Gold Diggers and Smoking Guns

The illicit trade in goods, ranging from small arms to drugs and from counterfeit products to natural resources, represents a threat to security either due to the goods' inherent nature or due to their broader destabilizing effects. For certain kinds of smuggled goods, such as arms, the link to security is obvious. Yet profits made with other illicitly traded goods are also of increasing concern, as non-state armed groups' and terrorists' incomes continue to diversify.

"The problems of terrorism and illicit trafficking in firearms, along with other forms of serious and organized crime, have too often been addressed in isolation."

Yury FedotovExecutive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

From small arms to tobacco, from illegal drugs to natural resources, anything can be traded for profit. This provides financing for malevolent actors and adversely affects security. For example, drug trafficking has implications both in terms of the death toll caused by drug use, totaling almost half a million fatalities globally each year, and when it comes to the violence caused by organized crime groups operating the drug trade, affecting countries and regions from Myanmar to Afghanistan, from Latin America to West Africa and the Middle East. As armed groups and terrorist organizations diversify their sources of income, they are now increasingly turning to environmental crime – the illicit trade in natural resources such as timber and gold.

For more data and analysis from our chapter on illicit flows of goods, download the full Transnational Security Report below:

Related Content


One of the most heinous forms of illicit trade is the trafficking of human beings for profit, involving forced labor and sexual exploitation – sadly, it is also one of the most profitable…



Illicit financial flows enable violent actors to sustain their operations by allowing them to purchase weapons, secure their profits and buy political influence. At the same time, they drain…



Apart from the significant economic damage caused by cybercrime, illicit data flows can leave individuals, companies and states exposed to espionage and extortion. As more and more data is…