It is the common understanding that corruption in its many forms is the top most internal security threat. Corruption is akin to cancer and weakens a nation from within. Thus, in its external dimension, the nation loses its power. Some argue that even though corruption must be addressed as a non-traditional security issue, it is in fact a traditional security issue.
Why corruption is not treated as a security threat?
One reason for academics and policy pundits to ignore corruption as a security issue is due to a conceptual trap. It is declared that corruption is not part of their mandate. Rather, ‘hard’ and ‘loud’ security issues are what need policy focused work.
Justifying corruption as a security threat –
- Conceptually, as one example, it is easy to mix up poverty with corruption. Is corruption due to poverty or is poverty due to corruption? Those studying the Naxal challenge cannot afford to ignore the fact that corruption in delivery mechanisms is one root cause of the insurgency.
- In the military dimension, it is pointed out that due to corruption the process of induction of state of art artillery guns has been delayed which has impacted on military effectiveness.
- Malpractices of frontline providers of governance (teachers, doctors, inspectors and other government representatives) that do not involve monetary exchange is a form of corruption. Absenteeism and low effort are examples, with 15 to 25 per cent of teachers being absent from schools, and considerable numbers not found teaching. Similar behaviour can be seen in India as well. This quiet corruption has deep long term consequences such as low quality learning which may turn later into unemployment, which itself is an internal security threat.
International examples –
- Corruption is seen as “low politics” – an “internal issue” – not something befitting the attention of high-level security leaders. ISIS, for example, had been running a major extortion racket in Mosul for years – but that sort of “crime” doesn’t fall into security officials’ inboxes.
- In Central America, where corrupt elites both structured some of the world’s most unequal economies to their benefit, and disabled sectors that enable government oversight, such as the courts and police. The crime waves there, which are now sending refugees to our borders, were a completely predictable side effect of such extreme crony capitalism.
- The Ukraine’s demise was also caused by thieving elites that reached a tipping point. Popular anger unseated the government – and also allowed Russia to capitalize on the fact that few are willing to fight to protect such a ‘kleptocratcy’. Russia used that popular anger to opportunistically eat away at the country’s most valuable areas.
Tackling the problem–
- The first belief that needs to change is that of “let him who is without sin, cast the first stone”. The next is to “catch the big fish before catching the small”. This mental model that only the non-corrupt can cast a stone at the corrupt is a selective and convenient interpretation to suit the corrupt. Unless this cozy equilibrium of corruption is disrupted, the fight against corruption will never be a success.
- The belief in prioritizing big corruption also hampers action against corruption. One should have an absolute perspective on the issue of corruption. Black money is always illegal whether it is 100 rupees or 100 crore rupees. The quantum of punishment will vary depending on the quantum of illegality. But the absolute nature of illegality cannot, and should not, ever change.
- The wicked problem of corruption will never have a perfect, all pervasive, single solution. So every act that reduces corruption should be applauded, even if the acts originate from the sinners.
Way forward –
Prevention is never as appealing as drones in the air and boots on the ground. But Iraq’s fall on the heels of Ukraine’s collapse should be compelling. Curbing corruption before it tips into Kalashnikov-carrying rebels and public crucifixions is good security policy. And we need to get better at it.
The research agenda in Indian think tanks must now include corruption as a security issue. Scholars and analysts need to ask one question: Do I have corruption in my genes, as suggested by Ashish Nandy, in a one size fits all logic? Probably, most will not find such a gene in themselves.
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