Rowan scholar to study organized crime, terrorism in Eurasia through grant from Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Institute

Rowan scholar to study organized crime, terrorism in Eurasia through grant from Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Institute


Rowan University Political Science Professor Lawrence Markowitz is among three top national scholars selected to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Institute to study the connection of organized crime, terrorism and insurgency in Eurasia.

The three-year, $953,500 grant to the researchers from Rowan and the University of Kansas will help the scholars determine connections between drug trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime in Central Asia, South Caucasus and Russia. Their findings will help inform policymakers on American national security.

The study will investigate the nature of terrorism/criminal connections in a number of former Soviet countries. It will examine the conditions under which terrorist-trafficking alliances are forged and change and will assess the capacity of national and foreign governments and international organizations to prevent, monitor and dismantle the trafficking/terrorism nexus.

A major international drug trafficking hotspot that supports insurgent movements and terrorism, Eurasia is an important site where terrorism and transnational organized crime intersect, according to the grant application. The breakup of the Soviet Union, which eliminated some terrorist organization funding, and the U.S. crackdown on money laundering and financial operations that supported terrorism after 9/11 have led terrorist groups to rely more heavily on organized crime, according to the researchers.

Findings from the study will assist the Department of Defense (DoD) in strategizing ways to think innovatively about approaches to terrorism and conflict and the types of resources it deploys internationally, the grant application notes.

Collaboration with Kansas scholars

Markowitz is collaborating on the study with University of Kansas (KU) professors Mariya Omelicheva (principal investigator) and Stephen Egbert. The grant includes a $224,830 sub-award to Rowan. Markowitz’s research will focus on the capacity of national governments to respond to trafficking/terrorism in Eurasia.

Next spring through the summer of 2017, Markowitz will travel to Eurasia as part of his research of nine in-depth case studies that will assess the political, economic, and security responses of national governments to monitor, prevent and dismantle intersections of terrorism and trafficking within their borders.

Markowitz also will work with Omelicheva and KU graduate students to examine how international organizations and U.S. missions understand and respond to the terrorism and trafficking in Eurasia.

The study of the region is critical because 25-30 percent of drugs produced in Afghanistan are transported through Eurasia. Drug trafficking partly explains the strength of the region’s terrorist groups, which adversely impact government, security, stability and development and can lead to the rise of crime, violence in extremism in states that are U.S. partners and allies, according to the researchers.

“By mapping the trafficking/terrorism nexus, this program will identify the areas of particular concerns where the U.S. military assets may be directed for its disruption,” the grant application states. “Overall, the findings will support interagency cooperation and collaboration with partner nations.”

The study includes the use of GIS tools by KU researchers, who will map and model the nexus between trafficking and terrorism in the Eurasian countries. 

Transnational terrorist ties, local insurgencies

“These are countries that have a good amount of intersection with transnational terrorist ties and local insurgencies,” says Markowitz, author of the 2013 book State Erosion: Unlootable Resources and Unruly Elites in Central Asia. Published by Cornell University Press, the book received honorable mention for the 2014 Ed A. Hewett Book Prize, awarded annually to an outstanding monograph on the political economy of Russia, Eurasia and/or Eastern Europe.

“The study focuses on how terrorism and security threats and insurgency are interconnected with organized crime,” continues Markowitz, a six-year professor in Rowan’s College of Humanities & Social Sciences whose research work has focused on the political, economic and social forces in these regions. “We will see where and how the crimes happen and then draw some general lessons to help us understand other parts of the world.

“Generally speaking, these are weak states not unlike countries in Asia or Africa,” Markowitz adds, noting that the countries have difficulty collecting taxes, maintaining stability and combatting security threats. “At the same time, it’s a post-Communist area and there are very deeply ingrained legacies from the Soviet era. Legacies of real problems remain. It’s a very unique part of the world.”

In addition to publishing articles and a book on the Minerva research, Markowitz also will develop an undergraduate course focusing on Eurasian security.

About the Minerva Research Institute

A university-based social science research initiative launched by the Secretary of Defense in 2008, the Minerva Institute focuses on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy. It brings together universities, research institutions, and individual scholars to support interdisciplinary and cross-institutional projects addressing specific topic areas determined by the Secretary of Defense.

According to its web site, “the goal of the Minerva Initiative is to improve the Department of Defense’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.” The program leverages and focuses “the resources of the nation’s top universities,” seeks to “define and develop foundational knowledge about sources of present and future conflict with an eye toward better understanding of the political trajectories of key regions of the world”; and improves the department’s ability to “develop cutting-edge social science research, foreign area and interdisciplinary studies” developed and vetted by “the best scholars in these fields.”

Addressing societal needs

The Minerva Institute grant is a first for Rowan, according to Dr. Kenneth Blank, the University’s senior vice president.

“Rowan has and presently is performing work under Department of Defense contracts, but this is the first time that our investigators are undertaking work for the DoD in areas related to the social sciences,” Blank notes, adding that the research by Markowitz and his Kansas colleagues is critical to national security.

“This award demonstrates the depth of Rowan’s capabilities to meet societal needs through our research initiatives.”

Markowitz, who speaks Russian and Uzbek and has two decades of fieldwork experience in Eurasia, earned his doctorate in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. He also holds a master’s degree in international affairs from American University’s School of International Service (1998) and a bachelor’s degree in history from the State University of New York-Oneonta (1992).

Since 2012, Markowitz has served as director of Rowan’s Hollybush Institute, a multi-disciplinary institute that promotes scholarly research and education on the intersections of science, technology, social science and the humanities.