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Oct 04, 2017
by Mirva Villa
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Asif Efrat – The New U.S. Administration Has Shown Less Interest in International Cooperation

Israeli professor reflects on efforts to stop transnational crime and explains how US justice system is seen from abroad Asif Efrat at the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association

In 2010, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a report on “The Globalization of Crime.” The report examined 16 crime problems, 13 of which were deemed intercontinental. An extract from the report’s conclusion reads: “From a global perspective, national or even regional efforts made in isolation can be worse than ineffective, they can be counterproductive, as the problem is pushed from regions that pose resistance to those that do not, or cannot.” More can be achieved from working together than by working alone.

The buzzword of the time, however, is “sovereignty” – something which does not align well with international cooperation. That’s the view of Asif Efrat, an associate professor of government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), in Herzliya, Israel. He spoke to Salzburg Global while attending the 15th symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA).

At various points in recent history, the United States has been considered the world policeman but rhetoric expressed by President Donald Trump during his election campaign and first months in office have prompted many people question whether this role would change. What effect might this have on the efforts to limit transnational crime?

Efrat, author of Governing Guns, Preventing Plunder: International Cooperation Against Illicit Trade believes it will take time for the implications to reveal themselves. Commenting in general, however, he said, “This administration has signaled that it has less interest in international cooperation .”

In his book, Efrat focuses on the illicit arms trade, the trade in looted antiquities, and human trafficking. He said, “There are some people who say that globalization has a ‘dark side’: the rise of global crime. This is one of the undesired side effects of globalization and in the recent years, governments have been trying to work together to try and address problems of transnational crime. These efforts of suppressing transnational crime are the center of my analysis.”

Since taking office, despite his rhetoric on the campaign trail, President Trump has reaffirmed the US’s commitment to NATO. He also made his first address at the UN general assembly where he said countries must “work together and confront together” others who threaten with chaos, turmoil, and terror. On both occasions, however, Trump also referred to the cost burdens the US has carried. The  concern remains that diminishing international cooperation is still a possibility. The picture remains unclear.

Most of the international initiatives against international crime have been led by the US, says Efrat. If there is less leadership shown from the US, Efrat believes this will not bode well for international cooperation in general. “The international regime against drugs has been led by the United States since the beginning of the early 20th century. International efforts against money laundering, international efforts against human trafficking – these are all American initiatives. [They are] very important American initiatives in my view, and I’m concerned that the new administration has much less interest in international cooperation.”

The US justice system as seen from abroad

In addition to assessing the international role and responsibilities of the US, this year’s symposium – Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration – saw participants reflect on the US justice system in several ways. There were rich discussions around issues of legal rights, immigration policy and discrimination, and changes in policy over the past seven decades. During the symposium, Efrat led a small group discussion on how the US justice system was perceived from abroad, drawing on his current research examining ethnocentric views on legal standards and justice. In his work, Efrat examines how countries view foreign legal systems and the extent they are willing to cooperate with them.

The US justice system is not looked upon favorably by other countries, Efrat has found: “There are various attributes of American justice that are seen as completely unjust to foreign audiences. One is the very harsh American attitude towards criminal justice.

“The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world… America locks up many people for very long periods of time. American sentencing policies are seen as very unjust.”

Efrat said the use of juries during trials also raised eyebrows among foreign audiences. He said, “For Americans, a trial by jury is the ultimate expression of justice: you’re being tried by your peers. But for foreign audiences, juries are sometimes the exact opposite of justice .” In many countries, a judge or panel of judges decide the guilt of a defendant – seen as some non-Americans as fairer than a jury of non-professionals.

Salzburg Global spoke to Efrat the day after the symposium’s keynote presentation was given by Elaine T. May, Regents professor of American studies and history at the University of Minnesota. The talk was titled “The American Dream and the Quest for Security – the Promise and the Perils.” Reflecting on the keynote, Erat says, “It identified this kind of broad theme of fear in American society, and the interests that are driving this fear. It helped to put the current administration – the current mood in the United States – into a broader perspective, and I think this is one of the nice things about this seminar.”

“We tend to think of our times as very unique, and very special, but you can see that this is actually part of a much broader historical trend.”


Asif Erat was a participant of the Salzburg Global session Life and Justice in America: Implications of the New Administration, which is part of Salzburg Global’s multi-year series Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.