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Mainstreaming Anti-Corruption in SSR

By Julien Joly, Transparency International – Defence & Security

In my last post on this blog, I argued, based on research in 6 countries over 5 years, that it was important for SSR to re-think peacebuilding initiatives to include ways to address the corruption-conflict nexus. This means adopting a new approach to SSR: shifting from the dominant ‘train-and-equip’ approaches that have produced limited results to instead focus more on transparency, accountability and anti-corruption.

How do we bring anti-corruption from the margins to the mainstream? This post discusses what an approach to mainstreaming anti-corruption in SSR could look like in practice. By ‘mainstreaming anti-corruption in SSR’, I mean adopting strategies that make anti-corruption efforts an integral dimension of the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in SSR.

Here, I do not propose a comprehensive model that links anti-corruption to SSR. However, in our recent report, ‘The Missing Element: addressing corruption through SSR in West Africa’, we offer several recommendations on where and how anti-corruption expertise can enhance the capacity of SSR to produce transformative change.

1. Design corruption-responsive SSR assessments

What is the nexus between corruption and conflict—and especially between corruption in the security sector and instability and conflict? This needs to be understood before it can be addressed.

SSR assessments are conducted to develop strategies and identify their potential impacts on peace and security. They seek to identify factors that affect stability and security, analyse how different groups of citizens experience security, and identify SSR challenges and opportunities. Although corruption has been increasingly acknowledged as an enabler of conflict, it has been notably absent from SSR assessments.

In 2016, when reflecting on the failings of international interventions in Afghanistan, former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker reported that “The ultimate point of failure for our efforts…wasn’t an insurgency. It was the weight of endemic corruption.” Indeed, widespread corruption in the security sector and state capture by criminal networks had undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government. As a result, it had driven Taliban recruitment, thus exacerbating armed violence while making the transition to a competent host nation security force more challenging. In 2017, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction identified corruption as cross-cutting issue that affected the development of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. It also reported that “the U.S. government was ill-prepared to develop a national security force in a post-conflict nation”.

Whether because it is politicized, involved in illicit activities, or captured by criminal networks, the security sector is often responsible for exacerbating conflict and insecurity. In such contexts, analyzing the potential impact of SSR on conflict dynamics requires in-depth understanding of the underlying causes of conflict. When corruption significantly impacts those dynamics, as was the case in Afghanistan, it is important to understand the interaction of political and economic processes in the security sector and explore the drivers and enablers of corruption as well as the distribution of power between different groups to guide reform initiatives. Indeed, by integrating a corruption lens into SSR assessments, practitioners can ensure that they collect the necessary information to inform legislation, policies and programs.

2. Take measures to address corruption-conflict systems

Yet understanding the context isn’t enough. Measures to address corruption-conflict systems are also needed. We suggest integrating anti-corruption measures into the three main pillars of the security sector: oversight, provision and management.

a. Focus on oversight as the foundation for accountable security services

For SSR to bring about structural change, a more sustained focus on security sector oversight is essential. Oversight is a crucial component which lays the foundation for accountable security services. Our report suggests that integration of anti-corruption measures can enhance security sector oversight by increasing transparency and strengthening oversight actors, as well as implementing tools of dissuasion such as sanctions.

The need for secrecy within the apparatus of defense and security is often used as an excuse for a lack of transparency. Despite the sensitivity of certain aspects of the sector, measures can be put in place to provide a high degree of oversight and accountability—without compromising the need for certain information to remain confidential. These can include clear classification laws and systems for accessing information, appropriate and effective systems of security clearance, procedures for ensuring competent and effective legislative and audit oversight and means to provide the public with enough information to ensure accountability.

b. Build anti-corruption efforts into everyday service provision

Security providers should rely on transparent and effective security oversight and management that ensures that different security providers have clear, non-overlapping mandates supported by robust planning and are equipped accordingly. But these management and oversight components can’t be completely responsible for building effectiveness and accountability in the security sector. Security providers also need to contribute to strengthening integrity, transparency and accountability and reducing the risk of corruption, especially during operations.

