While it exhibits some characteristics of a weak state, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is most illustrative of a criminal state. Officials of the DPRK have allegedly been directly engaging in criminal activities since the 1970s. For example, in 1976 the Norwegian government expelled all the staff of the North Korean embassy, suggesting they were involved in the smuggling of narcotics and unlicensed goods . The DPRK has intensified its criminal activities over the last decade—arguably because the leadership in North Korea has been replaced 'by a younger group, less committed to the dogma of socialism and seemingly more eager to experience the good life' . An indication of this development is the government's establishment of 'Bureau 39', an official government department tasked with generating hard currency by any means, including drug trafficking, counterfeiting, money laundering and piracy .
The second scenario, on the other hand, refers to the situation where politically motivated criminal organisations or commercial terrorist groups perpetuate their existence and activities by promoting domestic and/or regional instability. Although political goals may have played a role in the initial emergence of instability, after a time it became evident that economic motivations took precedence. Terror tactics are utilised to sustain criminal activities, and it may be concluded that many ongoing civil wars are merely draped in ideological rhetoric to gain legitimacy and to ensure a steady supply of new recruits. There is growing evidence that these non-state actors are producing alternative economic and political structures in the absence of a strong state. In fact, criminal and terrorist groups in weak states have already constituted de facto governments who imitate the characteristics of formal state activities, despite perpetuating their involvement in activities considered illegal by formal state structures.
A key quote: "politically motivated criminal organisations or commercial terrorist groups perpetuate their existence and activities by promoting domestic and/or regional instability. Although political goals may have played a role in the initial emergence of instability, after a time it became evident that economic motivations took precedence. Terror tactics are utilised to sustain criminal activities, and it may be concluded that many ongoing civil wars are merely draped in ideological rhetoric to gain legitimacy and to ensure a steady supply of new recruits."
The instability of civil wars certainly provides excellent cover for criminal activity, but might this necessarily be only "civil wars" and "terror tactics"? Or might established powers play a role in such conflicts, as well, utilizing well-disciplined and well-behaved regular military forces?
"In fact, criminal and terrorist groups in weak states have already constituted de facto governments who imitate the characteristics of formal state activities, despite perpetuating their involvement in activities considered illegal by formal state structures."
What happens when such elements get elected through legal means? What happens when elected officials become corrupted after their election?
It may be suggested that this aspect of the 'black hole' syndrome is the natural progression of political criminal organisations or commercial terrorist groups gaining economic and political control over a parcel of territory or an entire state. In an effort to secure an environment conducive to their criminality, these entities may seek to wreak havoc and instability in the areas of their main operations. A successful criminal organisation with political interests or a commercial terrorist group, however, will effectively challenge the legitimacy of a state, and ultimately replace the state in many (if not all) of its functions. The basic characteristics of this predicament are evident in numerous examples, including ongoing instability in the Balkans , Caucasus , southern Thailand  and Sierra Leone.
As we consider this matter, for our purposes looking more at the Balkans and at Central and South Asia, we must also keep in mind that criminal groups have always sought to influence "legitimate" governments through bribery, intimidation, and other methods.
Taking Sierra Leone as an illustrative example, the descent into state terrorism was not accompanied by an exclusive 'logic of political violence,' but it was intertwined with the 'logics of banditry, hedonism and brutality' and was intrinsically linked to the illicit trade in diamonds . Crime was an integral component of the Revolutionary United Forces (RUF) that took precedence over any political aim. Any belief in the existence of a political component to the violence that penetrated Sierra Leone throughout the 1990s is amply eradicated once the following points are considered:The 'rebellion' has had no known spokesmen or political program; it does not seem to have the goal of gaining political power. It has no reason to appeal politically to the population in the areas in which it is active; its 'strategy' is marauding terror of the subject population and denying control to the government so that the government cannot suppress its lawlessness. The fact that government forces have been known to act as atrociously as the rebels does not improve matters .
"The fact that government forces have been known to act as atrociously as the rebels does not improve matters."
There's why torture, mistreatment of prisoners, or even "enhanced interrogation" is incredibly foolish and short-sighted. In addition to being wrong and morally repugnant, such conduct is self-defeating: when the choice is offered of being "either with us, or with the terrorists", the population needs to see a clear distinction, and any policy that erodes that distinction furthers the goals of the terrorists and criminals. When the government's policy, consistently defended at the highest levels, is to mistreat and abuse captives, the natural assumption on the part of many is that the government officials responsible are criminals themselves -- an assumption that is only furthered by gag orders placed on patriotic Americans who seek to tell of criminal wrongdoing of which they have become aware.
In both contexts of the 'black hole' syndrome, it maybe concluded that war has provided 'legitimation for various criminal forms of private aggrandisement while at the same time these are necessary sources of revenue in order to sustain the war. The warring parties need more or less permanent conflict both to reproduce their positions of power and for access to resources' . Thus, regardless of whether these civil wars began with an ideological agenda and transformed into a criminal struggle, or emerged because of the successful operations of politically motivated criminal organisations or commercial terrorist groups, they share several common characteristics.
To begin with, conflict that besets the 'black hole' syndrome has no clear military objective and lacks political purpose. Instead, military units constitute 'little more than marauding bands acting quite independently of any order and showing no discipline whatsoever in the actions they were committing' . Furthermore, where political motivations do follow the criminal activities of belligerents in violent conflicts, it is evident that the perpetuation of conflict, as opposed to victory, becomes a priority in order to create ideal conditions for transnational criminal activities to flourish . Groups that thrive within 'black hole' environments are all equally motivated by the 'accumulation of wealth, control of territory and people, freedom of movement and action, and legitimacy. Together, these elements represent usable power—power to allocate values and resources in society' .
I would like to explore the situation that develops when people with such criminal motives come to power in a national government.
The military forces that it commands, instead of being marauding bands, may very well the best military forces in the world, well-trained and well-equipped, disciplined, and enjoying a well-deserved reputation of treating local civilian populations -- even "enemy" civilian populations -- not only humanely, but even very well. Indeed, such a military force does not view a civilian population as being an "enemy", and so naturally sets a very high standard of conduct in feeding and caring for the civilian population, doing extensive civil works projects to improve the community, and punishing those military personnel within its own ranks who have been found to have mistreated the local people.
Still, if the civilian political leadership is heavily influenced by criminal intentions, then, despite the rhetoric surrounding the war, one may still perceive that the conflict, perhaps now in its sixth year, "has no clear military objective and lacks political purpose" -- and one may hear those civilian leaders warn that the war is unlike any other war, that it will not end "in our lifetimes", but hearing this, one must suspect not merely ineptness, but corruption and criminal motivation on the part of that civilian leadership.