By Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International Defence and Security
The latest NATO gathering, staged earlier this week [June 11-12], represented a crucial opportunity for militaries to address the challenges facing the Alliance and strengthen deterrence and defence. Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine provided the backdrop. This landscape should also galvanise us to address a further challenge that must not be ignored. Corruption in military operations and other defence governance issues, including procurement and military expenditure, can lead to money intended for the frontlines being lost and, as history has taught us, undermine the very security goals the Alliance seeks.
Allegations surfaced earlier this year that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence was planning to overpay suppliers for food intended for troops. The scandal prompted hearings in the Ukrainian parliament and investigations, ultimately leading to the passing of legislation enhancing transparency in defence procurements.
This law requires the publication of core information about direct contracts. Although there are still challenges in ensuring full and timely disclosure of this information, Ukraine took a bold step towards greater transparency, particularly in the midst of ongoing conflict.
It is essential to fight corruption during times of war. It can be risky to do so – to draw attention to corruption, and to mess with the interests and incentives of key actors in the theatre of war. But the risks of not doing so – or of putting it off until later – are far greater. Failure to tackle corruption during war guarantees that it will flourish. And when it does, it will defeat the prospect of moving on from conflict to stability and security.
Delivering on deterrence and defence
During this week’s NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, leaders gathered to tackle the challenges facing the Alliance. Ukraine was one. Another was the imperative to strengthen deterrence and defence.
For those who are not familiar with military terminology: deterrence is a strategy that involves convincing your adversary not to attack by making them understand that their objectives will not be achieved through such an attack. Defence becomes necessary when deterrence fails.
Strengthening both deterrence and defence depends on improving the governance of the defence and security sector, with a particular focus on strengthening resilience against corruption.
An army plagued with corruption, such as soldiers accepting bribes, governments misusing military expenditure, and officials making decisions influenced by personal gain, will not be able to win a war – and it will not be able to deliver on deterrence. It will be perceived as an enemy that can be easily defeated.
An army that is unpaid, under-fed, and under-equipped due to embezzlement and black-market activities of senior officers, will not be able to protect its citizens and territory. Corrupt defence and security forces increase the vulnerability of states to external and internal aggression – they are not able to deliver on defence.
Our 2020 Governance Defence Integrity Index revealed that 14 of the then 22 NATO member states did not address corruption in their military doctrines. This means that corruption is not considered a strategic issue in the military operations of 63 per cent of then-NATO members, and there are no guidelines on how to mitigate associated risks. This should be a sobering fact for NATO leaders.
What good looks like
Defence institutions must integrate the fight against corruption into military doctrines, conduct corruption risk assessments, implement effective anti-corruption mechanisms, enhance oversight, and close the gaps that allow for wrongdoing. Additionally, increasing transparency in defence budgets, spending, and procurement, protecting whistleblowers, and engaging with civil society to assess corruption risks are all vital steps towards achieving deterrence and defence.
Our Governance Defence Integrity Index sets a global standard. As NATO leaders head home from the summit, they should be thinking about how well their defence and security sectors meet this standard.