Theoretical Framework
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Theoretical Framework

The UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change affirmed in its report “A more secure World: our shared responsibility” that security threats (including terrorism and organised crime) were more interrelated today than ever before. In the last decades we have assist to the expansion of the concept of security from an interpretation of security related to a threat to state to a wider concept of security which encompass economic well being, cultural identity, human rights and environmental concerns. In this context the term ‘human security’, which poses the security of people at the centre, has become a rather prominent catchphrase within the international community and among scholars of international law, international relations and politics.

The term human security was first used in the 1994 Human Development Report, which very bluntly describes human security as “a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, a job that was not cut, an ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced”. According to the Commission on Human Security, human security “protects the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedom and human fulfilment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms – freedoms that are the essence of life. It means using processes that build on people’s strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building of survival, livelihood and dignity”.

It is in this context that transnational terrorist and criminal organisations pose a threat, not only to the state and the international community, but also tothe individual. To achieve peace, as stated by the UN Secretary General in its report of (2003), it is necessary to set up measures against transnational terrorism and organized crime: “The activities of organized criminal groups have a profound influence on the three areas the Secretary-General identified in his report on the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration: (i) peace and security, (ii) development, and (iii) human rights, democracy and good governance”.

The link between terrorism and other forms of crime arose in the 1980s, when the term ‘narco-terrorism’ was coined to describe the use of terrorism in Colombia and Peru perpetrated by large drug trafficking organisations. Traditionally organised criminal groups are considered pragmatic, rather then ideological organisations: their political activities are intended to protect their illegal activities and can rarely be understood as terrorist activities (as was the case of Medellin’s attacks in the 1980s and early 1990s and of the deaths of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1993). Terrorist groups, on the other side, can be recognized as criminal organisations with a political or ideological objective and the readiness to use violence to achieve it. In his book ‘Inside Terrorism’, Bruce Hoffman (1998) defines the different attitudes of terrorist and criminals as following: “the criminal is not concerned with influencing or affecting public opinion: he simply wants to abscond with his money or accomplish his mercenary task in the quickest and easiest way possible so that he may reap his reward and enjoy the fruits of his labors. By contrast, the fundamental aim of the terrorist’s violence is ultimately to change ‘the system’ - about which the ordinary criminal, of course, couldn’t care less”.

In the last years the international research community showed an increased interest in the connection between transnational terrorist and criminal organisations. Researchers observed that transnational organized crime and international terrorism increasingly share both organizational and operational characteristics, learning one from the other.

Usually the link between terrorism and organised crime refers to the engagement of terrorist groups in criminal activities as a source for funding or has been related to the alliances between criminal and terrorist organisations. Makarenko (2004) however notes, that these two types of relationship are just major components of the nexus that has evolved into something more complex. She affirms that the relation between terrorist and criminal organisations is not static, but has developed over the past decade into a continuum that inherently “seeks to trace how organisational dynamics and the operational nature of both phenomena changes over time.”  Behind this, there are weak governments and generally a weak civil society.

The period of post-war reconstruction allow for greater criminal involvement with the state. Often, militaries are directly involved in organized crime activities. Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Balkans are examples of such post-conflict situations. For Williams, the threats and vulnerability of governments to macro and micro level threats and warlordism depend on the effectiveness of existing governance structures and efforts at the national, regional and global level.

However, still many of the (hypo)theses with regard to the connections between terrorist groups and organised crime, and with regard to the impact of  both of these on peace making processess in the Balkan, are in need of empirical undeprinning. The gaps in our knowledge demand for specific targeted academic research and the coordination thereof. The HUMSEC project is a first initiative in reply to this demand.


The HUMSEC project is supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme "Integrating and Strengthening the European Research Area". The homepage is managed by the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy - ETC Graz.