The Kremlin’s war against Ukraine has brought renewed urgency to our collective efforts against corruption. In addition to economic sanctions against key Russian oligarchs, we have imposed visa restrictions on their family members and their close associates. Coordinated efforts with our Allies and partners demonstrate the impact of collective action and put Russia’s kleptocrats on notice that they cannot support a violent regime and operate with impunity.
We may also be witnessing the corrosive effects of systemic corruption in Russia’s performance on the battlefield. While it may be too early to draw definitive conclusions, we have seen open-source reporting about expired rations, lack of fuel, and outdated and poorly maintained equipment that point to the waste, misuse, and abuse of “public” resources designated for Russia’s military.
It is these effects that lead us to an important lesson we can learn from this conflict about security sector governance. These lessons about systemic corruption apply to U.S. security partners the same as it does to our competitors. Corruption in the security sector is not simply a moral issue or question of good governance; it is a matter of whether we can rely on a partner to employ the capabilities we have helped them develop and to perform in a professional manner.
In its first year, the Biden-Harris Administration took decisive action to demonstrate that countering corruption is a priority for the United States. The , released in December 2021, provides a comprehensive approach to work domestically and internationally, with governmental and non-governmental partners, to prevent, limit, and respond to corruption and related crimes. Furthermore, by hosting last December’s Summit for Democracy, the Administration signaled to U.S. allies and partners that addressing corruption would be a fundamental aspect of our foreign policy.
U.S. Commitment to Fighting Corruption
The provides a comprehensive approach to how the United States will work domestically and internationally, with governmental and non-governmental partners, to prevent, limit, and respond to corruption and related crimes.
The State Department and the broader U.S. Government are currently in the process of developing and implementing initiatives to support each of the strategy’s five pillars. In brief, the pillars are:
1) Modernizing, coordinating, and resourcing USG anti-corruption efforts;
2) curbing illicit finance;
3) holding corrupt actors accountable;
4) strengthening multilateral anti-corruption efforts; and
5) improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance to advance anti-corruption objectives.
Corruption Considerations in Security Cooperation and Assistance
In the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM), we are invigorating this commitment to fighting corruption as we revitalize our security partnerships worldwide. We are focused increasingly on helping our partners build strong, effective, and transparent security sectors, which may require institutional modernization and reforms — including challenges stemming from corruption. Building security sector governance is a long-term effort that goes beyond delivering arms, equipment, and training. It can both prepare countries to protect their citizens but also to enhance “interoperability” with the United States so that we may collectively address shared security challenges.
Pillar Five of the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption tasks the U.S. Government with integrating anti-corruption considerations into our security cooperation and assistance programs. It:
- calls on the U.S. Government to develop protocols for assessing corruption risks before initiating security assistance activities, including by assessing the nature and causes of corruption in the security sector and the political will of partner governments to undertake anti-corruption reforms.
- asks us to develop mitigation measures where substantial corruption risks are identified, and to weigh the costs and benefits of proceeding with assistance in such cases.
- calls on us to also include more deliberate considerations of security sector governance in assistance planning processes, educate our workforce on this, and consider how we might incorporate standards for security sector governance into the review of security assistance programs and arms transfer cases.
- calls for enhanced training to incorporate anti-corruption considerations into security cooperation and assistance, and to leverage security assistance to help establish internal accountability mechanisms within the security sector.
PM has taken important strides to build new analytical frameworks — using both internal U.S. Government data and third-party sources like Transparency International’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) — to assess corruption risks and the strength of partners’ overall security sector governance. This is still a work in progress, but we are seeking to institutionalize the integration of these evidence bases into the arms transfer review process.
PM’s Global Defense Reform Program: Building Partnerships Worldwide to Counter Corruption
In PM, we understand the need for more effective institutions to administer our partners’ security sectors. The Global Defense Reform Program (GDRP), managed by PM’s Office of Global Programs and Initiatives, seeks to improve security sector governance and institutional capacity of select U.S. partners at the service, ministerial, and national levels. By focusing on systems and processes, GDRP projects aim to build the resilience of U.S. partners and their security institutions, enhance effectiveness and accountability, and better align the security sector to the needs and challenges of the partner nation and its citizens.
How does GDRP address the challenges that corruption poses?
GDRP provides strategic advisory support to partner nations to work in institutions and areas that are susceptible to corruption, fraud, abuse, waste, and overall poor management. GDRP projects help to tackle corruption in several areas:
Planning, Budget, and Financial Management
- One of the most at-risk areas for mismanagement and opportunities to exploit public resources is in planning, budget, and financial management.
- Strengthening planning, budget, and financial management systems can facilitate transparency and effective control of a government’s resources.
- In several southern European countries, GDRP advisors support defense modernization by assisting Ministries of Defense (MoDs) to update strategic documents, improve planning and programming processes, and develop force generation and procurement plans – all of which will contribute to a more transparent and effective defense sector.
Human Resources Management
- Corrupt actors in security sector institutions have used fraudulent human resources management practices to enrich themselves and drain public resources. Additionally, poor human resource management can lead to practices where military officers and other security personnel are recruited and promoted based on group affiliation or personal relationships, rather than individual efforts and merit.
- Standardized, inclusive, and transparent management of human resources and force structure help to ensure that security sectors are representative of the population.
- GDRP is helping an African partner to increase transparency and efficiency around budgeting and human resources with the country’s MoD to reform the heavily ground-focused military expand its navy and better protect its maritime borders. Improved governance strengthens the MoD’s ability to prevent the risks of corruption and employ its resources to patrol the country’s waters, reduce illicit activities, and stimulate the local economy.
Oversight, Accountability, and Interagency Coordination
- Lack of oversight, accountability, and interagency coordination can create environments that are rife with corruption. Weaknesses in legislative or regulatory oversight of security sectors degrades their resilience and enables corrupt actors to evade scrutiny.
- Interagency coordination, along with enhanced oversight and accountability measures, can work together to achieve whole-of-government buy-in, create formal channels for communication, and improve transparency.
- In one country, a GDRP advisor assisted the MoD in establishing a legislative liaison office to enhance civilian oversight and control of the armed forces and improve overall coordination between the country’s parliament and MoD. The GDRP advisor has successfully helped establish the function by identifying personnel, designing new policies and procedures, and working closely with key personnel to develop skills.
Procurement and Acquisitions
- Government procurement and acquisitions is an area susceptible to corruption in many countries. In MoDs and within the armed forces, corrupt practices during purchase of major systems can create opportunities to divert public resources to the pockets of defense officials and military officers through kickbacks, manipulated tender processes, listing fake suppliers, trade-based money laundering, insider deals, and even theft of goods and equipment, among many other practices.
- Introducing controls, automating systems, developing transparent policies and procedures, and activities to build professional staff and institutional capacity in procurement and acquisitions can help to reduce corruption and ensure that armed forces are properly equipped to address pressing security challenges.
- In the Balkans, a GDRP advisor assisted the MoD in developing a regulation requiring annual ethics training for all procurement personnel. With the GDRP advisor’s support, the MoD developed new ethics policies and procedures to strengthen the integrity of procurement operations within the ministry.
Since its inception in 2018, PM’s consultative and partnership-based approach through the GDRP to institutionalize capacity-building has increased local ownership and sustainability of program efforts. GDRP projects will continue to promote countering corruption and enhancing transparency as a key pillar of its strategic advisory assistance around the world. PM’s advocacy of good practices in security sector governance advances U.S. national security and shared interests, and promotes the alliances and partnerships needed to succeed in today’s competitive geopolitical environment.
About the Author: Mira K. Resnick is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Security in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.