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Trojan Horse Tactics: Military spending, corruption and the need for transparency and good governance

11th July 2024

As world leaders convene in Washington DC for the 2024 NATO summit, Ara Marcen Naval highlights the need to address and prevent corruption in military spending. 


As global insecurity rises, so does militarisation and defence spending. The latest data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows world military expenditure rose for the ninth consecutive year to an all-time high of $2.443 trillion in 2023. This represents an increase of 6.8 per cent in real terms from 2022, which is the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009.  This sharp rise demands our attention and underscores the urgent need for greater transparency in military spending. 

Transparency International Defence & Security has long sounded the alarm on corruption – a hidden threat in times of rising military expenditure. 

Corruption in the defence sector is multifaceted. While bribery is the most recognised form, corruption also includes conflicts of interest, embezzlement, nepotism, sextortion, and undue influence. This pervasive issue thrives in environments characterised by secrecy and wealth – factors that are especially prevalent in the defence and security sector. Often deemed too complex and sensitive for meaningful external scrutiny, this sector is fertile ground for corruption when oversight is inadequate. 

The rise in defence spending is linked with increasing corruption risks. Increased spending must be accompanied by vigilant attention to corruption risk. There is a strong indication that the relationship between defence spending and corruption is cyclical. In countries experiencing state capture – where private interests corrupt a country’s decision-making to benefit themselves, rather than the public – elites are more likely to prioritise military spending, further perpetuating corruption. 

Many defence institutions worldwide are ill-equipped to manage the higher corruption risks that militarisation brings. Transparency International Defence and Security’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI), which assesses countries on the strength of their safeguards against defence and security corruption, shows one-third of the world’s top 40 highest military spenders face high to critical corruption risks in their defence sectors. Even if some high spenders may have stronger domestic controls, they often export arms to countries facing much greater corruption risks. 

Evidence shows that countries spending more on defence as a percentage of GDP tend to score lower in the GDI, indicating higher vulnerability to corruption. The 15 countries with the biggest military spending increases between 2021 and 2023 fall into c moderate to high corruption risk categories. 

As international insecurity rises, so does global defence spending. However, the hidden cost of this escalation is the proliferation of corruption within the defence sector. When defence spending rises in countries where corruption safeguards are not prioritised, the issue becomes more serious. Corruption in the defence sector undermines peace and security by diverting critical resources and eroding public trust. 

To manage the corruption risks associated with defence spending, NATO and its allies should: 

  • Ensure comprehensive transparency and oversight of defence budgets, allowing the public to have a clear picture of spending plans. 
  • Implement controls to reduce the risk of funds being lost to corruption as budgets are spent, such as granting parliaments, or a parliamentary defence committee, extensive powers to scrutinise spending and publishing the approved budget in an easy-to-understand form. 
  • Integrate anti-corruption measures into arms export controls to prevent exporting arms to countries unable to manage corruption risks. 
  • Utilise good governance and transparency as a tool for deterrence against foreign or domestic threats.  

Only by addressing and preventing corruption can we ensure that defence and security sectors genuinely uphold national and human security, rather than exacerbating insecurity and putting populations at further risk of harm. 


About the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) 

The GDI measures institutional resilience to corruption by focusing on policymaking and public sector governance in national defence institutions. The Index is organized into five main risk areas: policymaking and political affairs, finances, personnel management, military operations, and procurement. Each indicator is scored based on five levels from 0-100, and scores are aggregated to determine the overall corruption risk level, ranging from A to F. 


Header image: Dragoș Asaftei –