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Studies in Gangs and Cartels.

Studies in Gangs and Cartels

By Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

New York: Routledge, 2013

232 pages



Studies in Gangs and Cartels is written by two eminent scholars in the field of law enforcement and transnational criminal organizations. Robert J. Bunker was a Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College; while John P. Sullivan is a career police officer and an Adjunct Researcher at the Scientific Vortex Foundation, Bogota, Colombia. This important work is the culmination of the authors' works from the mid-1990s to the present with new chapters written specifically for this anthology. Readers will see the progression of gangs and cartels and their nefarious activities from third-generation or third-phase cartel typologies.

Studies in Gangs and Cartels addresses the broader challenges gangs and organized crime can present to states. (1) Gangs and cartels in the twenty-first century have become more than an annoyance to governmental authorities and law enforcement agencies. Crime and criminally illicit activities have become more global in scope and can destroy the social fabric of a society while also undermining the authority and legitimacy of a state. One only has to think of the current situations in Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil to realize the impact of criminal elements in society and its detrimental effects. As Bunker and Sullivan point out, "extending their reach and influence by co-opting individuals and organizations through bribery, coercion and intimidation to facilitate, enhance, and protect their activities, transnational criminal organizations are emerging as a serious impediment to democratic governance and a free market economy. This danger is particularly evident in Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and other parts of the former Soviet Union where corruption has become particularly insidious and pervasive" (63). The traditional view of crime as a localized issue and therefore a concern only to the police on the beat is no longer valid in the twenty-first century. As Bunker and Sullivan argue, "rather than being viewed only as misguided youth or opportunistic criminals or, in their mature forms, as criminal organizations with no broader social or political agenda, more evolved gangs and cartels are instead seen as developing political, mercenary, and state-challenging capabilities" (xi).

Criminal organizations and cartels are emerging phenomena of the third-generation street gang typology advanced in the Studies in Gangs and Cartels. According to Bunker and Sullivan, third-generation gangs have sophisticated political aims. "They operate--or seek to operate--at the global end of the spectrum, using their sophistication to gain and secure power, drive financial acquisition, and engage in mercenary-type activities" (3). This proliferation of street-level gangs across neighborhoods, cities, and countries is partially a consequence of the process of globalization, that is, the greater interconnection of the world due to advancements in transportation, economics, the death of distance facilitated by the internet, and interdependence. In the globalized world of the twenty-first century, gangs have become transnational when the following characteristics are present. First, the criminal organization is active and operational in more than one country. Second, criminal operations committed by gangsters in one country are planned, directed, and controlled by leadership in another country. Third, criminal organizations are mobile and adapt to new areas of operations. Finally, their criminal activities and enterprises are sophisticated and transcend borders (3-4).

In the globalized post-Cold War world of the twenty-first century, gangs and cartels represent a "new warrior class" (41). The "new warrior class" includes those individuals in society, part of the "bottom billion," who have lost all hope of a better future and social advancement, and use force to partake in the spoils of society. As Bunker and Sullivan point out, individuals alienated from the rule of law will provide the basis of the new threat to the nation-state (41). As eminent military historian Marin van Creveld points it out in The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1991), "in the future, war will not be waged by armies but by groups whom we today call terrorists, guerrillas, bandits, and robbers, but who will undoubtedly hit on more formal titles to describe themselves" (Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War, 197). As Paul Rexton Kan noted, "drug-fueled conflicts often produce a wartime economy alongside local disempowerment and steadily diminishing political stability and personal security" (Paul Rexton Kan, Drugs and Contemporary Warfare, 93). This new class of "warrior," the disenfranchised of society, will likely fill the ranks-and-files of private military companies in order to participate in the spoils of war. Gangs and cartels in the post-Cold War international system, are "a potential conflict generator: not only do they contribute to violence in their home community, but given the confluence of a number of factors they could well emerge as a true threat to national security" (55). Examples of gangs and cartels as potential conflict generators abound, but the cases of Sierra Leon, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, and Brazil are worth mentioning. Third-generation gangs and cartels are not only proliferating in the post-Cold War international system, but their methods and techniques in the war making process are also becoming more lethal and more daring. Gangs and cartels "challenge states in several ways. They undermine the rule of law, break the state monopoly on use of force, and foster corruption and insecurity" (186).

In conclusion, I highly recommend this work to students and academics in the field of political science and criminal justice as well as the military, especially the US Army, which may be called upon to address the drug trafficking in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. I also recommend this work to law enforcement agencies dealing with the new disease of the twenty-first century: third-generation gangs and cartels. In the final analysis, it is wise to remember the words of Hannah Arendt: "The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world" (60).

Reviewed by Jose de Arimateia da Cruz, Professor of International Relations and Comparative Politics at Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, GA and Visiting Research Professor at the US Army War College
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Author:da Cruz, Jose de Arimateia
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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