Book Review: Thieves Of State

Thieves Of State:  Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, by Sarah Chayes

In a more perfect world, it would not be necessary to justify anti-corruption efforts based on their threats to security.  One would simply be able to point out that corruption harms the economic life of states and definitely harms common people and that it is immoral and unjust, and that would be sufficient to support efforts at rooting it out at home and abroad.  This, though, is not a particularly just or perfect world, and so it is frequently necessary to justify something of obvious moral benefit because of its consequences for something that decision makers will care about, namely issues of security.  The author, though, however much she may wish to make a moral argument, is immensely capable of making a security argument and does so here with aplomb.  This is a book that, depending on your viewpoint of corruption, will either terrify you or inspire you as to how it is possible to demonstrate that corruption is one of the major sources of popular unrest as well as one of the main recruitment tools for radical religious sects, both in history (Protestants in the early modern period) and today (radical Islam).  And that sort of argument, by someone who clearly knows what she is talking about, is well worth paying attention to.

This particular book is a somewhat short one at just over 200 pages, and it contains fourteen chapters and a few other supplementary materials.  The book begins with the author’s experiences in Afghanistan in 2009 looking at how the Karazi government proved itself corrupt enough to encourage people to join the Taliban against him (1) and then looks at anti-corruption messages in various mirrors for princes written in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages and Renaissance (2).  After that the author moves to looking at the need for authorities to listen to the people’s complaints (3) as well as the nonkinetic targeting that takes place when anti-corruption efforts are thwarted (4), as was the case in Kabul in 2009.  The author discusses the vertically integrated criminal syndicates of Karazi’s Afghanistian (5), the anti-corruption uprisings that made up the Arab Spring in 2011 (6), and the military-kleptocratic complex of Egypt (7), the bureaucratic kleptocracy of Tunisia (8), the post-Soviet kleptocratic autocracy of Uzbekistan (9), and the resource kleptocracy of Nigeria (10).  After that the author looks at corruption up a level in the United States in 2010 and 2011 (11), the way that Protestants forged anti-corruption appeals on earth in the early modern period (12), and the way that violent extremists tend to thrive in corrupt atmospheres as part of a false dilemma between themselves and corrupt authorities (13), after which the author offers some remedies (14), and engages in self-reflection and also provides an appendix, acknowledgments, notes, and an index.

Why does corruption threaten global security?  For one, it does so because the experience of corruption tends to anger people because the means of achieving justice in this life and this side of heaven are therefore in control of people who have shown themselves to be without honor in the way that they deal with their subjects’ property and women.  This lack of honor and the lack of recourse that happens when legal authority is in the hands of people who use that power abusively and criminally tends to fuel resentment and anger and can lead to increased support for violent extremists who desire to overthrow a corrupt state.  This is so even though those extremists themselves may not be able to set up a state that is ultimately just or free themselves even where they are successful in overthrowing corrupt authorities.  Obviously, it is not in the interests of a status quo power like the United States to encourage those who wish to overthrow corrupt governments, especially since our nation’s military and aid budget frequently supports such corrupt authorities (and, not coincidentally, reveals our own struggles with corruption internally).  However difficult it is to encourage transparency and honor in authorities that one seeks to support at home and abroad, it is vastly preferable than turning a blind eye or actively supporting corrupt efforts that increase the popular discontent with government and the active support for those who use corrupt authorities as a recruiting efforts for their own violent efforts.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Middle East and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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