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Mon. December 05, 2022
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Interview with Professor Kelly M. Greenhill
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IA-Forum: In “Kleptocratic Interdependence: Trafficking, Corruption, and the Marriage of Politics and Illicit Profits”, you indicate that corruption can threaten global security by increasing openings for international rivalry and suspicion, fiscal instability, weapons proliferation, terrorism, and illiberal governance. Also, corruption can support tyranny and weakens human rights and development, thus involving the national and personal levels. Further, your policy brief Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling and your book Sex, Drugs and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict suggest that state corruption can create the permissive conditions that enable and facilitate human trafficking. Further, your book Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy indicates that the primary victims of coercive engineered migration are the displaced individuals themselves.

The corrupt processes of forced migration and associated human trafficking—are their causes and harms simultaneously international, national, and individual?

Professor Greenhill: Contexts and circumstances vary widely, as do the root causes and adverse effects of involuntary human movements, but, yes, causes and consequences can be multidimensional and span domestic, transnational, and international levels.

IA-Forum: States’ efforts against trafficking—your brief and your book Sex, Drugs and Body Counts indicate that they can be problematic. The problem seems to arise from states’ being subject to competing pressures: Globalization and state corruption weaken borders. Law enforcement not only strengthens borders. It also criminalizes and securitizes issues. It seems to me that this factor increases the pressure on individuals to leave, so that law enforcement also (inadvertently) weakens borders. Do these factors mean that national efforts tend to be self-defeating and that efforts should instead be local and global?

Professor Greenhill: I wouldn’t say that. Multidimensional and multilevel problems call for multidimensional and multilevel solutions—local, national, and international. A key takeaway of the brief and of the book Sex, Drugs and Body Counts, which followed a few years later, was the need for better information sharing among countries, agencies, and among those battling the trade in illicit goods, not just trade in humans.

Another key takeaway—and a key impetus for the book—was that many trafficking initiatives had become politicized in ways that were understandable from the perspective of bureaucratic politics and organizational interests, but counterproductive from the perspective of protecting victims and combating trafficking. And, as was illustrated in the book, such perverse politicization is not limited to trafficking, but also affects policy initiatives surrounding refugees, migrant flows, drugs, and even casualty counts during conflict.

IA-Forum: Inconsistency regarding solutions—your brief and your book Sex, Drugs and Body Counts indicate it can arise between those people thinking about trafficking abstractly and those people in the field. How can we resolve their views and find solutions that are both global and local: both abstract and particular?

Prof. Greenhill: This is not something easily answered in a few sentences. But greater transparency, more information-sharing, and a heightened awareness of the divergent incentives behind and motivations driving practitioners in the field and policy-makers in world capitals are all critical to comprehending and reconciling the kind of inconsistencies and disconnects to which you refer.

IA-Forum: Global solutions tend to be ineffective, according to the brief, and the most effective solution to particular human trafficking will be local. Is that right? If so, is it primarily because what drives people into trafficking varies across the world?

Professor Greenhill: This is not exactly what I said. Rather, I noted that global solutions to specific trafficking problems tend not to work, [because] what drives people into the arms of smugglers and traffickers differs across the globe. Thus we should be careful about trying to replicate wholesale what has worked in one context in another without an understanding of the local context. Real knowledge is key.

IA-Forum: A state’s deliberate means of threat, punishment, and coercion against another state—your book indicates that international migration can be such a weapon. The targeted state could be harmed physically by its inability to handle the size of the influx. Also, that state could be harmed politically by its inability to readily satisfy social and political expectations for aiding the migrants. Might the aggressive state be trying to turn some of its own internal weaknesses—those leading to the individuals’ desires to migrate, such as state-level disrespect of the individual in forms of human rights and development—into international strengths?

Professor Greenhill: States engaged in what might be thought of as the weaponization of refugees and/or migrants can certainly leverage some of their domestic vulnerabilities in ways that may redound to their benefit in the context of international bargaining. But, as I discuss in Weapons of Mass Migration, this kind of coercion is a blunt and sometimes dangerous instrument, so, while often effective, it is rarely a policy tool of first resort.

IA-Forum: Weapons of international migration—can we trace them to such intranational weaknesses and cross-level aims?

Professor Greenhill: Again, contexts and situations vary widely, but, yes, this is sometimes the case.


Dr. Kelly M. Greenhill is Associate Professor at Tufts University and Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Greenhill is author of Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy, winner of the 2011 International Studies Association’s Best Book of the Year Award. She is also co-author and co-editor of Sex, Drugs and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict and The Use of ForceMilitary Power and International Politics (8th ed.). Greenhill’s research has also appeared in a variety of other venues, including the journals International SecuritySecurity StudiesInternational Studies Quarterly, European Law Journal, and Civil Wars, media outlets such as the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and the BBC, and in briefs prepared for the U.S. Supreme Court and other governmental entities. She has also served as an analyst for the US Department of Defense and consultant to the United Nations, the Ford Foundation, and the World Bank.


Greenhill, Kelly M. (2016). Weapons of mass migration: Forced displacement, coercion, and foreign policy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs.

Andreas, Peter, & Greenhill, Kelly M. (Eds.). (2010). Sex, drugs and body counts: The politics of numbers in global crime and conflict. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Greenhill, Kelly M. (2009). Kleptocratic interdependence: Trafficking, corruption, and the marriage of politics and illicit profits. In Robert I. Rotberg (Ed.), Corruption, global security, and world order. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Greenhill, Kelly M. (2007, May). Human trafficking and migrant smuggling: New perspectives on an old problem (Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution Policy Brief #7). Cambridge, MA: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


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