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In my world, there is a remote island country (unofficially named Banditland or Sin Island) started by cartel/mafia kingpins and unethical businessmen from across the world. In this country, very few things are illegal. Gambling is legal. Prostitution is legal. Blasphemy/Heresy and mocking people is legal. Every drug is legal. Counterfeiting foreign currencies is legal. Fencing stolen goods is legal. Human trafficking is legal (you cannot enslave island citizens however). Dueling is legal. There is no copyright enforcement. As a matter of fact, it is easier to state what isn't legal in this country. Only Mala Se crimes like assault, murder, rape, theft, arson, and vandalism are illegal in this country. Even then, those crimes are only illegal if you commit them against the citizens of the country. Citizens include people who are born in Banditland or those who willingly immigrate there.

If such a country existed in the modern world, they would definitely be a rogue state by U.S. government standards. As a matter of fact, even compared to other rogue states like Iran or North Korea, Banditland would be a huge pariah hated by many other countries. My Banditland exists in modern times in a world that is almost identical to 21st Century Earth. I'm trying to conceive of a way to make sure that Banditland doesn't get blockaded or overthrown in a United Nations intervention. Here is what I have so far:

  1. Banditland has a strong military; although this would get expensive for the kingpins who run Banditland.

  2. Banditland is pretty much a puppet state of one of the world's superpowers who protects it both diplomatically and militarily in exchange for Banditland harming the enemies of the superpower.

  3. Almost every major country uses Banditland to harm its enemies, making it a neutral yet valuable country to have around.

  4. Banditland has a very harsh terrain like being covered in jungles and mountains which makes an occupation very costly.

Can a "criminal" country in the modern world last a long time doing stuff that is illegal in almost every single other country? Or will international geopolitics spell doom for this nation?

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    $\begingroup$ Mexico? Somalia? $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Aug 13 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ Gambling: legal int he USA in many places. Prostitution: legal in Arizona, USA. Drugs: legal everywhere before WW2. Blasphemy, heresy and mocking: legal in the USA. Counterfeiting foreign currency: the USA and China have never ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Counterfeiting Currency. No copyright enforcement: the USA before WW1, and China today. (And it is mala in se, not **mala se. Minus one for bad Latin.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 13 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ I think you vastly overestimate how much the US/"Western World" cares about "moral crimes" when a NIMBY approach can be taken by average citizens. The drugs, prostitution, dueling, heresy, gambling, etc... nobody (important) would care. There are already many non-pariah countries today where you can go and experience these. Even slavery isn't a dealbreaker (so long as "slavery" is couched in some PR-friendly language) and copyright infringement is already extremely widespread. What would get the USA upset is financial crimes. State-sponsored counterfeit is a big no-no and so is tax evasion. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Aug 13 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ In any case, why would anyone ever visit, knowing they are not protected even from being murdered by the law? How would even people eat? Would you open a food shop in a country with so few laws, full of drug addicts and criminals? Same applies for just about any business that needs to exist in a country just so people can get by. $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Aug 15 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ This country doesn't face blockade, but inner turmoil. You've filled it with criminals and psychos... how long before some cartel captain decides to promote himself to dictator/king/el-presidente? And if the CIA likes that guy to be in charge, then how will there not be a regime change? Once someone like that is in charge, what keeps it from devolving into "crimes are anything the tyrant doesn't like, or for whom he favors the victims" instead of "crimes are these offenses against citizens"? I don't think this country is viable, or could even come into being. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Aug 15 at 16:12

8 Answers 8

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Well... yes... and no...

What one country considers illegal another country may not. That's true today all over the world. Take the practice of female genital mutilation, for instance. Most western countries absolutely abhor that practice — to the point of some really large multi-national non-profits acting diligently to bring it to an end.

Is female genital mutilation legal in, for instance, the U.S. No. Is it generally abhorred in the U.S.? Yes. Is the U.S. on the verge of landing the marines in countries that practice it to stop the practice?

