The inherent nature of transnational illicit flows means that no actor – be it governments and law enforcement in countries of origin, transit, or destination, as well as international organizations – can address the challenge alone.

"With the ever-changing transnational threats and rise of terrorism, it is essential that defence leaders cooperate on an even closer level."

Halimah YacobPresident of Singapore

The inherent nature of transnational illicit flows means that no actor – be it governments and law enforcement in countries of origin, transit, or destination, as well as international organizations – can address the challenge alone. What is more, unilateral approaches are likely to merely change certain patterns and directions of illicit flows, which have been quick to adapt to changing circumstances in the past. Indeed, observers argue that interventions against illegal trade in particular need to take into account "the political economy superstructure that creates and sustains them."

Approaching the challenge of illicit flows collectively at the regional and global levels could, in fact, provide relatively low-threshold opportunities to stimulate multilateral cooperation in practice. At times of increasing pressure on multilateral institutions like the United Nations, successful cooperative approaches could help reinvigorate regional and global governance mechanisms and, in the process, relegitimize ways of working together in the multilateral ecosystem. Building on the numerous commitments made in recent years to meaningfully counter illicit flows, policy-makers could consider the following recommendations:

  1. Improve data availability: Build on efforts to deepen and broaden data availability on and analysis of illicit flows of all kinds in order to ensure a sound basis for informing policy choices. For example, step up data collection and analysis, as well as its exchange among relevant organizations. Specifically, continue investigating links between different kinds of illicit flows to counter both illicit trade itself and revenues generated from it. Make more data publicly available to foster a valuable exchange between the public and private sectors, as well as academia.
  2. Boost cross-border and cross-sector information sharing: Reduce silo-based approaches through enhanced information sharing among national, regional, and international institutions to map overall trends in illicit routes and operating models, cutting across sectors from law enforcement to other security actors and anti-trafficking NGOs.
  3. Share best practices and build capacities: Increase regional and international exchange among practitioners, learning from countries leading in certain aspects of countering illicit flows, and supporting countries lacking the capacities to fight selected flows. Expand existing joint training and joint operational efforts.
  4. Build broader coalitions: Join forces through cross-industry and public-private partnerships where appropriate to counter illicit flows. In addition, support investigative journalism and civil society efforts engaged in uncovering and combating illicit flows. For overarching cooperation, build on the previous successes of working towards international treaties against illicit trade through Conference of the Parties (COP) efforts.
  5. Fight illicit flows in conflict situations: Build on ongoing efforts by organizations such as INTERPOL and UNODC to increase awareness, handle and investigate cases, including as part of pre-deployment trainings for UN and other peacekeeping personnel.
  6. Bolster prosecution and deterrence: Expand the confiscation of money derived from illicit flows to reduce its attractiveness as an income source for actors from organized crime to terrorism. Work towards increased prosecution rates, prioritizing the most drastic measures against the most dangerous networks and groups threatening security. Increase the effectiveness of sanctions as deterrents for illicit actors by heightening their operational risks.
  7. Make the most of technological innovation: Enhance the use of technologies to counter illicit activities by investigating possible applications for different types of illicitly traded goods and updating legal bases for law enforcement regularly to take into account new developments. For example, improve traceability of weapons and illicitly sourced natural resources, components, and product inputs by tracking shipments, thus making it more difficult for illicitly-sourced materials to blend in.

For more data and analysis on illicit flows of goods, people, finance and data, download the full Transnational Security Report below:

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