Illicit flows – unlawful or illegitimate cross-border exchanges of people, goods, money, or data – have reached an unprecedented scale and threaten global security. In 2018 alone, an estimated 1.7 to 4.2 trillion USD have been laundered globally, much of it across borders. These flows enable malevolent actors and drain state budgets, thereby impeding development and fortifying fragility. As a result, transnational illicit flows can contribute to the destabilization of entire regions. At the same time, the need to counter illicit flows provides a powerful incentive to strengthen regional and international cooperation among states and other actors.
The MSC's Transnational Security Report "Cooperating Across Borders: Tackling Illicit Flows" (TSR) sheds a light on these developments. It covers selected examples of illicit flows and their impact on international security and makes concrete proposals on how to counter illicit flows. The report aims to raise the awareness of political leaders for the many challenges created by illicit flows. It highlights that states find themselves faced with similar challenges which they cannot overcome on their own. This could also stimulate multilateral cooperation in practice and contribute to a reinvigoration of regional and global governance mechanisms.
To present the report and its findings to political leaders the MSC used the unique opportunity to launch the TSR on June 28 on the eve of the summit of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria. West Africa is heavily affected by the illicit flows such as drug trafficking and arms smuggling, but at the same time offers promising regional approaches to counter these threats. The launch event opened with keynote remarks by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria as well as President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso, who, also as current heads of ECOWAS (President Buhari) and G5 Sahel (President Kaboré), both spoke about the impact of illicit flows on security in West Africa and the need for cooperation. President Buhari stressed the necessity of collective, well-resourced approaches to counter illicit flows as "no government can do it alone." In his speech, President Kaboré pointed out that "armed groups and terrorists, who plague the peaceful populations of the G5 Sahel and Lake Chad Basin countries, are funded, in part, by the resources of the illicit movements." Both presidents welcomed the publication of the TSR and underlined its importance. Further participants in the day's programme included ministers from the ECOWAS region, the ECOWAS commissioners for Trade, for Peace and Security, and for Refugees, as well as the National Security Advisor to the Nigerian president.
A subsequent panel discussion with experts and contributing partners of the Transnational Security Report examined the report's findings and discussed possible collaborative approaches to combating illicit flows. In order to reach this goal actors would need to build broad coalitions – not just across borders but also across sectors that include civil society and private enterprises. Participants agreed that such approaches also needed to be localized in affected communities and take their needs into account.
In addition to the launch event, the MSC hosted an off-the-record Roundtable on Transnational Security in West Africa. High-level participants of the ECOWAS summit engaged in a debate with representatives from academia, international organizations, and the private sector from the wider region and beyond. During the discussion, participants emphasized the importance of increased cooperation on all levels, both regionally but also within national governments.
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The Transnational Security Report covers selected spotlights of transnational illicit flows – from the trafficking of goods, arms, and people, to illicit financial flows – which endanger global security by funding conflicts and perpetuating instability. The report illustrates regional and international security implications and provides ideas for cooperative solutions, building on ongoing efforts by many institutions across the world.
Modelled on the MSC's flagship Munich Security Report, as well as thematic reports such as the European Defence Report, the data analysis and graphics – many of them previously unpublished or updated specifically for this report – were compiled in close cooperation with renowned institutions and experts dedicated to increasing the understanding of illicit flows and transnational organized crime in its different forms and countering its threat to stability and security.
Transnational security threats – cross-border, generally non-military threats to national and international security – are a byproduct of the globalized world. Trafficking in drugs, arms, and people, nuclear proliferation, the spread of terrorism and piracy and the associated illicit financial flows are only some of the issues that straddle the border between international and domestic security policy. Unlike traditional "hard" security challenges, many transnational security threats have not yet elicited the same concerted international efforts to tackle them.
Given the fact that transnational security threats know no borders, efforts to address them effectively require close exchange and cooperation between states and relevant non-state actors alike. With its new series on Transnational Security, the MSC aims to gather decision-makers and experts from academia and the private sector to discuss strategies that may help counter transnational security threats.