All the Ships that Never Sailed: A General Model of Transnational Illicit Market Suppression
Blair, David Joseph
This model predicts progress in transnational illicit market suppression campaigns by comparing the relative efficiency and support of the suppression regime vis-à-vis the targeted illicit market. Focusing on competitive adaptive processes, this `Boxer' model theorizes that these campaigns proceed cyclically, with the illicit market expressing itself through a clandestine business model, and the suppression regime attempting to identify and disrupt this model. Success in disruption causes the illicit network to `reboot' and repeat the cycle. If the suppression network is quick enough to continually impose these `rebooting' costs on the illicit network, and robust enough to endure long enough to reshape the path dependencies that underwrite the illicit market, it will prevail.Two scripts put this model into practice. The organizational script uses two variables, efficiency and support, to predict organizational evolution in response to competitive pressures. The suppression network should become `flat' and `market-like,' in order to rapidly adapt, and it should maintain a deeply embedded social movement backing the campaign. Success allows for progress through the operational script, which predicts changes in the illicit market using economic theory. Initially, the illicit market uses public `focal points' to conduct business. If the suppressor succeeds in injecting unacceptable risk in these focal points through patrolling, the illicit market is forced to take a firm-like `black market' form. The suppressor shifts to interdiction in response, and if successful again, they subsidize alternate demand path dependencies. Suppression ends either by the suppressor abandoning the attempt or through a path dependency swap to a benign substitute.I test these theories using historical cases - the British suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the USCG's `Rum War' during Prohibition. Using a multi-method approach inspired by operations research, I use process tracing, statistical analysis, primary historical research, and social network analysis to evaluate changes in relative efficiency and support over time. I then apply the model to contemporary cases - piracy, human trafficking, money laundering, and drug trafficking - for sensitivity and robustness checks. A large-n analysis provides further scoping. Finally, I apply the model to the policy problem of cyberspace-facilitated modern-day slavery.
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