‘Fighting Monsters’: Corruption and its impact on Defence and Security



Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche


Corruption: The Problem


Corruption is a monster that challenges all parts of every society and at every level. It is considered a key Sustainable Development Goal by the United Nations to tackle corruption if a society is to achieve stability. Whether it is driven by need to make up for miniscule salaries or by greed to gain ever more money, the effect on the nation and society can be profound. It is intended in this article to look at how corruption impacts not only on the defence and security institutions of a nation but also its impact on the very concept of security itself. However, as Nietzsche warns it is an abyss that can stare back and the toleration of corruption for short term advantage will often cause long term damage to a mission.


Corruption has many different definitions and is often used in a partisan way to denigrate opposition and there is a danger you open the debate on definition to the cul de sac of arguing along the lines of ‘one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’. That is not the intent here and the definition used here coalesces around that used by the Non- Government Organisation (NGO) Transparency International (TI) which calls corruption ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. Even this can be up for discussion if you decide to debate the meaning of ‘entrusted power’- is that public office? Are private companies excluded? Or what is ‘private gain’- after all has not some corruption taken place for a greater public good such as the paying of informants to prevent an atrocity? It is however not intended to debate on the ethical lines at the margins but consider the broad consensus around the idea of corruption where if it does not feel right it can probably be considered a form of corruption. One of the key factors is to remember ‘private gain’ is not just about pure financial gain but also power, influence, appointments and sexual exploitation


Corruption is notoriously difficult to measure as by definition it is hidden by those in positions of trust carrying it out. TI carry out considerable research to produce indices such as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) , which looks at a population’s perception of corruption in their country by polling and the Government Defence Index (GI) which looks at the risk of corruption in Defence and Security institutions through their efficiency of control measures. These however are only really snapshots of one view of the risks and perceptions of corruption. The reality can often be very different as high degrees of corruption may be tolerated as ‘the way things are done’ leading to a misleading perception especially as the methodology was essentially developed in a Northern European cultural construct as that is where TI originated. There is a general consensus that somewhere between 15% and 20% of defence spending worldwide is lost to corruptionwith some countries much higher. Optimistically that means $300-$400 Bn a year goes to ‘private gain’ rather than the purpose it was intended for.


This loss can often be rationalised away as ‘facilitation’, ‘the cost of doing business’, ‘meeting a greater good’ or just part of the sort of Clausewitzian friction that exists in warfare. The reality is however corruption is far more than the ‘fog of war’ and fuels insecurity and instability. Having said how difficult it is to quantify corruption there is however considerable research carried out into the pernicious effect of corruption. There is a strong statistical link between peace and corruption. Research has suggested that as the amount of corruption increases so insecurity increases. This is shown in the Figure below extracted from Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) Report ‘Peace and Corruption':


One of the most striking aspects of this statistical relationship between the Global Peace Index and Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is the marked presence of a ‘tipping point’. This suggests that if a country has low levels of corruption then modest increases in corruption will have little effect on overall peace and stability. Howev