Photo by Kaveh Sardari
Sarah Chayes’ recent book, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, makes a powerful case connecting severe corruption to a variety of security crises currently plaguing the world, from the expansion of Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Iraq to the Arab Spring Revolutions. At a time when some anti-corruption thought leaders are arguing that freedom from corruption should be a basic human right and others are advocating for the creation of an international anti-corruption court, Chayes’ book adds another dimension, by using corruption as a lens through which to understand the root causes of many of today’s security challenges. Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law and South Asia Programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She lived for a decade in Afghanistan, reporting the fall of the Taliban for NPR, staying on as an entrepreneur who founded a manufacturing cooperative in the former Taliban stronghold, and working as a special adviser to the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Chayes spoke to CIPE’s Value Chain Lead Frank Brown about her work studying corruption and security.
- How would you describe the impact of your book in anti-corruption circles worldwide? Are you surprised by the reaction in any way?
The response within anti-corruption circles could not be more positive. In both style and content, “Thieves” is an unusual – and I hope gripping – take on the topic, and so has perhaps been a refreshing addition to the debate for many who have worked in this field for some time.
More broadly, the book appeared at a – sadly – propitious moment, as the crises in Ukraine and Iraq were forcing increased focus on the corruption issue, and in particular in a security context. So I have gotten more outreach from government and the private sector than ever before, and from unexpected quarters.
However, I continue to be startled that elements of the argument that seem so obvious to me are still facing stiff headwinds inside government. In particular, the link between corruption and violent extremism. While the U.S. government has been emphasizing corruption with respect to, say, Ukraine, as soon as there is a whiff of terrorism in the air the instinct is to support and facilitate the corrupt government — whose practices are often fueling the terrorists’ recruiting drives. Examples include close collaborations with the governments of Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and so on.
Another obvious issue that seems hard for many government – and non-profit – practitioners to metabolize is that humanitarian and development assistance represents a significant revenue stream for corrupt elites. The Nigerians have an expression for the connected implementing partners that capture such a significant portion of development assistance: GONGOs, for “government-organized non-government organizations.” Read more…