3. Partnering with host nation defence and security forces (HNDSF)
While corruption in any sector can be costly, it is particularly pernicious when it affects defence and security forces. In fragile states, some of the largest chunks of resources are associated with funding for security forces: in South Sudan in 2015, security spending made up 40% of government expenditure. This makes it a prime target for corruption in the form of kickbacks, diversion of money and resources, theft of equipment, and favouritism toward allies. The defence sector also tends to be far less transparent than others, with secrecy often justified by references to national security, and with limited, if any, independent scrutiny (audit or parliamentary, for example).
At operational and tactical levels, corruption in defence and security forces can be a consequence of greed or of need. Where the forces struggle with under-resourcing, lack of pay, or lack of ability to deliver on their mission and to protect themselves, corruption can become a way to protect themselves. Similarly, in vertically integrated corrupt systems, corruption can be the only way to secure jobs or to be able to cover basic needs when pay it not coming through. Corruption thus often results in more corruption, as skimming from soldiers’ pay at a higher level (itself a corrupt practice) can result in checkpoint corruption or other abuses at the lower level.
In some cases, the effects of corruption are immediately visible, with predatory security forces abusing the populations they were set up to protect. In other cases, the secretive nature of the sector hides the effects of corruption until a crisis reveals them. In either case, when military structures have been damaged by corruption, they are incapable of responding to insecurity and violence. When a military fails, it fails spectacularly: predatory, hollowed-out forces create the space for the likes of Boko Haram, ISIS, and organised crime groups to thrive.
Where a mission involves partnering with or training and equipping host nation forces, corruption in their ranks can waste resources, strengthen criminal networks, compromise operational security and endanger the lives of HNSF and international troops. Pervasive corruption and abuse of power has the potential to undermine the entire mission or to subvert its resources to strengthen malign networks. Widespread corruption in defence and security forces can also make the mission’s exit strategy impossible or very difficult to implement.
Case Study Snippet
Afghanistan: Corruption and the making of warlords
In Afghanistan, resilient and effective defence institutions were seen as a way to provide security and stability once the OEF and ISAF missions had wound down. Accordingly, intervention forces poured most of their resources into developing Afghanistan’s defence and security forces (ANDSF). The US itself put over $70 billion, or 60% of its Afghanistan expenditure between 2001-2016, into the Afghan army and the police, and committed to providing a further $4 billion per year until at least 2020. Out of the overall annual international funding for Afghanistan from 2016 – 2020, about $3 billion or 42% was foreseen to go to the defence and security forces.
But widespread corruption and weak institutional governance made the ANDSF untrustworthy and ineffective. Polling carried out in 2017, for example, showed that Afghans feared for their personal safety when coming across Afghan National Police (ANP) or Afghan National Army (ANA) officers: nationally, 43% were wary of encountering the ANP and 40% of the ANA, with over 60% in the south-western region of the country declaring mistrust.
“Corruption by ANDSF officials, at all institutional levels, has degraded security, force readiness, and overall capabilities. High-level corruption, such as that exhibited by some ANDSF leaders, is likely to promote lower-level corruption, as a culture of impunity starts at the top and then normalizes corrupt behavior within the entire system. It gives the rank and file an ‘excuse’ to engage in extortion, embezzlement, fraud, and other abusive behaviors themselves, which then directly affects the population.”
Corruption is likely to affect not only the host nation armed forces, but also – if not primarily – the police, customs agents and border guards. Proceeds from controlling border crossings, smuggling routes, ports, and airports can be a significant revenue stream, helping powerbrokers, insurgents, terrorist organisations and organised crime groups to finance their operations. Corruption among border staff is an enabler of larger corrupt schemes: revenues can be garnered from looking the other way as smuggling occurs, such as allowing consumer goods in without paying the requisite tariffs or waving through shipment of illicit goods. Even more lucrative is the explicit involvement of the customs and border authorities in smuggling, especially moving contraband or selling information to smugglers. A corrupt border security force allows transnational criminal activity to function efficiently, enables insurgent and other forces to bring in weapons, improvised explosive devices, and manpower across borders.
Case Study Snippet
Corruption and UN peace operations
Alongside challenges in defence forces, all peace operations we surveyed struggled with corruption in police forces, both in host nation institutions and among police officers deployed as UN personnel. Police corruption is a microcosm of the corruption risks affecting missions overall, from resource diversion to abuse of civilians. It is also particularly problematic in fragile and conflict-affected states.
Where corruption affects recipients of international assistance, donors risk exacerbating existing problems through providing equipment and training to privileged groups. They also risk strengthening adversaries where equipment and other resources are diverted for private gain. Where they support defence forces involved in breaching human and political rights, donors can strengthen damaging trends. Support for corrupt partner forces can also carry reputational risks for donors, who will be associated with corrupt and criminal networks.
Risk Areas within Risk Pathway 3. Partnering with host nation defence and security forces (HNDSF)
These risk areas provide further information on corruption risks that arise when partnering with HNDSF, including specific guidance how to identify these risks and what measures can be implemented to mitigate them.
Where armed forces support or lead operations against criminal and insurgent groups, infiltration by said groups – especially when their resources exceed those of particular units – is a very real risk.
The complexity of healthcare-related issues, the power imbalance between practitioner and patient, and the multitude of stakeholders involved are only some of the factors that make healthcare susceptible to corruption risks.
With preferential access to state resources – from budgets to communications networks to transportation corridors – and an ability to secure incentives such as tax breaks or conscript labour, armed forces which turn to economic activity enjoy an unfair advantage over civilian actors.
Ensuring that financial flows do not exceed the host nation’s absorptive capacity will diminish the risk of diversion by corrupt networks; tying funding and assistance to improvements in governance can help create momentum for reform.
Supporting civilian initiatives such as reform of the judiciary can help create accountability for the defence and security forces, and using a full spectrum to shape incentives could render corruption less attractive at strategic, operational and tactical levels.
Civil society organisations can be valuable allies in the fight against corruption, at a strategy-setting level and when attempting to limit low-level corruption that feeds higher-level networks. Their participation is also key to establishing healthy civil-military relations.
Stronger oversight of mission resources will help limit opportunities for corrupt networks, and helping develop host nation or civil society oversight mechanisms will help create longer-term accountability of host nation forces.