The Architecture of Illicit Nuclear Trafficking

An Instrumental Approach to Network Analysis

  • Mathilde Le Moal
Keywords: Transnational Organised Crime, Nuclear Trafficking, Social Network Analysis, Social Capital


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, nuclear trafficking in Russia and the former Soviet Republics has become an ever-prevalent threat for international security. This essay provides an assessment of the organisational structure of this transnational organised crime (TOC). Using the instrumental approach to network analysis and Bourdieu’s concept of social and human capital as a methodological framework, this essay investigates the nature of connections maintained among criminals during the various stages of the nuclear trafficking process – acquisition, transportation, sale – and contends that nuclear trafficking displays characteristics both of a stable hierarchy and a fluid network. Thus, it reaches the conclusion that TOC groups involved in this illicit activity present a hybrid form of organisational structure which is best described as a directed network – that is, a criminal entity with a stable group of organisers located at its core, and fluid nodes of individuals in charge of executing the different phases of the trafficking process at its periphery.