Guest Post: The Government Defence Integrity Index — Assessing Corruption in Defence

Stephanie Trapnell, Senior Advisor on Defence and Security at Transparency International, and Matthew Steadman, Research Officer at Transparency International UK’s Defence and Security Programme, authored today’s post on the UK Programme’s Government Defence Integrity Index. The Index evaluates corruption risks across defence financing, operations, personnel, political, and procurement for 87 countries using data on 77 defence-related areas. (As the index was produced by TI Defence & Security, a program housed within the TI-UK chapter, the British spelling is followed throughout.)

Corruption in the defence sector poses grave risks for security in both national and international contexts. Transparency International’s flagship report for the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) shows 86% of global arms exports between 2016-2020 (worth US$1439.6 billion) originated from countries at a moderate to very high risk of corruption in their defence sectors. The top five exporters – the United States (overall score of 55/100), Russia (36/100), France (50/100), Germany (70/100) and China (28/100) – accounted for 76% of the global total. Meanwhile, 49% of global arms imports are arriving in counties facing a high to critical risk of defence corruption.

Although President Biden’s new anticorruption strategy outlines a “whole-of-government approach” to countering corruption, it stresses the importance of addressing corruption specifically in defence and security. Indeed, the strategy is a critical and welcome acknowledgment, by a global power and major provider of security assistance, that corruption plays a considerable role in destabilising democracy. In Strategic Objective 5.5, emphasis is placed on assessment of corruption risk, causes of corruption, and political will for reform. Specifically for the security sector, there is a call for greater transparency in military budgets, whistle-blower protections, and oversight.

Not only does corruption have a devastating impact on both the defence apparatus itself and on wider peace and security, it can undermine otherwise robust democracies, by serving as a type of statecraft for defence officials and military elites. Corruption undermines the efficiency of security forces, damages popular trust in state institutions, and feeds a sense of disillusionment, which threatens the social contract and the rule of law, and can empower non-state and extremist armed groups.

Given the distinct nature of governance in the defence sector, and the evolving understanding of how corruption operates, the question then turns to what can be done to counter or prevent corruption in a traditionally secretive yet critical sector like defence. The answer is not to measure corruption itself, which is inherently covert and difficult to capture, but instead to measure institutional resilience to it. The Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) is the only tool that captures comprehensive information on the quality of institutional controls on corruption in the defence sector.

The GDI recognises that:

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Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker Is Badly Flawed. It Needs To Be Redone from Scratch.

In May 2016, at the London Anticorruption Summit sponsored by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, participating countries issued declarations announcing a variety of commitments—some new, some continuations of existing policies—to further the fight against international corruption. Of course, all too often governments fail to follow through on their grandiose promises, so I was heartened by Transparency International’s announcement, in September 2016, that it had gone through all the country declarations, compiled a spreadsheet identifying each country’s specific promises, and would be monitoring how well each country was following through on its commitments.

Last month, a year after TI published the spreadsheet documenting the list of summit commitments, TI released a report and an interactive website that purport to track whether countries have followed through on those commitments. So what do we learn from this tracking exercise?

Alas, the answer is “almost nothing.” TI’s “Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker,” in its current form, is a catastrophic failure—a slapdash, amateurish collection of arbitrary, often inconsistent judgments, unsupported by anything that resembles serious research, and (ironically) non-transparent. This is all the more surprising—and disappointing—given the fact that TI has done so much better in producing similar assessment tools in other contexts. Indeed, at least one such recent tool—TI’s Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index—provides a model for what the Pledge Tracker could and should have looked like. Given the importance of tracking countries’ fulfillment of their summit pledges, and TI’s natural position as a leader on that effort, I dearly hope that TI will scrap the Pledge Tracker in its current form, go back to the drawing board, and do a new version.

I know that sounds harsh, and perhaps it seems excessive. But let me explain why I don’t find the Pledge Tracker, in its current form, worthy of credence. Continue reading