December 5, 2023 – Four of the world’s 10 biggest arms producers listed in new research from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show a concerning lack of commitment to anti-corruption, Transparency International Defence & Security said today.
SIPRI’s 2022 Arms Industry Database lists the top 100 arms-producing and military services companies. Four of the top 10 score either an E or F Transparency International’s Defence Companies Index (DCI), which assesses and ranks major global defence companies based on their commitment to anti-corruption and transparency.
In the top four, SIPRI’s data shows General Dynamics (US), NORINCO and AVIC (China), and Rostec (Russia), collectively responsible for $876 billion in global arms trade last year. All scored poorly in the DCI, indicating a minimal or extremely poor commitment to anti-corruption.
The problem extends beyond these firms, with dozens of other companies in the top 100 assessed by the DCI to show poor or non-existent commitment to anti-corruption.
This is alarming given SIPRI’s data on the increasing demand for arms and military services globally. Corruption in the arms trade can have devastating impacts on people’s lives, leading to heightened conflict and violence, undermining governance and the rule of law, diverting resources from essential public services, and eroding trust in institutions.
Josie Stewart, Programme Director at Transparency International Defence & Security, said:
“The latest SIPRI report, when combined with our previous research on arms producers’ commitment to anti-corruption, paints a troubling picture. Far too many of the world’s biggest arms producers are falling short in addressing corruption risks.
“This should urgently motivate governments and the international community to prioritise addressing these issues in the defence and security sectors.
“As demand for arms and military services grows, it’s crucial to ensure that anti-corruption standards remain a forefront consideration, not secondary to trade, foreign, and defence policy objectives. The cost of neglecting integrity and transparency in these sectors is too great to ignore.”
Notes to editors:
Transparency International is a global movement that combats corruption and promotes transparency, accountability, and integrity in government, politics, and business worldwide.
Transparency International – Defence & Security is one of Transparency International’s global programmes and is committed to tackling corruption in the global defence and security sector.
The Defence Companies Index on Anti-Corruption and Corporate Transparency (DCI) assesses the levels of public commitment to anti-corruption and transparency in the corporate policies and procedures of 134 of the world’s largest defence companies. By analysing what companies are publicly committing to in terms of their openness, policies and procedures, the DCI seeks to inspire reform in the defence sector, thereby reducing corruption and its impact.
By Josie Stewart, Programme Director
As the sun set behind rugged mountains, casting a warm glow over the bustling streets of Kabul, whispers of fear filled the air. A generation of Afghans raised with dreams of a peaceful and prosperous homeland found themselves caught in the crosshairs of political upheaval. Also in these crosshairs, the Afghan national security and defence forces. Instead of protecting these dreams, they dissolved into thin air – a ghost army made up of ghost soldiers. They made way for the return of the Taliban, who cast a shadow not just over the city but over two decades of turmoil, military intervention, international investment, and hope. Hope that Afghanistan could become secure and stable – for its people, and for the world.
That was 2021 – only two years ago. The world’s attention has moved on but the consequences of what transpired continue for millions of Afghans.
How was this able to happen, after so much effort, by so many? There is a one-word answer. Corruption.
Failure to prioritise fighting corruption as highly as fighting the Taliban, and worse, willingness to turn a blind eye, thinking that ‘we can’t afford to do anything about corruption while we’re fighting the Taliban’, helped the Taliban win.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that line in the couple of years I spent working in Kabul, nor how much it infuriated and worried me every time I did.
Fast forward a little, and I’ve now been at the helm of Transparency International Defence & Security for a little over a year. I’m privileged to be leading a team which has already made major contributions to advancing understanding of the true nature of corruption as a security threat, the relationships between corruption and conflict, and the need to integrate anti-corruption into defence and security sectors, agendas, and approaches.
Many others have walked –are running – along this same path towards securing integrity and fostering peace. From the work of Transparency International national chapters across our global movement, through the efforts of NGO partners around the world, to the growing commitment of multilateral institutions and even, in some places, the official designation by states of corruption as a threat to their national security – the world is moving towards an understanding, at last, of corruption as a fundamental threat to the safety and security of us all.
Yet, global military spending reached $2240 billion in 2022, and conflict-related deaths around the world are at a 28-year high. These are high stakes.
