There is no universal definition of corruption. Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted authority (public or private) for illegitimate (private or group) gain”. This definition is widely accepted. However, it is important to bear in mind that corruption is highly contextual; therefore perceptions and understanding of what constitutes corruption vary accordingly. Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector (CIDS) identifies corruption as practices within an institution that compromise that institution’s capacity to perform its functions in an impartial and accountable manner.[1]

What is corruption in defence and security?cor1

Corruption within the security sector may take many forms, such as: kickbacks and bribes, awarding of non-competitive contracts or manipulations of soldier payrolls, misuse of budgets, and the use of military resources to generate off-budget profits.[2] The recent and rapid growth of private military and security companies, performing activities previously within the realm of the state that are outsourced in accordance with limited regulations, has further increased opportunities for corruption.[3] Mats R. Berdal and David M. Malone distinguish three types of corruption:

  • Need-driven (petty) corruption: involves low and middle-level servicemen who are unable to satisfy their basic social needs with their low salaries.
  • Greed-driven (elite) corruption: involves high ranking military and government officials, as well as private companies and middlemen/agents.
  • Pyramidal corruption: connects high ranking government and military officials with low and middle-level servicemen via redistribution of illegal income and a flow of corrupt money from the bottom up. [4]

Additionally, the French Criminal Code differentiates between passive and active corruption.

  • Passive corruption is a direct or indirect request or acceptance, without right, of offers, donations, gifts or advantages.
  • Active corruption is direct or indirect proposal, without right, of offers, promises, donations, gifts or advantages.[5]

Why is corruption an important risk?

Corruption hinders the development and undermines the security of modern societies. Corruption undermines public confidence in the institutions of the state. Corruption particularly impedes the progress of countries in transition, stealing much needed resources from state-building endeavours. Resources provided through corrupt practices are often transformed into economic and political influence, thus weakening democratic institutions and further expanding corruption. Defence sector often provides a fertile ground for corrupt activities due to a culture of secrecy and impunity that shields it from rigorous scrutiny.[6]

Furthermore, corruption corrodes efficiency and effectiveness of the armed forces. Low troop morale and inadequate equipment contribute to higher casualties on the field, which can compromise broader national security objectives. The military see their budget reduced as fewer resources are allocated to a group that is perceived to be corrupt. This triggers even more corruption as groups compete to secure their share of scarce resources, leading to a vicious cycle of corruption.

How does corruption affect defence the security?

Corruption is costly. Corruption diverts scarce resources from other sectors in need, such as, health and education. Corruption also obstructs an effective functioning of the security sector. Corrupt and malfunctioning military forces lower society’s esteem for state institutions. Operational effectiveness of the troops in deployments is highly compromised. Corrupt procedures concerning placements and merit attributions greatly affect troop morale. Corruption may also provide opportunities for terrorists and organised crime to acquire information, know-how, dangerous materials, weapon technologies and systems. Corruption-based links of security and defence organisations to organised crime pose immediate threats to the security of the country and its citizens. Corruption negatively impacts the armed forces credibility in international operations.[7]

Who is affected by corruption? Who can fight it?

Main areas affected by corruption in defence and security are:

  • personnel and manpower management;
  • budgeting and financial management, procurement, offset arrangements;
  • outsourcing, privatisation, public-private partnerships;
  • utilisation of surplus equipment and infrastructure;
  • military operations, and the involvement of defence personnel and assets in economic activities[8]

Additionally, Transparency International (TI) identifies a political dimension of the security sector that is prone to corruption. In this sense, security policies; the nexus between defence and national assets; control of intelligence services and other planning and policy procedures, such as a National Security Strategy, can potentially become a source for corruption when conducted with no regard to legal boundaries.[9]

Corruption affects all levels of security and defence personnel and can take the form of: theft, extortion, bribery, and influence networks. Factors such as: lack of transparency (secrecy culture), operational urgency, lack of oversight mechanisms and absence of adequate rules and regulations can create an atmosphere prone to corrupt deviation of financial and other resources. In this context, whistle-blowers play a crucial role in signalling infractions. Oversight committees, ombuds institutions and inspectors are essential in combatting corruption. Their presence alone exercises a preventive effect. Parliament, the ministry of defence and other ministries, civil society, media and academia can all play an important role in fighting corruption. Additionally, international organisations and other states can provide guidance, best practices and international standards.[10]



Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector. Criteria for Good Governance in the Defence Sector: International Standards and Principles (2015) 

Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector. Integrity Action Plan. A handbook for practitioners in defence establishments (2014) 

CIDS (2015) Guides to Good Governance: Professionalism and integrity in the public service. No 1.

Centre for Integrity in the Defence Sector (2015) Guide to Good Governance (No 2) 

DCAF (2015), Parliamentary Brief: Building Integrity in Defence. 

NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence: A Compendium of Best Practices.

NATO (2012) Building Integrity Programme 

Transparency International (2011). Building Integrity and Countering Corruption in Defence and Security: 20 Practical Reforms. 

Transparency International (2008). ‘Corruption and (In)security’, Working Paper, No. 4.

Transparency International (2007). ‘Addressing corruption and building integrity in defence establishments’, Working Paper, No. 2.

New editions of the DCAF SSR Backgrounder Series.


[1] Sources: TI (2015), Corruption: Lessons from the international mission in Afghanistan. p 20. CIDS (2015) Criteria for Good Governance in the Defence Sector: International Standards and Principles. p 3. CIDS, Integrity Action Plan, p 10.

[2] DCAF (2015), Parliamentary Brief: Building integrity in Defence. 

[3] NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defence. A Compendium of Best Practices, p. 5.

[4] In NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity, p. 151-152. See: Mats R. Berdal and David Malone, eds., Greed and Grievance: Economic Agendas in Civil Wars. (London 2009)

[5] Ibid., p. 174.

[6] Ibid,. NATO-DCAF, (2010). Building Integrity, p. 1-3.

[7] Ibid., p. 3-12.

[8] Ibid., p. 5

[9] Transparency International (2011). Building Integrity and Countering Corruption In Defence and Security: 20 Practical Reforms.  p. 10. 

[10] DCAF (2015), Parliamentary Brief: Building integrity in Defence.


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