Tuesday Reitano, Lucia Bird Ruiz-Benitez de Lugo and Sasha Jesperson, Militarised Responses to Transnational Organised Crime: The War on Crime (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Reviewed by: Adam Finzi

When I first decided to read Militarised Responses to Transnational Organised Crime: The War on Crime, I had one main expectation going into analyzing this collection of articles. I anticipated that the authors would provide a fair and balanced assessment of the War on Crime and ultimately conclude that the issue of organized crime cannot be resolved through military means. Although this proved correct, the journey the book took me on to reach this conclusion is what makes it a worthwhile read.

The main draw of this collection is its ability to keep the reader engaged through its dissection of four main criminal activities. These activities include wildlife crime, piracy, migrant smuggling, and drug trafficking. The editors achieve this by offering different perspectives on the War on Crime by authors who offer their own analysis of each issue. Moreover, each chapter offers strong arguments in favour or against militarised responses supported by cogent arguments and verifiable evidence.

Like many academic works, Militarised Responses opens by establishing a model to explain the concept of militarisation. It consists of three main pillars: war talk, institutional interests, and strategic timing. It includes various levels of militarisation ranging from equipping police forces with better equipment to using the army to combat criminals. This broad and common model facilitates a refreshing consistency from chapter to chapter. While authors may not agree with one another, the reader can rest assured that they are examining the subject from a common starting point.

The collection is largely critical of militarised responses to organized crime but the authors are not afraid to highlight situations where these responses are appropriate. In Latin America for example, criminal elements often employ military personnel to train foot soldiers or hire former soldiers to join their ranks. This forces Latin American states to militarise their own police forces to stand up to highly trained criminals. The near eradication of Somali piracy highlights another scenario where military force succeeded in defeating organized criminal activity. Without an organized state, an international coalition of the European Union Naval Force, the Standing Naval Group of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and U.S. combined Task Force 151 was able to operate in Somalia to combat piracy without opposition from the Somali government.

Photo Credit: EU NAVFOR

Several key themes emerge throughout this book. First, using military force to tackle organized crime often looks good politically as it implies that decision makers are taking organized crime seriously. Furthermore, it is an easier for the general public to understand when compared to other means of fighting crime such as economic measures. A clear contemporary case is the U.S. government’s current focus on militarising the U.S.- Mexico border, even though making the border more secure increases profits for smugglers.

The reason for these increased profits is further explored in another of the book’s major themes, wherein authors analyze criminal activity from an economic perspective. Writing about human smuggling, Reitano explains that:

The more restrictive the policy of states, the more challenging a border becomes to cross, the more militarised the levels of enforcement, the more necessary a smuggler becomes and the more risk accepting, professional and corrupt that smuggler will need to be to perform his function successfully. Thus, in the contemporary context of inelastic demand for movement, where the pool of smugglers willing and able to play the role in the heightened security environment has restricted, as the laws of economics dictate, prices begin to rise. (Reitano et al, p. 209).

Therefore, the U.S. border response to organized crime increases the profitability of human smuggling.

The Canadian Armed Forces’ participation in the War on Crime is limited. This includes Operation SABOT in which the Royal Canadian Air Force look for marijuana grow ops from the air to support the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. As the Government of Canada recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana on October 17th, 2018 an economic analysis suggests that the demand for illegal marijuana will decrease. A smaller demand should lower grow up profits, thereby discouraging their use by organized crime, and lessen the need for Operation SABOT.

Canada’s legalization of marijuana also supports the findings of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, which recognized the failures of the War on Drugs. Legalization allows the CAF to focus their energies on other public safety concerns and offers Canada a unique opportunity. If Canada’s legalization of marijuana is successful, the government can use the positive effects of legalization to encourage other Western states to enact similar decriminalization or legalization measures. This could have an impact in the long-run on disincentivizing ineffective militarised responses to organized crime.

Photo Credit: Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Militarised Responses to Transnational Organised Crime has a lot to offer those with an interest in the War on Crime. The book’s exploration of militarised responses to wildlife crime, piracy, migrant smuggling, and drug trafficking reveals how these responses are often ineffective on their own. However, this critique is supported by strong arguments on either side of the issue and a clear definition of the term employed by all the contributing authors. Some essays in the collection grabbed my attention more than others but their succinctness prevented them from becoming tedious. For these reasons, I believe editors Tuesday Reitano, Lucia Bird Ruiz-Benitez de Lugo and Sasha Jesperson have put together a collection of essays which ranks among the best I have ever read.


Adam Finzi is a Master of Arts graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science program. Adam’s previous work experience includes research and policy analysis for the Permanent Mission of Canada to the Organization of American States and observing El Salvador’s 2014 presidential election at the request of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. His research interests include Canadian foreign policy, human rights, and ethics.

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