News / Middle East

New Carnegie Endowment Report Links Corruption to Insurgencies

Syria President Bashar al-Assad addresses reporters following his meeting with French President Nicolas SarkozyThursday Dec. 9, 2010. Syria President Bashar al-Assad addresses reporters following his meeting with French President Nicolas SarkozyThursday Dec. 9, 2010.
Syria President Bashar al-Assad addresses reporters following his meeting with French President Nicolas SarkozyThursday Dec. 9, 2010.
Syria President Bashar al-Assad addresses reporters following his meeting with French President Nicolas SarkozyThursday Dec. 9, 2010.

When a government is corrupt, and serving only the interests of a privileged few, the populace reacts in protest if it has that opportunity, according to a new report.

Along with civil protest, corruption can also trigger and help to sustain violent insurgency in reaction to its presence. That’s the focus of the new report from the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, facilitated by Carnegie Senior Associate Sarah Chayes.

“If you look at every country where there is an extremist insurgency,” says Chayes, “if you look at half a dozen or a dozen countries that, in the last four or five years, have undergone revolution or something close to it - almost every single time, the government in question has been, I would say, severely corrupt."

The Carnegie report notes that “Twelve of the fifteen lowest-ranking countries on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index are the scene of insurgencies, harbor extremist groups, or pose other grave threats to international security.” The report also states that “corruption combines with other risk factors, such as ethnic, religious, or linguistic rifts in a population, or severe economic disparities, to increase the likelihood of a security challenge.”

A clear example is Syria, and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It first came under protest from internal anti-corruption reform elements staging the Syrian chapter of the Arab Spring. Then, when the regime appeared vulnerable, others came in to try to topple Mr. Assad by force.

And now, that conflict has spread to Iraq, where, as has been true with Syria, corruption has been endemic, along with political exclusion. The Sunni anger against the Shi’a dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  created an opportunity for violent groups to spread from Syria to Iraq, most notably ISIL, the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” which Arabs call “Daish.” ISIL and fellow Sunni jihadis have taken and held a broad swath of territory in both countries.

“So what happened when Daish was created,” says analyst Tawfik Hamid with the Potomac Institute in Washington, “these other disenfranchised groups [in Iraq] from different tribes, for example, and the remnants of Saddam’s supporters with their military experience – what happened is that these forces effectively came together.”

Hamid explains “So now you have fighters ready to die, you have people with a military mind to organize things, and you have a number of people joining up with these fanatical groups [to try to bring down Maliki’s government.] So you have all three elements to create this chaotic situation.”

Kleptocracy is one of the most corrosive forms of corruption: those with power draining their country’s wealth into their own pockets. As the report states, “In a range of countries around the globe, corruption IS the system. Governments have been repurposed to serve an objective that has little to do with public administration: the personal enrichment of ruling networks.”

Ukraine under Yanukovych is one of the many examples that Chayes cites. “We’re talking about governments that have almost restructured themselves so that their main objective isn’t governing people – it’s filling the pockets of this clique that’s running it,” she says. “So, it’s almost like a criminal organization that is masquerading as a government.” The former Ukrainian president and his inner circle are believed to have siphoned more than US$ 50 billion.

The Carnegie study brings up something else that has been known for years, but not often admitted to by those involved – western complicity of endemic corruption. “Western policymakers,” it says, “typically prioritize other considerations, such as immediate security imperatives, the economic or strategic value of maintaining relations with a given government, or return on investment, over corruption concerns.”

The report, in its recommendations, calls on governments to include corruption as part of its assessments of state and regional security risks. It also calls on the U.S. and other western nations to take corruption into account when constructing and promoting bilateral trade and investment. Another call is for more robust transnational financial monitoring – “following the money” from corrupt regimes to its hiding places, and how it is then utilized.  Development and military aid are also noted – the report says there needs to be stronger monitoring of where the money goes and how it is used.

Equally important, according to the report, is the need for robust support for civil society elements in at-risk nations.

Nathaniel Heller, head of the good governance group Global Integrity, sums it up. “We have increasing evidence that corruption is a core driver of instability and insecurity in many countries. Adding to corruption to a climate of high youth unemployment, patronage politics, and unresponsive government is like feeding the yeast of extremism with a nutrient-rich sludge of disillusionment and pent up aggression. Corruption often provides the tipping point for many extremists’ calls to violence.”




Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Soji Apampa from: Nigeria
July 01, 2014 4:44 PM
Nigeria is a case in point

by: Peter Eigen from: Berlin
June 30, 2014 3:57 PM
Great article, Jeffrey Young! Thanks for putting this so well.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs