Nalini Bharatwaj, 37, chairman of a management institute, holds a gun while posing in her office in New Delhi

Crime and Punishment: Organized Crime Across Borders

Our summer 2015 feature issue, Crime and Punishment: Organized Crime Across Borders, has hit newsstands across the world! Check out the latest print edition as well as some exclusive online content on the topic of organized crime! …


On September 29, 2014, the United Kingdom’s GDP rose by US$17.8 billion, or 0.7 percent, overnight. Four days earlier, it had been announced that Spain’s GDP had risen by US$12.5 billion, or 0.9 percent. This was not due to any increase in economic activity, but because, for the first time, illicit activities, such as drug use and prostitution, would be included in official GDP measurements. An EU directive compelling this change was intended to increase the comparability of GDP between countries where the legality of such activities—and therefore their inclusion in official GDP measurements—differs. While these figures were not hugely different from previous estimates of criminal activity, they made the size of the illegal economy in certain countries politically salient.

Globally, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that transnational organized crime generates roughly US$870 billion, or 1.5 percent of global GDP. Unsurprisingly, the impact is more extreme outside of the developed world. Illicit markets in east Asia and the Pacific have a combined annual income of US$90 billion, equivalent to the size of the economies of Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos combined. In Latin America, fully inclusive measurements are difficult and estimates vary wildly, but the flow of cocaine alone through Nicaragua represents a size of 14% of GDP.

This, however, ignores other important dimensions of organized crime: the social cost of homicides and human trafficking, the political cost of corruption, and the environmental cost of the poaching and trade of endangered wildlife. In terms of dollars, and also in terms of political and social outcomes, transnational organized crime is incredibly significant yet rarely discussed in the international relations discourse.

The summer 2015 edition of the Harvard International Review is dedicated to the topic of organized crime. In it, Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico; William Brownfield, US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; and Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, co-director at Human Rights Watch, each discuss drugs policy from a Mexican, US-centric, and global perspective respectively. Each makes the argument for reform to the way in which the world tackles the international narcotics trade. Meanwhile, Yury Fedotov, UNODC executive director, broadly discusses the role of crime in the context of development. In three further spotlights cast on important but less frequently discussed topics of organized crime, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center discusses his work tracking down war criminals; UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova discusses cultural crime in conflict areas; and staff writer Kevin Xie writes about the illegal wildlife trade.

Outside of the feature topic, this issue also features content from Francis Kornegay, Jr. on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Additionally, interviews in this magazine include discussions with Melinda Gates about the work of the philanthropic organization that bears her and her husband’s name; three North Korean defectors about their experiences; Keren Zwick, managing attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center on issues of US asylum policy; and Leonardo Maugeri, who gives a detailed analysis on the interplay between the oil price and international relations.

Organized crime is truly an insidious and powerful force; its importance in the world, however, is matched only by its curious absence from mainstream conversations of development and wellbeing. The authors in this magazine comprehensively analyze this universal scourge in its many dimensions. A global problem needs global solutions, and placing the spotlight on this shadowy industry in the context of international relations may well be the first step on the road toward a safer and more prosperous world.

To not remaining silent—

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James Watkins & Neha Dalal

Editors-in-Chief

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