promising approach to apply a coping strategy, i.e. taking a management approach to dark networks, that will be difficult to destroy, but whose effects it may be possible to mitigate (see Langewiesche [2006] on nuclear proliferation networks).

In order for such a strategy to be successful we need to know much more about how these (transnational) dark networks develop and what determines how resilient and effective they become. Moreover, it is of crucial importance to understand the interplay between the (local) conditions in failing states and the dark networks that operate on a transnational scale. One of the integrating mechanisms of transnational dark networks is often thought to be common ethnicity and shared cultural background or ideology of the members (Raab & Milward 2003). In addition, cultural and religious predispositions are generally assumed to have a vital impact on the development of state and (economic) organization (Weber 1972). We are therefore interested in the interplay between dark networks and failed or failing states and the cultural predispositions that contribute in sustaining the first and prevent the development of the latter. For the second stage of the proposed research, we envisage conducting a multiple case study of failing states/dark networks from a culturally diverse set of countries from South America, Africa and Asia.
The proposed research is at the forefront of research in political science and organization studies. Especially the latter was concentrating in the last decades on more or less functioning states and legal organizations, and core theoretical concepts of these disciplines were primarily developed against this empirical background (Seibel 2003). The project is also of vital practical relevance. Research on the following questions could help Western democracies to cope better with the problems posed by transnational criminal and terrorist networks:

  1. Which cultural predispositions contribute to the development, resilience and effectiveness of dark networks and what is the specific contribution of “cultural” factors compared to other factors?
  2. How can the interplay of dark networks and failing states be best understood?