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Session 6: High Level Corruption and International Security

Session 6: High Level Corruption and International Security

Discussion Points:

  • In what ways is high level corruption related to international security?
  • What are the most significant corruption risks in defence sector and how do they impact capabilities?
  • Is there a link between corruption and violent extremism?
  • What are the priorities in fighting high level corruption?
  • Can corruption be fought internationally, and if so, what are the prerequisites for success?



Corruption hinders the development of societies, negatively affects human rights and undermines public confidence in state institutions. Corruption is present at all levels of governance. While the so-called petty corruption involves low and mid level public servants and officers unable to satisfy their social needs with low salaries, high level corruption is driven by private/particularistic interests of the elites. Through high level corruption, the much-needed state resources are misappropriated away from citizens and transformed into economic and political influence of individuals and small interest groups. Obviously, corruption is most harmful to those who are especially dependent on public services, that is, to poor and marginalized.


Security sector is not immune to the scourge of corruption, on the contrary – the culture of secrecy that is prevalent in security sectors often provides a fertile ground for corrupt practices. Corruption within the security sector may take many forms, such as: bribes, awarding of non-competitive contracts, misuse of budgets, and the use of military resources to generate off-budget profits. Moreover, outsourcing the functions previously reserved for states to private military and security companies – and the limited regulations of such transfers of power – further broaden the space for corruption. Corruption in the security sector is costly, as it diverts scarce resources from other sectors in need, such as, health and education. It also presents a security risk, as it compromises effective functioning of the security sector.


Corruption has become increasingly recognized as a threat not only to national and human security, but to the global security and international peace too. High level, systemic corruption leads to severe economic disparities, thus evoking dissatisfaction of populations and becoming a factor in social unrest and insurgency. It also contributes to other international security threats, including links between governments and transnational organized crime networks, financing of terrorist organizations, fragile international security regimes, as well as economic crisis. Moreover, structural corruption is the link that connects the most pressing international security concerns – from the situation in Ukraine and Afghanistan, to ISIS and Boko Haram. As Chayes (2015) argues, religious fundamentalism, i.e. rigid moral codes, comes into play when the integrity of public institutions collapses: “It is clear that ISIS’ ability to expand into territory in Iraq is related to people’s disgust at the way that their own government is treating them.”


However, Western governments, as well as key business actors, tend to see corruption as an issue of secondary importance to stability and peace – not as its necessary prerequisite. The governments in conjunction with big capital, lead by their narrow financial and political interests, seek to maintain diplomatic and even friendly relations with corrupt counterpart governments. Besides, the dominant view of corruption as petty corruption, but also the perception of corruption as a cultural issue (part of certain cultures), hinders the development of a comprehensive approach that would bring more success in the fight against corruption.


Selected Readings:


Previous BSF sessions on similar topics:

2016 – Session 5: Walking the Thin Line: Democracy and Security

2015 – Session 8: Privatization of Security in Transforming Societies – Main Challenges to Democratic Governance

2013 – Session 12: Corruption and Informality – Have the Developed Democracies and Part of Balkans Learned to Tame Them?