Country: United States
December 19, 2023 – Transparency International Defence & Security welcomes the action taken in sanctioning two former Afghan officials for ‘widespread involvement in international corruption’. This move is an important step in acknowledging and addressing the impacts that corrupt practices in the defence and security sectors have on both national and international security.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) recently announced that the US Treasury Department had sanctioned two individuals for corruption during 2014 to 2019 that included theft of fuel intended for the prior Afghan government’s security forces.
SIGAR said this theft denied coalition and Afghan forces of a vital resource and only made the Taliban stronger.
This corruption took place at a time when national and international efforts were supposed to be focussed on building the Afghan forces to make them more able to provide effective security. Instead, initiatives to reform and rebuild the security sector took place without the necessary focus on anti-corruption.
Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence & Security, said:
“These welcome sanctions underscore a stark reality: corruption in the defence sector is not just about theft of resources, but a direct threat to national and global security. Authorities in the United States deserve congratulations for their work in blocking these individuals from accessing the proceeds of their corruption.
“The theft of vital resources like fuel can strengthen adversaries such as the Taliban while simultaneously weakening the security forces tasked with keeping citizens safe.
“This case should highlight vividly why it’s time for more countries to step up and work towards ending the grave impact of corruption on global peace and security.
“Rather than addressing the issue after it has already had chance to take root, the international community must work urgently on strengthening defence and security institutions against the threat of corruption before its corrosive effects can set in.”
Notes to editors:
This case study by Transparency International Defence & Security highlights how rampant corruption – from seemingly petty offences to grand-scale corruption– affected all levels of the Afghan government during the initial US and subsequent International Security Assistance Force operations in the country.
A 2022 report by the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact into Britain’s £3.5bn aid to Afghanistan between 2000 and 2020 concluded that “channelling funding in such high volumes through weak state institutions distorted the political process and contributed to entrenched corruption.”
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.
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.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340
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.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 034
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.
Responding to the recently published US Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:
The new strategy suggests that American policymakers are increasingly recognising the importance of anti-corruption approaches in confronting conflicts around the world.
With the long history of corruption fuelling conflicts, US and global policymakers must treat corruption as an urgent and permeating concern.
The path to peace and stability can only be built on concrete foundations. These should begin with anti-corruption efforts in defence – the sector most fundamental to safeguarding security.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340
Responding to the new US Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:
America’s new arms transfer policy represents the first full acknowledgement of the role corruption plays in undermining US efforts to enhance partners’ military performance.
This is a significant step forward. The US has committed to assess both the accountability mechanisms of partner security sector institutions and the risk of US arms transfers fuelling corruption. The effectiveness of these new provisions will hinge on the steps the US takes to obtain and use information on corruption risks associated with arms transfers.
Transparency International’s Government Defence Integrity index should provide a starting point. We look forward to advising the US Government on implementation, supporting a safer America, and a safer world.
+ 44 (0)20 3096 7695
Out of hours – Weekends; Weekdays (UK 17.30-21.30): +44 (0)79 6456 0340
We know that corruption can be gender-specific in both form and impact. We know that it can perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence and gender inequality, and we know that the risks of this are highest in conflict, defence and security realms.
Sexual forms of corruption – often labelled as ‘survival sex’ – are commonplace in conflict, peacekeeping missions and humanitarian crises, with security and humanitarian individuals and groups among the main perpetrators.
Women’s exclusion from peace processes also undermine efforts to promote anti-corruption.
In response, we are leading the development of new approaches to integrate a gender-perspective across our work and the work of others at the intersection of conflict, defence and security, and corruption.
Responding to reports of new security aid for Ukraine, Josie Stewart, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security, said:
So far there is limited information about the defence companies delivering assistance to Ukraine, what influence they carry, and what measures they are taking to reduce corruption.
There is also always a risk that arms will end up in the wrong hands as the war continues.
Civilian oversight of military assistance is integral to robust defence governance and the strengthening of institutional resilience that is necessary to manage these risks.
This should be a shared responsibility between donor countries and Ukraine.
Regulatory oversight of the private military and security sector is failing to keep pace with the rapidly growing and diversifying industry, leading to heightened global risks of fraud, corruption and violence. Better regulation of the industry is urgently needed.
This three-page fact sheet defines Private Military and Security Companies and outlines the required response.
Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) are a growing presence globally. They act as ‘shadow armies’, operating without transparency and free from legal accountability for their actions in conflict zones around the world.
Since the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the industry has expanded from an estimated value of US$100 billion in 2003 to US$224 billion in 2020.
Such is the power PMSCs wield, there is an urgent need for United Nations members states to collectively commit to regulate, investigate and prosecute misconduct by these firms.
It is against this backdrop that Transparency International Defence and Security is bringing policymakers together at a hybrid event, open for registration now, to highlight this issue and catalyse change.
