The independent resource on global security

Commodity flows and containerization

A dramatic increase in the speed and volume of international sea-borne freight in the late 20th century was made possible largely through the advent of containerization. Inter-modal transportation reduces delivery times and costs for licit goods but has also facilitated lower risk transfers of a range of destabilizing commodities, including narcotics, arms and other smuggled or counterfeit goods.

International and national inter-agency cooperation and information-sharing may increase seizure rates, but where an enduring demand for illicit commodities exists, proactive measures may only lead to a change in the nodes, routes and assets used to transfer illicit goods.

Increased supply-chain security is part of the solution. But stemming the use of containerization by state and non-state actors to transfer military, dual-use goods as well as narcotics, smuggled cigarettes and counterfeited products requires a comprehensive approach. Apparent successes in counter trafficking initiatives must be understood within the wider context of dynamic supply chains and global human security.

A future key area of SIPRI's transport and security activities is the development of empirical knowledge of the shifts in these commodity flows, routes, and nodes that result from sanctions, counter-trafficking operations and changes in legal supply networks.


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Photo: S. Gibson