Fundamentally, a sound anti-corruption framework in operations should consider corruption as a strategic issue: at the planning stage, during the mission, when contracting and when deploying private contractors. Defense and security forces could, for example, adopt anti-corruption doctrines that treat corruption as a strategic issue in operations. Ensuring they are publicly available and that commanders understand them before and during deployments can promote their effective implementation. Similarly, specific operational guidelines for contracting can help mitigate the risk of feeding black markets, as well as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. These can include standard operating procedures to address risks relating to asset disposal, local power brokers, contract delivery monitoring or security of equipment and personnel.

As outlined in Transparency International Defense & Security’s Interventions Anti-Corruption Guidance, those involved in planning security services need to be aware of the main corruption pathways in operations:

  • Corruption in mission forces;

  • Relations with host nation stakeholders;

  • Partnering with host defense and security forces;

  • Corruption in sustainment and contracting;

  • Assistance to civil power.

For each pathway a number of measures, either preventive or responsive, can be taken. Although some concrete differences between international and domestic operations exist, risk pathways identified at the international level can also apply to domestic operations. For example, there are tangible risks within international operations, particularly in terms of asset disposals, local powerbrokers, contract delivery monitoring or security of equipment and personnel, which can also be found in a national security apparatus. In both cases, it is essential that corruption risk assessments are undertaken ahead of time and that corruption is monitored during missions. It is also critical that specific guidelines exist, for instance, in the form of standard operating procedures, particularly around the risk areas mentioned above.

c. Construct robust management systems to combat corruption

Robust security sector management processes ensure a better use of resources within the security sector. Here again, our report suggests that anti-corruption expertise would significantly strengthen three key areas of SSR: financial management, human resources management and procurement systems.

In human resource management, measures can be taken to foster a culture of integrity, for example, through public commitments by leadership to fight against corruption, and transparent and standardized processes for sanctions and whistleblower protection. A code of conduct for military and civilian personnel could also be developed to include guidance with respect to bribery, gifts and hospitality, conflicts of interest, facilitation payments and post-separation activities.

Furthermore, sensitive positions—such as those in procurement, contracting and financial management—need to be subject to special attention and monitored closely.

The secrecy often surrounding the security sector, combined with the size of security sector expenditure, exposes the sector’s financial management to significant corruption risks. SSR must not overlook this element of security sector transformation, which can be managed through clear systems of classification clearance and oversight as well as specific clauses on corruption risks in legislation and regulation.

Looking at the wider picture

As mentioned, in this post I don’t set out to provide a comprehensive model to link anti-corruption to SSR; moreover, I recognize that anti-corruption efforts alone will not fix all the shortcomings of current approaches to SSR. But in contexts where corruption in the security sector exacerbates conflict dynamics, it’s reasonable to posit that a corruption-sensitive approach would benefit SSR. In contexts where corruption undermines the public trust in the national security apparatus and government legitimacy, is it unreasonable to think that building integrity, transparency and accountability in the security sector would contribute to restoring the social contract and strengthening the rule of law?

Beyond SSR, I certainly think that the increasing recognition of corruption as a key contributing factor to conflicts and insecurity raises the imperative to re-think peacebuilding initiatives with a view to including ways to address the corruption-conflict nexus. SSR is an essential step to preventing the recurrence of violence and ensuring smooth transitions to peace and rule of law. SSR, however, doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is often connected with other efforts designed to end armed violence and build lasting peace, including negotiations for peace agreements, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programs, transitional justice initiatives, and peace operations.

As such, a comprehensive approach to addressing violent conflict not only requires thinking about these initiatives holistically, but also ensuring that each and all of them contribute to addressing the corruption-conflict nexus.

Continuing the Conversation — Abusing Power: Corruption & Conflict Blog Series

This is the fourth post in our “Abusing Power: Corruption & Conflict Blog Series,” which forms part of CJL’s Corruption and Peacebuilding project. (Julien Joly’s previous post, the second in this series, argued for the need to mainstream anti-corruption in security sector reforms to improve the impact of peacebuilding initiatives.) This series aims to foster conversation between actors working in the field of anti-corruption and peacebuilding. We invite those of you working at this intersection of anti-corruption/integrity-building and peace — as scholars, practitioners or policy makers — to share your insights.

For more in this series see:


About the Author

Julien Joly works for Transparency International – Defence & Security as at thematic advisor on conflict and crisis. His work focuses on exploring the intersection between corruption and conflict, and in particular – how anti-corruption efforts can support peacebuilding and stabilisation. He previously worked in the fields of humanitarian assistance, development, stabilization and peacebuilding, including with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations system.


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