Risk Areas

2.1 State capture and criminal patronage networks

Explanation of risk area

An intervening force, especially a sizable one with significant resources at its disposal, can strengthen or weaken host nation stakeholders, depending on whether it decides to cooperate with them or to sideline them. Tangible and intangible resources – including political support and contracting relationships providing work and income for selected actors – can have unintended consequences if they are redirected to strengthen malign networks.

Consequences for the mission

Weakening of legitimate governance structures

Increased strength and impact of criminal and corrupt networks

Difficulty in achieving development- and security-related goals due to spoiler activity

Increasing violence and insecurity levels

Increasing disenchantment among the host nation population

Adversaries using corruption as a way to discredit friendly government and/or in recruitment

Diminished force protection levels

Waste of resources

Making the achievement of mission end state and exit strategy much more difficult


External Link

State capture in Iraq

In Iraq, a triangular relationship between criminal, terrorist and insurgent organisations, and the government led the Iraqi state to become an instrument for the elites to accumulate power and wealth. Parts of the Iraqi government were tied to various militia, most notably Shia-controlled military forces that became de facto government death squads as they profited from a range of criminal activities. This led to a vicious cycle where the lack of state legitimacy made partisan or sectarian affiliation even more important for an individual’s protection, which in turn further weakened the state.

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Case Study: Afghanistan: Corruption and the making of warlords

Afghanistan: OEF and warlords

During the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom, reliance on Afghan partners – from intelligence to provision of fighting forces – was, as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has written, a logical consequence of US strategy of a light footprint and limited engagement. But close cooperation with militias, from the Northern Alliance to other actors in southern Afghanistan, meant that warlords responsible for human rights abuses and widespread corruption were able to occupy high political and social positions in Afghanistan. In 2002, 20 out of 32 freshly appointed Afghan provincial governors, were militia leaders and warlords. The 2005 parliamentary elections, supported by the international community, further empowered and legitimised former warlords and drug traffickers. These actors were then able to use their newly gained positions to build patronage networks, often vertically integrated, to monopolise access to resources, challenge the monopoly of the state on the use of force, and undermine long-term development goals.

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External Link

International support for Egypt's military regime

As the high hopes for political and economic change following the Arab Spring faded, international support helped legitimise one military regime whose impact on the country’s economy and political life turned out to be detrimental. In Egypt, as the armed forces took increasing control of economic enterprises and curtailed political freedom, they continued to receive in-kind assistance and political support from the international community. The US, for example, has viewed Egypt as a key partner in the region and shored it up in a quest to promote stability. However, with the Egyptian armed forces increasingly preoccupied with their economic empire and political control, it is less and less clear that they can provide a reliable and effective cooperation in tackling terrorism-related issues.

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External Link

Bypassing anti-corruption controls: Iraq

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has concluded that the Coalition Provisional Authority, responsible for security and reconstruction in post-Saddam Iraq, saw anti-fraud and anti-corruption controls as unnecessarily slowing down the operational effort. Officials attempted to circumvent risk mitigation measures by consciously breaking up contracts into smaller ones, to keep their size under that which would have warranted an audit. Fallout from poor procurement practices did not take long to make the mission more expensive and less capable of delivering what it set out to do.

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Indicators & Warnings

Impunity, often stemming from political interference in criminal investigations/refusal to prosecute those accused of corruption or other crimes. Even with overwhelming evidence, charges may be dropped, evidence lost, or judges bribed or coerced. Sentences may be inappropriately light or forms of escape, medical release, or house arrest may be offered in lieu of spending time in jail.

Credible and repeated allegations of officials’ involvement with smuggling rings and corrupt networks

‘Recycling’ of corrupt officials: those accused of gross injustice are moved to new jobs or fired, only to reappear a few months later in a different capacity

Multiple members of the same network – family, tribe, family, tribe, ethnic, social or economic group– in positions of power

Reports of monopolisation of an economic area or industry by a particular actor or network

A highly politicised civil service where hiring and promotion decisions are based on nepotism and patronage

Capture of defence and security forces by different factions, with a view to use soldiers to protect factional interests

Allegations of vote rigging and/or improper influence on elections

Government procurement awards to officials’ family members

Weak legal framework and limited criminalisation of corruption

Inadequate enforcement systems, including the police and judiciary

Resistance to judicial reform

Poor perception of government among host nation population

Low scores on corruption- and governance-related indices (Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index and Global Corruption Barometer; the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators)

Public perception polls indicating corruption as a key issue and/or high levels of bribery

Anti-corruption protests

Religious leaders and community organisations speaking out about corruption

Media reports and social media discussion of corruption

Repression of journalists, especially those investigating corruption

Suppression of civil society organisations, especially those working on anti-corruption issues. This can be done through laws that can cut off their freedom of manoeuvre and their resources, or through interference with their leadership.