The Role of International Organisations

International organisations have played a central role in driving the tremendous shift in worldwide attitudes about corruption that have taken place in the past twenty years. They have also played a major role in practical efforts to counter corruption through international conventions and standards, promoting good governance, monitoring and advocacy. While most of this work has focused on the areas of international business and development, there is now growing attention to the issue of corruption in the defence and security sectors. This is a natural extension of an increasing focus on defence governance over the past decade, itself being driven by the growing understanding in institutions like NATO that effective stewardship of resources is vital to ensuring successful operations.

International organisations—for the purposes of this chapter include inter-governmental organisations and global non-governmental organisations—have tremendous resources and know-how that can be valuable to officials or citizens who wish to make a contribution to combating corruption in their own institutions or society. This chapter aims to help such readers better understand the resources available, access them and use them effectively. It will first look at the various roles and approaches to combating corruption taken by international organisations, both overall and more specifically in the area of defence. It will then examine several prominent institutions more closely before considering how to best leverage the capabilities provided by these institutions to catalyse change in the national context.

Role of International Organisations: The Broad Context

Until the early 1990s, corruption was viewed by most of the international business and development community as a regular (if not “normal”) transaction cost. In some Western countries, it was not unusual for corruption payments to be listed as legitimate business expenses for tax purposes. Nevertheless, for several decades there had been a growing understanding of the tremendous burden that corruption puts on development programs as well as its distortive economic effects. Debate surrounding the US Corrupt Foreign Practices Act of 1977, for example, noted that more than 400 US corporations had admitted to paying out in excess of $300 million in corporate funds to foreign government officials – a reality that was not only unethical but also bad business, eroding confidence in the corporations in question and, by favouring private arrangements over efficiency, undermining the integrity of the free market system more generally. The tremendous corrosive effects of corruption were also brought home by the troubled “free-market” transition in Russia and other post-Soviet states, where privatisation programs recommended by well-meaning (but naïve) Western experts degenerated into wholesale theft of state assets. The creation in 1993 of Transparency International, whose founders were officials with direct experience in the damage that corruption causes to development, gave a voice to this growing awareness. Since that time, a growing network of national and international institutions have used education, lobbying and focused research to place the corruption problem—and the need to combat it—firmly on the world’s political agenda.

Today, dozens of major international organisations, inter-governmental organisations and global non-governmental organisations are now actively involved in efforts to counter corruption. They fill a number of important niches in the anti-corruption ecosystem (please note that due to space limitations the organisations mentioned for each niche are representative, not exhaustive):

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