No

In a sense you've asked a question that's too broad. There are thousands, maybe even millions of practices that one country would consider illegal and yet are practiced in another. And they're allowed to do it because (a) no country actually has the moral right to force any other country to conform to its beliefs (oh, they try...) and (b) most countries either have something the other country wants (oil, cheap labor...) or is big enough to push back on an effort to stop it.

So, from one perspective. Absolutely. A bandit country more-or-less like you're describing can exist in the modern world.

Except...

You appear to be describing what we'll call... the Free State of Tortuga. At least the Tortuga of the 1600s made popular in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Could such a lawless place exist?

Not really. Oh, we have our drug cartels in Columbia and our human trafficking out of Somalia and as much graft as you can imagine in Mexico... but you're describing an oxymoron... a place that's completely lawless and yet under the control of other nations. The problem is that those other nations require results and the bandit nation is in the business of giving them the proverbial vulgar hand gesture.

So, while there are plenty of examples of modern countries that do absolutely deplorable completely breathtakingly evil things (Nazi Germany's enactment of the Jewish Holocaust comes to mind as does the subjugation of women in too much of the Muslim world), the reality is...

  • You can't depend on a bandit country to do anything useful for you. The moment you've enforced enough order to get predictable results, you no longer have a bandit country.

  • People need to eat, get medical care, etc. Yes, they can, have, and do live without great amounts of those things, but the more they must fight to stay alive the less time there is for banditry — but the less they have to fight to remain alive, the less the general population wants banditry. Laws are imposed by the largest group with the mightiest weapons. And those nations might be interested in selling the peons a few. At which point you no longer have a bandit nation.

  • Finally, you appear to be describing, basically, chaos. Sounds like a place you want to visit on spring break, right? Yeah, if only to avoid liability, most nations would be telling their citizens that they visit that nation for a hedonistic vacation at their own risk — and it wouldn't take more than one or two high-profile murders or kidnappings before everyone who might want to go there... stops going there. Why is that important? Because if the only export from your island country, which needs imports of foods and materials to survive, is considered illegal everywhere else... Let's just say it's a lot easier to stop an island nation from exporting cocaine than it is a cartel in Columbia that has an entire continent worth of coastline and landmass to work from to sneak something out.

Conclusion

You've created a easily located, hard-to-defend, impossible-to-feed lawless nation and hope that it can realistically exist in the Real World.

It can't.

But examples of different aspects of your lawlessness exist today all over the world. What you generally won't find is that the criminals are working out of an easy-to-find hard-to-defend island. Instead they're working out of large landmasses with population centers that allow them to hide behind the proverbial human shield.

Frankly, if such a place existed, the first world leader to vaporize it would get booku credibility. And the first world leader to get caught using the services of such a high-profile criminality would be lynched.

And maybe that's the problem: you've created a high-profile example of a service that's traditionally very, very, very low-profile... for a reason.

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    $\begingroup$ +1, but worth giving more attention to the "counterfeiting foreign currencies" activity. Unlike many of the other "crimes" this is not an attack against an individual, but against another nation's economy. Which makes it time for declarations of war (and totally agree that the first leader to send in strikes would be generally viewed favourably). $\endgroup$ Aug 13 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ "Beaucoup", not "booku." $\endgroup$
    – JRE
    Aug 15 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ @JRE Official spelling. Slang spelling. If that's the worst thing about my answer, I'm in great shape. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 15 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH have never seen that word spelled "booku". In fact I had no idea what it meant, until I saw the clarifying comment down here. $\endgroup$
    – Esther
    Aug 15 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I assume if someone used the word in speech, they would put on a "fake French accent" or otherwise indicate they are using a French word, and I would know what it means. Additionally, it would be pronounced with the stress on the last syllable, which is not default in English and therefore not how I read it at first. Apparently the word has reached standard slang English; I've just never heard it in that context. $\endgroup$
    – Esther
    Aug 15 at 21:50
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Image is Everything:

For a state like you are describing, the bad optics would be lethal. But there is a perfectly workable alternative.