And of course there is the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which shifted attention away from what happened in Afghanistan while also exemplifying the threat that corrupt authoritarian regimes pose to international peace and security and demonstrating the impact that corruption can have on military effectiveness.
Faced with all this, it’s time to raise the bar. To push beyond agenda-setting, to come together with others to lock in progress, and to ensure real change in policy and in practice.
Our new strategy, Securing Integrity, Fostering Peace, identifies the opportunities, pathways and partnerships that will help us advance peace and stability by reducing corruption in defence and security. It sets out three global themes, for three years of action:
- Corruption as a security threat. We are going to champion this global agenda, joining forces with all those already on this path, and mobilising others to join the cause. Together, we are going to get this issue onto international and multilateral agendas. And as a part of this, we are going to make sure the role of corruption within defence and security sectors is not overlooked or ignored.
- Anti-corruption in defence, security, and arms trade decision-making. With our national chapter partners, we are going to target specific issues and risks in specific countries whose policies and practice affect security outcomes beyond their own borders. We will evidence these issues and risks, we will use our evidence to inform our advocacy, and we will influence change.
- Informed and active citizens driving integrity in defence and security. Corruption in defence and security isn’t a battle for a select few; it’s a cause for all who care about stability and justice. To bring corruption in defence and security out of the shadows, civil society at national level, media organisations, and communities need to be aware of the issues at stake. They need to know how they can engage, and be able to push for change. We will work with and support them to help make this happen.
We’re going to be bolder, more targeted, and more ambitious in what we do. And as we do, we want and need more allies, more partners, and more support. Will you join us in this pursuit of a more transparent, accountable, and secure future? Please get in touch with me or my team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Responding to fresh data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) demonstrating record global military spending, Transparency International Defence and Security Director, Josie Stewart, said:
New SIPRI data has revealed that the total global military expenditure increased by 3.7 per cent in real terms in 2022, reaching a new high of $2240 billion.
This increase in spending – coupled with our Government Defence Integrity index’s finding that nearly two-thirds of countries face a high to critical risk of corruption in their defence and security sectors – should be cause for concern for governments around the world.
To ensure that military expenditure is contributing to security rather than corruption and abuse, governments should strengthen transparency, accountability, and oversight in the defence sector, providing for adequate scrutiny from lawmakers, auditors, and civil society.
Transparency is the best way for states to ensure that military spending is used effectively to enhance security.
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Negotiations have been taking place in Geneva this month around the control and accountability of private military and security companies (PMSCs). Transparency International Defence and Security’s Ara Marcen Naval contributed to the discussions in Switzerland. Here she delivers a call to action to other civil society organisations.
As an NGO committed to promoting transparency and accountability in the defence and security sector, Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) is deeply concerned about the corruption risks associated with the activities of PMSCs. These groups, while playing a role in enhancing security in some cases, often operate in secrecy, outside standard transparency and accountability structures. This permissive environment creates opportunities for corruption and conflict to thrive, deprives governments and citizens of financial resources, and undermines security and human rights.
I write having participated last week in the discussions of the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on PMSCs. This fourth session was convened to discuss a new draft of an international instrument to regulate the activities of PMSCs. This is a critical platform for addressing these concerns and others related to companies’ human rights obligations. There are various questions: how to ensure their activities comply with international humanitarian law? Should these companies be allowed to participate directly in hostilities?
The PMSC industry is a rapidly evolving and intrinsically international one, with a well-documented link to global conflict. The lack of regulatory oversight has led to heightened global risks of fraud, corruption, and violence, with little in the way of accountability mechanisms at both the national and international levels, so progress at a global level is key.
Current initiatives to try and regulate the market, such as the Montreux Document and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, are a step in the right direction. However, these initiatives have limited support among states around the world. They do not cover some key military and intelligence services and exclude some important anticorruption measures. TI-DS thinks these initiatives don’t go far enough to address the risks posed. We are hopeful that the efforts of the working group will provide a much-needed stronger set of enforceable standards.
TI-DS welcomes the progress made in the revised draft discussed last week, including references to the UN Convention Against Corruption and the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. These references are essential steps towards policy and legal coherence, aligning efforts to regulate PMSCs with international legal obligations related to corruption and transnational organised crime.
