Spring 2024 - 59614 - PA 388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy


This course explores transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), examining their emergence, functions, activities, and implications for U.S. national security and foreign policy decision-making. TCOs pose a significant and growing threat to global security and stability. Criminal enterprises undermine the rule of law, contribute to political instability, and erode public trust in government institutions, making them a top priority for policymakers around the world. TCOs engage in a wide range of illicit activities, including drug-trafficking, human-smuggling, arms dealing, piracy, and cyber-crime, which generate billions of dollars in profit. TCOs also forge alliances with terrorist groups and insurgent movements, further exacerbating the security risks associated with their activities, and wage violent wars on each other and against state forces. In doing so, TCOs have killed hundreds of thousands—more than some contemporary civil wars— committed scores of human rights abuses, and displaced millions more as they continue to evolve into increasingly powerful military actors. Lastly, some TCOs are becoming political actors as well, providing essential services and governing populations.  

In this course, we discuss four aspects of organized criminal groups in order to better understand the complexities and challenges of implementing effective policy: 1) Origins, functions, and activities; 2) Regional organized criminal groups; 3) The relationship between organized crime and armed conflict; and 4) Popular resistance to organized criminal groups. Throughout, we consider how global environmental change, demographics and urbanization, and the proliferation and democratization of technology could further enable and empower TCOs. During the final part of the class, we survey select policy responses to organized crime, specifically investigating cases in which state responses generated unexpected or counter-productive results.   

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