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UNCAC CoSP10: The words are there, now bring on the action

19th December 2023

Josie Stewart, head of Transparency International Defence & Security, reflects on a busy week at the Tenth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Atlanta.


The 10th session of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) showed two things very clearly: the fight against corruption is receiving more attention than ever – but that attention has not yet translated into enough action, especially in defence and security.

Let’s start with the good news. The past week, I and more than 1,000 others spent six days running around a bustling conference centre in Atlanta, USA. Countries sent large delegations, and negotiations continued late into the nights. Unlike previous CoSPs, the 10th session saw significant attendance from global civil society, ensuring transparency and meaningful engagement.

And there is more good news. Thanks in part to the host country’s leadership, we saw corruption recognised as the security threat that it is. During the two days of opening remarks from participants, speaker after speaker acknowledged the impact that corruption has on stability, peace, and security, and I also had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion on this topic. We hope to see this sentiment reflected in the flagship resolution of the CoSP, the Atlanta Declaration, once it is published.

But here come the caveats. We all spent a lot of time admiring the problem, rehashing time and again the fact that corruption is bad, and there was a lot of preaching to the choir. Even in the many policy discussions and panel events that took place alongside the formal negotiations, where there was markedly little challenge, new thinking that could really push the anti-corruption agenda forward, or focus on concrete actions that could and should be advanced.

Without concrete actions, acknowledgement of corruption as a security threat remains just the first step to addressing it. And at CoSP10, the international anti-corruption community was a long way short of real action when it comes to addressing corruption in defence and security.

I’ve seen the effects of this first hand – and they are devastating.

During my time leading the UK Government’s anti-corruption agenda in Afghanistan, I witnessed the devastating effects of neglecting corruption. The failure to prioritize combating corruption led to the disintegration of the Afghan national defence forces as the Taliban advanced. In South Sudan, while working on defence governance reform, I saw how accountability and transparency were sidelined, allowing corruption in the military to fester.

Corruption is about money and power, and there’s an abundance of both in defence and security. Yet anti-corruption policy communities rarely have meaningful engagement with national security and defence policy communities. Until this week, there was no discussion about defence and security at the UNCAC CoSP

So now the words are there at least, what needs to be done?

We’re challenging states to examine how well their anti-corruption efforts are identifying and taking on the tough political choices that are needed in order to address corruption as a security threat, and we’re challenging states to focus on addressing corruption within their defence and security sectors as a critical aspect of their wider anti-corruption agendas. We want an agreed resolution on this in two years’ time, when the next UNCAC CoSP takes place.

We need to call corruption in defence and security by its name: a threat to human, national and international security. These words are now being spoken by many, but getting from words to actions, from acknowledgements to clear commitments, is the next challenge, and it is a challenge that we are committed to meet head on.