Lie your a** off.

All these things are illegal but done in LOTS of places, often with the explicit support of the government. But if you ASK the government, they insist it's not happening, or certainly not at the building that's being discussed, and you MUST be mistaken, since state inspectors were just in that building, and they were most certainly NOT using manacled slave labor to produce knockoff prescription drugs alongside methamphetamine. No, I don't think we will allow international inspectors.

Well, yes, prostitution is legal, but only to protect the sex workers. Drug use is legal as a means of controlling the drug epidemic (fueled by the demand of larger nations), and yes, that does mean the state produces those drugs for internal use only. They make how much? No, that's not what the reports say. Now there is a perfectly legal guest worker program, and I assure you we have the signatures of all those employees around here somewhere. It IS true, some of them take their pay in methadone, but those poor souls were addicted before they came here.

The law as written is an obvious sham, and no one enforces the so-called legal system unless it happens to be convenient.

This is not to say that the state wouldn't have other governments spying on them constantly, or that there wouldn't be the occasional annoying unauthorized drug raid or precision bombing strike. Hey, it's the cost of business, and it would cost more doing it somewhere else where the bribery system wasn't formalized into the tax code.

But everyone agrees that (okay, FINE) the plutonium doesn't get sold to the terrorists, and no one is going to audit the banking system (too many embarrassing recodes there...). As long as there is something to benefit everyone, then as long as there is a market, there will be buyers and sellers.

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North Korea

Though we can't make direct comparisons between your country and North Korea, they have parallels to one another.

N. Korea does a great many things that aren't legal to most nations, both within and without the country. Family incarcerations and possibly executions are some big ones within the country. But outside they have orchestrated assassinations or big thefts like bitcoin or hacks. Many countries wouldn't mind N. Korea to be nothing more than a smouldering heap of ash. Many others want it changed to their values. Even its allies aren't happy anout some things they are doing.

Why isn't the country forcefully changed? To begin with changing the country would be very difficult thanks to the culture. But it is also a great pawn in the geopolitical match going on. Despite what it does, some countries support N. Korea and some oppose it. That is why no one will do a thing but talk.

Besides the allies it has an army. It is ageing and will never win from any other country, but that isn't its purpose. The purpose is threat. If you attack them you'll certainly win, but they will make it far too much trouble to bother. It is better to leave it as it is.

Your country

Your country can be much the same. Even without any use of the country itself the world can use it as a pawn, allies threatening retaliation if it is attacked. Even if no one would help the political ramifications of attacking are bad. People within the country will not be happy if a win is at the cost of many civilian lives.

Yet your country has merit. Many countries have ethical and moral obligations. There are many things they have to do secretly to not upset their population. It is a good idea to put some distance between you and these acts. Rent the Wagner group for your public terror of rape, murder and torture of a population you want cowed for example. You deny responsibility by saying it wasn’t why they were hired or that you hired them at all.

Your country can then be used as a proxy to illegal activities for many countries. The country can't possibly be neutral in geopolitics, but they certainly can survive and have a place.

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The criminal overlords need to be more careful with tourism.

People mostly don't care about immoral actions in other countries. It's routine. What they care about is people being harmed.

Suppose Elon Musk visits this country, and is murdered by someone. Or Taylor Swift visits and is tortured and sold as a slave to a salt mine. That sort of high visibility crime draws eyes and would cause problems. They need to make sure that tourists can visit, and so long as they stay in approved areas, they won't have problems, and that local people won't cause them problems.

Hostage taking is fine, and selling off some rich person for a few thousand is routine.

They need to stop weapon of mass destruction production.

Other countries won't tolerate them if they unleash chemical bombs, biological weapons, or nuclear weapons on them. They need to stop any such weapons being revealed to the world at large.

