To a large extent, it might appear as though issues of crime and national security are separate. Crime might be most commonly thought to concern matters such as theft, assaults, murders and the like; national security might be thought to concern a country’s military defensive capabilities. However, as explored by Australian national security experts Peter Grabosky and John McFarlane, criminal activity can have a large bearing on the strength, or otherwise, of any country’s national security. Australia is no different.
What is encompassed by the term ‘national security’?
At present, national security extends far beyond defence of territorial borders against invasion by foreign military forces. In fact, a nation can be weakened in more diverse ways. Drawing on work of the World Bank, Grabosky and McFarlane consider each of the following as components of national security:
- Political legitimacy;
- Social welfare;
- Social cohesion;
- Interpersonal trust; and
- Environmental quality.
What types of crime are relevant to this issue?
There is potential for all types and degrees of crime to play a part in weakening national security.
Not necessarily committed on the street, but covers ‘local’ actions such as murder, assault, rape, and robbery.
White collar crime
This mostly covers financial activity, such as fraud, money laundering, and corruption.
This concerns activities with actions and effects that stretch across multiple countries. Illicit smuggling and cybercrime are examples, though many white collar offences can also come under this heading.
What is the relevance of crime committed overseas?
Grabosky and McFarlane argue that, though the commission of some crimes may be confined to a foreign country, they can nonetheless have a global security impact. For example, foreign corruption creates fertile ground for criminal activity of a transnational character. Equally, if a country with proximity to Australia had generally weak law enforcement, this could be used as a haven from which to coordinate terrorist activities.
The authors also note that, when crimes are committed by (e.g. drug possession or trafficking) or against (e.g. kidnapping or extortion) Australian nationals or companies in foreign countries this can result in harm to Australia’s international reputation or a strain on its diplomatic relations. It is also pointed out that, due to the global nature of crime (particularly organised crime), effective efforts to combat it require strong international partnerships between the Australian government and foreign nations.
How does crime impact national security?
Grabosky and McFarlane consider that the security of any nation sits on a scale somewhere between impregnability and collapse. Crime’s impact on this position is generally indirect and the result of an accumulation of actions. There are many examples of criminal activity which can edge this scale ever so slightly towards the ‘collapse’ end. To name just a few:
- Bribery and corruption weakening public trust in a nation’s leaders.
- Illicit trafficking in weapons, drugs and people, and the burden on law enforcement and other public services.
- Extremist movements that deal with contraband to finance terrorist operations.
One of the most commonly thought of connections between national security and crime is terrorism. Almost all terrorist acts involve some kind of criminal offence. However, all crime – particularly organised crime – can have an adverse effect on all of the key components of national security.
The tens of billions of dollars that crime costs the Australian economy annually (both through the criminal justice system as well as lost investment, medical costs, and property damage etc.) could be spent on improvements to the national interest and infrastructure.
Grabosky and McFarlane note Australia’s major health burdens such as tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Again, this diverts significant energy and funds from otherwise being directed to other national investments.
The authors note that perceived success of crime may discourage youth from pursuing education, lessening the positive societal impacts of schools.
Crime has the greatest effects on those with the least wealth. Increased crime makes it harder for governments to provide adequate social welfare to the community.
Grabosky and McFarlane assert that ‘[a] divided society is a vulnerable society.’ They note divisions can result from crime. It is also pointed out that those from minorities who are imprisoned may be susceptible to radicalisation.
The authors make the case that a ‘society whose citizens are always looking over their shoulders at one another may be less likely to join together in the common defence [and] citizens who defraud their government can weaken the capacity of their country to defend itself.’
Grabosky and McFarlane ponder that long term effects of climate change could be relevant to Australia’s national security.
 Peter Grabosky and John McFarlane, ‘The Potential of Crime to Undermine Australia’s National Security’ (2007) 3(4) Security Challenges Journal 131.