Guest Post: The Importance of Integrating Anticorruption into Military Capacity-Building Programs

Today’s guest post is from Associate Professor Åse Gilje Østensen of the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, and Sheelagh Brady, Senior Analyst at SAR Consultancy:

In developing countries faced with security challenges—such as armed conflict, insurgencies, or widespread violence—foreign donors often offer capacity-building programs to strengthen local security institutions. However, many of these capacity-building programs do not consider corruption or incorporate anticorruption measures within their design. And when donors do consider corruption in military capacity-building programs, they typically focus narrowly, and short-sightedly, on safeguarding program funding, with little apparent concern beyond that. The view seems to be that one can build military or police capacity first, and then (perhaps) deal with corruption later, or even leave anticorruption efforts entirely to organizations and agencies dedicated to this purpose.

This approach is likely mistaken. As documented in a recent case study from the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Capacity Building for the Nigerian Navy: Eyes Wide Shut on Corruption?, capacity-building efforts in weak states with pervasive corruption can stimulate corrupt or even criminal activity, which may result in more of the insecurity that these efforts are supposed to reduce. As the U4 report notes, “capacity building can strengthen the abilities of corrupt actors to devise corrupt schemes, as the skills and equipment provided may be used to ‘professionalise’ corrupt practices.” Donors and policymakers therefore need to see corruption as a critical concern at the top level of foreign and security policy across countries, and make anticorruption a key component of the design, implementation, and follow-up of military and police training.

In contrast to more ambitious and comprehensive security sector reform programs, capacity building programs seek to achieve modest improvements in capabilities, usually by providing training, mentoring, and/or equipment. Yet while modesty in terms of goals may be useful, donors may be tempted to think that the limited scope of capacity-building interventions implies limited risk. Yet a host of problems can arise when anticorruption measures are not incorporated into capacity building. Most obviously, when adding particular skill sets or strengthening the operational capacity of corrupt security institutions, security personnel may improve their ability to divert resources from their intended purposes. Worse still, building selected capacity without addressing corruption could mean bolstering the segments of the security apparatus involved in facilitating or carrying out criminal activity. It is hard to know just how big of a problem this is, but there are indications that capacity building very often is provided to corrupt security sectors. For example, several studies have found the Nigerian Navy to be heavily involved in facilitating illegal bunkering, oil theft at sea, and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (see here, here, here, and here). At the same time, the Navy is a partner to two capacity building programs sponsored by the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM): the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) and the Africa Partnership Station (APS). Neither of these programs implements measures to prevent corrupt actors in the Navy from using their newfound skills and better technology to fuel insecurity and crime. More generally, according to the Security Assistance Monitor, in 2016 alone the United States provided over $8 billion in arms and training to 50 of the 63 countries that Transparency International (TI) has rated as a having a high or critical risk of corruption in their defense sectors.

How can anticorruption efforts be made part of capacity-building programs? The first step is to recognize that corruption can undermine the results of security assistance programs, and to avoid compartmentalizing “security” and “corruption” as two unrelated issues. After recognizing this fundamental point, one can design and implement sensible anticorruption measures, tailored to the particular circumstances, in particular the informal power distributions and incentive structures that determine who gains from corruption and how. And before implementing capacity building programs in the first place, donors should carefully consider whether those programs will translate into institutional improvements or will instead create “capital” that may be attractive to corrupt actors, subversive forces, or disloyal individuals.

