Corruption in Conflict: building risk assessments for a threat difficult to see and measure

Corruption undermines the UK military’s end-state and foreign policy objectives, particularly as corruption is pathological and detrimental to a secure and stable environment (MacLachlan et al., 2017).

Sarah Chayes (2015), a former adviser to two commanders of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has argued that corruption was the major culprit behind rising insecurity, creating grievances, hollowing out state institutions, and serving as fodder for extremist recruitment.

At the operational level, the UK military will likely experience contact with corruption while operating in many partner, fragile, and conflict-affected states. This could make forces unwitting accomplices to criminal activity, or even the very illicit structures and networks that act to limit the UK’s objectives or undermine its security.

Thus, corruption is a critical issue of consideration for the military both strategically and operational. However, corruption is difficult to see and measure.

Corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”

(Transparency International)

The term corruption invokes thoughts around dishonesty particularly as it concerns finance. Whilst corruption is largely economic in its nature, associated with crimes including illicit money flows, fraud and other financial crimes, it can have detrimental impacts on society and security.

As argued by MacLachlan et al. (2017) corruption can enable instability to thrive, bringing with it the conditions for conflict and the abuse of human rights. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan showed that insurgent networks benefited from corruption (Bateman et al., 2016).

At the UK strategic level, “reducing corruption in partner countries” and “enhanced action to address corruption in fragile and conflict-affected states” are explicit goals within the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017-2022.

Corruption in conflict

Building data-driven risk assessments to tackle corruption

Following our work on Project Solebay that seeks to develop a data-driven risk assessment for the UK military to respond to Modern Slavery Human Trafficking (MSHT), it became apparent that a similar approach to evaluating and understanding risk can provide benefit to enabling the military in engaging with the risk of corruption.

Moving forward we will be seeking funding in collaboration with colleagues from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Transparency International, to develop such a risk assessment to be operationalised within our cloud-based data-driven risk assessment application, STRIAD.

Transparency International are the largest international NGO focused on tackling corruption, increasing transparency and accountability, and improving governance worldwide. Its Defence and Security Programme will support us in our efforts to build a data-driven risk assessment providing their extensive expertise in an advisory capacity, and guidance around their flagship product, the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index. Along with the MOD, Transparency International will work with us to test the risk assessment in STRIAD. As with Project Solebay, our interdisciplinary team will use co-design methods to ensure the risk assessment is fit for purpose; collaboration is critical to achieving impact in this domain.

In time we will report back on our efforts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.

For more information about our risk assessment approach within the military, read our latest report in Project Solebay: Considerations for a UK Military based approach to Assessing the Risk of Modern Slavery.

For more information on our work in this research area, contact our team at