UN Police, International Crime and Terrorism

02/12/2015 11:31 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

In most UN peace operations, we see security and justice institutions incapacitated by conflict. Establishing sustainable governance in communities, nations and states is a core element in the process of achieving peace and security.

While the mandate implementation plan of a peace operation is adapted to both its local and regional context, every conflict into which we deploy is also tied to a global context. The global drivers of conflict are thus interconnected with each and every peace operation. Awareness of these undercurrents, including for example the collaboration of transnational organized crime with extremists and terrorists, is critical in preparing modern peace operations to effectively discharge their mandate and help put fragile countries emerging from conflict on the road towards sustainable peace and security.

Promoting a safer and more secure world features prominently into the UN secretary-general's key priorities. Establishment of "law, order and justice" is central to these efforts. In particular, the secretary-general has called for enhanced coherence in counterterrorism efforts and greater attention to address the threat of organized piracy and drug trafficking. "The threat of foreign terrorist fighters and the scourge of violent extremism are not just security challenges," the secretary-general said to the Security Council in November 2014. "They are also political and development challenges affecting stability and the social fabric of communities, countries and regions."

The links between transnational organized crime, extremism and terrorism undermines governance structures. This nexus thus needs to be understood as more than isolated, local issues -- it needs to be seen as part of a local, regional and global phenomenon. New manifestations of brutal violence, such as those perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and others, have sparked international outrage. However, organized crime groups in other parts of the world, such as, for example, Los Zetas in Mexico, or Maras in Central America, share similar characteristics, in particular their disregard for human rights and disrespect for humanity in their quest to establish power and influence. Per capita homicide ratios in some states affected by transnational organized crime go far beyond those in many war-, conflict- or post-conflict-zones -- the very places into which our peace operations are deployed.

Contemporary scholars and experts discuss which side -- organized crime or terror -- first adopted the strategy of reigning through violence and fear. But the business model of both transnational organized crime and terror is the same: attack all forms of governance that are counter to their own goal -- "If you are not with us, we will kill you and torture your loved ones, and we will not hesitate for a second, because there is no reasonable expectation that we will ever face justice."

What is also unsettling is the increasing evidence of collusion and even alliance between organized crime and extremist insurgent groups. Global interests of transnational organized crime and terror unite the South-American narco-cartels and in human and arms trafficking networks in regions of Africa. The interests of any form of violent extremism and terrorism also meet everywhere where the international community deploys peacekeepers. UN peace operations work counter to the goals of these groups, resulting in friction and, over the last few years, direct attacks against our peacekeepers. In Mali alone, 23 peacekeepers were killed between the end of June 2014 and today as a result of directly targeted attacks by insurgent groups. Even UN peacekeepers have become victims of this worrying trend.

Ultimately, violence and fear cannot be allowed to substitute for pluralism and inclusive governance. A profound and comprehensive strategy is thus needed, at all political and operational levels, in order to (1) better understand the context of complex collaboration between organized crime and terror, (2) place these initiatives into an overarching global strategy and (3) find innovative ways to avoid security and justice institutions being incapacitated by conflict. Understanding the drivers of conflict better will allow us to calibrate what needs to be done to reduce the threats these institutions face from organized crime and terror.

I call on the international law enforcement community to examine the need for a worldwide strategic threat assessment that would allow policymakers to better understand what needs to be addressed as drivers of conflict. Such an informed assessment would enrich the process of shaping mandates for peace operations. The "Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment" (SOCTA), a regular and open publication issued by EUROPOL on a regional level, could serve as an example. It forms the most important input into policymaking decisions of member states of the European Union and could well serve as a regional element of such a worldwide assessment.

A career police officer, Commissioner Stefan Feller (Germany) is Police Adviser to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. He previously served as Head of Mission of the European Union Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as Head of the Police Unit wthin the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.