Corruption in Kurdistan: Implications for U.S. Security Interests

Since the rise of ISIS, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been a vital U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS. The KRG is in many ways a unique sub-state, created through U.S. intervention following Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign against the Kurds, and preserved in the new Iraqi constitution through Article 137, which grants the KRG a degree of autonomy.  Yet Kurdistan is plagued by corruption common to governments that, like the KRG, are heavily reliant on oil and gas revenue. Of the hundreds of millions dollars produced by the oil and gas industry in Kurdistan each month, only a portion reaches the actual Kurdish economy. Kurdish officials have tried to combat this problem to some degree, but oil revenues continue to “leak” from official channels to foreign advisors and government ministers. The problems are exacerbated by the fact that the KRG government, while nominally a democracy, is dominated by two tribal-familial groups, the Barzani and the Talabani, and the government actually resembles a hereditary dictatorship more than a parliamentary democracy, with the Barzani family in particular controlling the presidency, prime minister, and head of the region’s security forces through direct familial ties. In fact, current president Massoud Barzani has been serving without a democratic mandate since 2013.

KRG corruption is not just a concern for the Kurdish people, but a real security threat for the United States, for two main reasons: Continue reading

Who Calls the Shots?: Boko Haram and the Legacy of Military Leadership in Nigeria

When Boko Haram operatives attacked a Nigerian military outpost near the village where I lived in northern Cameroon in 2011, locals condemned the assault. But they admitted that something had to be done about soldiers who, they said, regularly apprehended people and held them for ransom. Boko Haram’s tenor and tactics have grown increasingly radical and destructive since, but the early perceptions of the group highlight, in part, the relationship between corruption and instability. In that case, alleged military corruption directly contributed to violent conflict. Indeed, many analysts have drawn connections between government corruption and the rise of Boko Haram (see here, here, and here).

Transparency International has weighed in on the situation, as well, detailing how corruption has both continued to fuel instability and hampered the response to Boko Haram attacks. TI calls on the Nigerian government to “speak out against corruption and … invite civil society organizations to take part in developing an anti-corruption strategy.” Each course requires significant political will. Nigerian leaders’ historic relationship with the military may do a lot to explain why the requisite political commitment has failed to materialize within past administrations. Continue reading

The Corruption-Security Nexus: Lessons from Afghanistan (Part 2)

This spring has been a season of reckoning with regard to anticorruption efforts in Afghanistan, with two important reports on that topic released last February. The first report, a study on the relationship between corruption and stability in conflict and post-conflict zones from Transparency International (TI) Germany, was the subject of my last post. The second study, was  the U.S. military published a report prepared by the Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA) Division of the Joint Staff. The JCOA study is disheartening, with the report’s key findings amounted to an admission that U.S. forces initially contributed to corruption in Afghanistan. Indeed, the report finds that actions on the part of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan government, and the Afghan population fostered a “culture of impunity,” and that even where military taskforces made progress in fighting corruption, lack of unity and a lack of Afghan political will frustrated the taskforces’ headway.

The JCOA report offers recommendations for operationalizing what it refers to as Counter/Anti-Corruption (CAC) in the future term in Afghanistan and suggesting ways to optimize CAC from Day 1 in future missions. One of the major, and potentially fruitful tasks, will be to integrate fully CAC into counterinsurgency (COIN). I would supplement the JCOA Division’s recommendations with several additional suggestions: Continue reading

The Corruption-Security Nexus: Lessons from Afghanistan (Part 1)

This past February, Transparency International (TI) Germany released a study on the relationship between corruption and stability in conflict and post-conflict zones. Titled “Corruption as a Threat to Stability and Peace”, the report notes that corruption and conflict have a “symbiotic relationship,” in which corruption drives instability by encouraging rent-seeking behavior, undermining state institutions, and fueling social and political grievances, while institutional weakness in fragile or conflict-ridden states allows corruption to take root. (The U.S. military’s Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA) Division released a report on a similar theme, focusing specifically on Afghanistan, around the same time. That report will be the subject of my next post.)

The good news, as TI relates it, is that both intervening military forces and peace-builders are taking note of the effects of corruption on security and are starting to implement efforts to fight corruption. The bad news is that the results of those efforts are decidedly mixed, and their long-term success is threatened by countervailing interests, like securing short-term peace agreements. Those observations are not all that surprising. Buried in the report, however, are a few unexpected observations that are worth highlighting.

Continue reading