Securitizing Corruption

This paper investigates the responses of the United States and its European allies to the rise of strategic, weaponized corruption and the prevention of foreign interference. I claim that the designation of corruption as a national security threat shapes this response and changes the nature of global anti-corruption interventions. I call this approach – borrowing a term developed in international relations – the securitization of transnational corruption.

The paper deals with the emergence, consequences, and impact of such orientation towards anti-corruption policies. I argue that the trend of securitization started by the Biden administration and its European allies is reshaping the field of anti-corruption policies and challenging our understanding of corruption. I investigate the diverse regulatory changes securitization brings, arguing that they create three main problems for global anti-corruption efforts. First, they are undoing much of what was done on the creation of a global anti-corruption norm as they are unilateral engagements that seek to target foreign illicit influence, primarily Russian and Chinese. Second, they face serious domestic opposition that prevents the efficiency of solutions considering the illicit political influence and money laundering to be fully applied within the U.S. and the E.U. Third; they conflate the meaning of corruption with foreign influence.

I conclude that while the threat of strategic or weaponized corruption is real, the response may constitute a security overreach leading to unintended consequences for the fragmentation of international legal and political order. Specifically, these consequences could also cause the undoing of many of the achievements the global anti-corruption movement led and inspired by the United States has achieved so far. I conclude by arguing that for the world of international development, the change of discourse and focus of anti-corruption interventions from development to security represents a paradigm shift. However, it may remain a mere policy refocus for the U.S. national security actors.