Fifteen countries currently at war against an external enemy or internal insurrection have an average ranking on the corruption perceptions index of 150 (the cpi ranks 175 countries). Two of them -- Somalia and Afghanistan -- are tied for last place at 175. The highest ranked nation among those on the war list sits in the bottom half of the cpi. That's Colombia at 94.
Does corruption cause wars?
An Oxfam survey in 2009 of more than 700 ordinary Afghans found that half of them "said corruption and the ineffectiveness of their government were the main reasons for the continued fighting." Only 36 percent blamed the Taliban insurgency as the cause of the war.
The U.S. Institute of Peace -- established and funded by Congress -- had this to say:
[C]orruption has links to conflict. Although corruption is not likely to be the only factor responsible for the destabilization of a country, it can have a major impact on undermining the government — and public confidence in governing institutions — which, in turn, can become a driver of conflict. The links between corruption, governance, and conflict are complex and interrelated, and they are a reality in many countries.
Research by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in 2007 tried to measure "the causal impact of corruption on armed conflict and the impact of conflict on corruption." The conclusion was that no conclusion was possible. Maybe graft causes war. Then again, maybe there are always other factors present that "spoil the data."
That answer might work for social scientists. But for the rest of us, we can see that most countries at war are mostly corrupt. So there's a relationship between war and corruption. There could be other factors we can't explain or prove. Still, shouldn't the corruption perceptions index help the United States and its partners decide when, where, and how to put troops in harm's way, deploy matériel, and spend billions supporting one side against another?
If graft causes war, does it ever make sense to invest in corrupt regimes? Crooked leaders assure that war will follow war. So when peace is the objective, the cpi should guide decisions about going to war or regime change.
Here are fifteen nations now at war with external or internal enemies or both. The cpi rank is in parenthesis:
Central African Republic (144)
Democratic Republic of Congo (154)
South Sudan (173)
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.