They need to stop major terrorist organizations from setting up shop.

If they are seen as a country where you can safely launch violent attacks against rivals from, they will be challenged. They need to stop violent terrorists from using the island to protect themselves.

They need to have some reason that countries don't coup it.

Intervention in foreign countries is common, and there will no doubt be local dissidents who foreigners could supply with heavy weaponry to overthrow the bandit lords.

As such, they need to produce valuable supplies that they can use to have good diplomatic relationships with foreign nations. Perhaps they can test drugs on captured slaves? Perhaps they have diamond mines? Regardless, they need a resource to do stuff with and bribe foreign nations to not intervene.

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  • $\begingroup$ I generally agree, but the last one is a toughy. You don't want a valuable resource, because people will want to take it from you. But if you house unwanted prisoners, allow black-site torture centers, and "take in" refugees that you then exploit, you are doing a valuable service that can't be replicated in a place with solid humanitarian policies. I also think you can allow the terrorists to operate, as long as you are willing to sell them out at the drop of a hat. Better to know where the terrorists are working from, rather than having to look all over the world for them. +1 $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 17 at 17:02
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If Banditland kept to themselves then it might be possible. However, you said that countries use Banditland to attack their enemies. That alone will almost guarantee that they can't survive in the modern world.

That sort of situation is more a less a proxy war, which there are many examples of in the last century. Major nations are very hesitant to attack each other and start another large scale war. If the enemy is using a smaller, weaker nation to do their dirty work, that larger nation likely wouldn't hesitate to wipe them out. They disarm their opponent with minimal risk to their own territory and with an extremely high chance of success. Banditland as you describe it can't be trusted thus would not be part of any defense treaties/alliances, so a larger nation could completely neutralize it with minimal risk. Unlike real-world proxy wars, the situation you describe would make it very difficult for the opposing nation to justify assisting in the defense of Banditland. They'd be on their own, and unable to defend against a serious attack.

Look at it like a "pros and cons" list. Taking them out has tremendous upside and minimal (if any) drawbacks. Allowing them to remain is a tremendous risk and doesn't really benefit you at all. In the real world, Banditland would have an "international peacekeeping coalition" knocking on their door in short order.

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Yeah, plenty of third World countries like that already. Basically run by gangsters. They fulfill basic requirements for funding by pretending to be democracies and have no natural resources worth the effort of invading for. No one invades for the good of the people, they invade for their own benefit in some way.

Right now a gangster country is a valuable friend to have and Western countries fund and pledge military assistance against their own people to what are basically gangsters who do whatever they want and make any laws they want. The value is their vote in international bodies.

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It is a small and worthless island.

The fact that people there are doing whatever is of minimal consequence to people everywhere else. The counterfeiting could be troublesome but the fakes issued by this small time island are not hard to identify. Transactions like gambling or human trafficking are easy enough to quietly accomplish in other places, saving the trip to this nasty little island.

All of the "Banditland!" stuff is technically true but in actuality the island is a sleepy little place. Much of the island is overgrown and wild donkeys wander around. Inn proprietors (actually proprietor) will be happy to feed and lodge a visitor with hard currency. The main export of Banditland is actually Banditland Radio - the owner takes advantage of their freedom to mock people and do so frequently and often, to hilarious effect. They also play some sweet tunes, some of which are bootleg copies.

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The things you describe happening in Banditland are very very tame compared to things happening in many real-life countries which have never been invaded. Contrary to what many politicians would have you believe, countries do not get invaded because their governments are terrible and do terrible things. Military invasions are very costly both economically and often politically. Countries get invaded for one of two reasons

  • they have something you want, something valuable enough to invade over. Typically resources or land.
  • they caused some really significant harm to what you consider your interests.

So, the only thing that would happen is citizens of most countries would be warned against traveling to Banditland, and that would be that.

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