Many of the largest PMSCs were founded in the United States and Europe. But sophisticated PMSCs are increasingly being established in a variety of countries ranging from Australia to China, India to Israel, and Turkey to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Russian Wagner Group is operating in many African countries and the network’s grip on matters of national security is tightening.
PMSCs are not merely providing ‘bodies’ and direct combat services. They sell services such as intelligence, surveillance and cyber security. This expansion in services has elevated corruption and conflict risks in many countries with critically weak protection to guard against defence and security sector corruption.
In response to these trends, a United Nations Intergovernmental Working Group on PMSCs is debating an international framework to regulate their activities.
Currently the internationally supported but non-binding Montreux Document encourages countries to refrain from hiring PMSCs that have a record of engaging in bribery and corruption, among other crimes. While it is a step in the right direction, it lacks teeth.
Some countries, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand are also exploring new regulations and laws at national level.
These are positive moves. However, until international and national legislation is formally agreed upon, the kind of law-breaking carried out by PMSCs such as land grabs facilitated through corruption and violence against civilians, documented in our latest research paper, will continue.
In Washington this month Transparency International Defence and Security will be convening a workshop to galvanise international support for anti-corruption standards for PMSCs. Chaired by Transparency International co-founder Peter Conze, the event is being held as part of the influential International Anti-Corruption Conference.
We will be making the case for the UN to establish:
- Clear complaint mechanisms and standards to protect whistle blowers
- A requirement of reporting on beneficial ownership of PMSCs and subcontracting by PMSCs
- Increased transparency of contracts and enhanced reporting on exports of PMSC services to enable external oversight and accountability, including procurement and transfers of weapons and equipment in line with arms control requirements
- Heightened oversight at the higher level of states institutions. For example, the State and Defense Department should establish accessible whistleblowing channels and regularly monitor their use, at a minimum
As the event is being held in Washington, we will also share a roadmap for progressing US legislation, highlighting the need for:
- The definition of defence services to be expanded to include combat activities and potentially intelligence services, so that US companies and individuals must obtain US government authorisation (or a licence) to export such services
- More detailed reporting to Congress on defence service exports, including listing the specific types of authorised defence service and associated dollar value for each country
- Enhanced policy guidance for the State Department to assess the risks of corruption before approving a contract or license for PMSC services abroad
It’s time for PMSCs to be brought out of the shadows. Join us.
By Dr Jelena Aparac, the UN’s Independent Expert on its Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries and Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International Defence and Security.
The Russian network Wagner, which has spawned shadowy mercenary groups operating in conflict zones around the word, has just opened its first headquarters in Saint Petersburg.
From the battlefields of Ukraine to the ongoing conflicts in South Sudan and the war in Yemen, private military security companies and their corporate partners are flourishing from conflict. Despite the deadly force they fuel, these firms remain subject to scant regulation and accountability.
Next week [December 1 – December 2], the United Nations will stage talks on the dangers posed by the Wagner network and other private military and security companies. Governments recognised and began talking about the need to better regulate the activities of non-state security outfits back in 2008. Well over a decade on, they’re still talking.
In that time, the industry has grown to be worth US$224 billion. That figure is expected to double by 2030. New groups are proliferating, seizing on opportunities to make money from conflict hotspots.
Russian contractors, subject this summer to gold smuggling investigations in Sudan. Wagner, perhaps the world’s most notorious network operating in this sector – often through elusive and locally-registered companies that use an alphabet soup of opaque brand names – has meanwhile been accused of murdering civilians in Central African Republic, in Libya, and more recently in Ukraine.
Latest research from Transparency International Defence and Security underscores the myriad threats that leaving this growing sector unregulated pose on a global level.
Contractors are expanding their sales of surveillance, armed security and military training to many countries around the world, often including nations that have critically weak protections against defence sector corruption.
This growing industry, while sometimes providing necessary or benign support to the keeping of security and safeguarding of rights, has the potential to infringe international law, and insufficient oversight and regulation risks personnel engaging in corrupt conduct or human rights abuses.
Recent reports point to firms perpetrating suspected war crimes in Mozambique. In Libya and Yemen, claims have been made that groups are engaging in cyber-attacks against political opponents, human rights activists, and journalists, and almost always linked to the exploitation of natural resources.
As firms seek to expand opportunities, they are increasingly taking on activities in new areas, such as security around border controls and for mining industries. These often require technical and logistical support, opening the door to bribes to politically connected sub-contractors.
This outsourcing of one of the primary responsibilities of the state, the provision of security, is worrying. And efforts to respond to the risks are falling flat.
Initiatives such as the publication of the Montreux Document, which outlines the theoretical and non-legally binding responsibilities of states, have proven out of step with the risks posed, largely due to the non-binding nature. Similarly, the industry’s Code of Conduct only encourages voluntary standards to be upheld by the companies it audits and certifies.
With the ever-accelerating rise of Wagner, the time to move from words to the establishment of robust international rules and regulation that provide transparency and accountability for victims around the globe has surely arrived.