While in Geneva I continued to propose ways that the text of the draft instrument can better incorporate anticorruption standards, including transparency of contracts and beneficial ownership, and through the recognition of corruption-related crimes as well as human rights abuses.
But we are deeply concerned about the overall lack of engagement. The room was almost empty, with many states not attending the discussions and a general lack of civil society actors actively following this critical process – prospective changes that could significantly impact conflict dynamics, international security, human rights and respect for international humanitarian law.
This is the Geneva Paradox. Other similar processes, like those related to business and human rights or others trying to get a grasp of new types of weapons systems, are filling the rooms of the United Nations, with both states and civil society in attendance. We feel that this process – which is attempting to regulate the activities of PMSCs to stop the trend of these corporate actors becoming rogue actors in wars and conflicts around the world – deserves equal attention.
In September, the Human Rights Council will set the agenda for this issue going forward. We hope that more states and civil society organisations join efforts in the coming period to give this issue the critical attention and scrutiny it deserves.
A working group of the United Nations assembled in Geneva, Switzerland on April 17, 2023 to evaluate and negotiate regulation of private military and security security companies (PMSCs).
Transparency International Defence and Security Head of Advocacy Ara Marcen Naval joined and delivered the following statement:
Mr. Chairperson rapporteur, distinguished delegates,
I stand before you today at this crucial discussion to bring to your attention, and consideration, the corruption risks linked to the activities of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) with a sense of urgency and resolve. PMSCs can play an important role in government efforts to enhance security, but they often operate in secret and outside standard transparency and accountability structures. This dynamic provides a permissive environment for corruption and conflict to thrive and deprives governments and its citizens of financial resources and security.
The Defence and Security Programme of Transparency International welcomes the progress made in the revised draft and the changes made to include references to the Convention Against Corruption and Convention against transnational crime. These references are important steps towards policy and legal coherence and to ensure that the efforts to regulate the activities of PMSCs align with the international legal obligations in relation to corruption and transnational organised crime.
Corruption and the unchecked actions of PMSCs have far-reaching consequences, eroding the rule of law, undermining human rights and security, and threatening the legitimacy of governments. It corrodes public trust, undermines democratic institutions, and creates a culture of impunity that breeds more corruption. It can also weaken the fabric of societies, divert resources meant for development, and perpetuate inequality and injustice.
Transparency International has identified dozens of cases in which PMSCs are suspected of involvement in corruption and fraud. Some of the most concerning cases involve PMSCs colluding with government officials to inflate threat perceptions to win or sustain contracts. In one case, this action led to excessive use of force against protesters resulting in unnecessary injuries to civilians and security forces.
Transparency International has also raised concerns about some of the practices of PMSCs failing to disclose conflict of interests that could undermine government decisions, or even threaten national security.
In some cases multinational PMSCs have fuelled corruption by requiring local partners to pay kickbacks for participating in government funded contracts.
In these cases, the opaque arrangements prevalent in the sector make it extremely difficult to ascertain chains of command, responsibilities and levels of coordination among the different security actors, and undermine monitoring efforts and accountability. Furthermore, it is usually difficult to find public confirmation of the nature of the contract and the identity of subcontractors in the event that they are hired.
We hope that during the discussions on the potential instrument, the distinguished delegates will confront the implications corruption has and the abuses of PMSCs head-on and work together to prevent, detect, and punish corruption in all its forms. Transparency and reporting are the greatest steps that states can take to allow for effective monitoring and oversight of private military and security companies and other actors providing security services in order to effectively prevent, address and remedy any abuses committed.
Distinguished delegates, the stakes are high. The impact of corruption and the actions of PMSCs are felt by communities around the world, often with dire consequences for the most vulnerable among us. The fight against corruption and the responsible use of PMSCs requires our unwavering commitment and concerted and holistic action. Thank you.
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The victims of human rights abuses associated with private military companies (PMCs) are often left with no access to justice because of the lack of transparency in PMC contracts.
At the latest International Anti-Corruption Conference in Washington, the UN’s independent expert on mercenary groups, Dr Jelena Aparac, elaborated in this short video why action is needed.