corruption should be understood not as a failure or distortion of government but as a functioning system in which ruling networks use selected levers of power to capture specific revenue streams. This effort often overshadows activities connected with running a state.
Such systematic corruption evokes indignation in populations, making it a factor in social unrest and insurgency.
It contributes to other international security threats, such as symbiotic relationships between states and transnational organized crime networks, facilitation for terrorist organizations, permeable international security regimes, and acute economic disruptions.
Corruption does not fuel these threats alone. It combines with other risk factors, such as ethnic, religious, or linguistic rifts in a population or severe economic disparities, to increase the likelihood of a security challenge.
Western policymakers typically prioritize other considerations, such as immediate security imperatives, the economic or strategic value of maintaining relations with a given government, or return on investment, over corruption concerns. As a result, Western institutions and individuals often enable corrupt governments, exacerbating security threats and incurring sometimes dangerous reputational risk.
Recommendations for Public- and Private-Sector Decisionmakers
Rigorously analyze systemically corrupt countries. Gather information on the structure of ruling networks, the levers of power and revenue streams they capture, and other risk factors with which acute corruption may be interacting.
Use the analysis to inform choices on engaging with severely corrupt regimes. Policymakers and business executives alike should conduct nuanced cost-benefit analyses before deciding to invest in a systemically corrupt state. Where involvement is unavoidable or fulfills a separate policy priority, modifications to standard operating procedures can reduce the likelihood of crises and help avoid the costs associated with interventions that might otherwise be required.
Devise creative ways to avoid enabling systemic corruption. Decisionmakers should take advantage of the wide variety of available tools and leverage when approaching corrupt countries (see appendix in full paper). Depending on the circumstances, changes in diplomatic practice, military assistance, development efforts, aid to civil society, membership requirements for multilateral regimes, business investment, and rules regulating international capital flows will be required.
Corruption: Misunderstanding the Impact
The latest in a string of popular uprisings that have toppled governments from Tunisia to Kyrgyzstan escalated into a crisis in 2014 as Ukrainians threw off the rule of then president Viktor Yanukovych and Moscow responded by invading Crimea.
At the same time, jihadis from several continents flocked to Syria, where an estimated 150,000 people were dead after three years of civil war and millions fled their homes. In Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents were exacting a record toll on local security forces as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops were leaving a still-unstable country in the wake of their withdrawal. And in Nigeria, militants from the Boko Haram extremist group were conducting a series of attacks on schoolchildren and villagers, while the governor of the country’s central bank was fired for investigating the disappearance of some $20 billion in oil revenues.
Is there a thread linking these far-flung events, all high on the West’s list of security priorities?