Friday, September 15, 2006

Soft Extra Territorialism and Anti-Corruption Campaigns: On the Perverse Folly of Corrupt States

I have written about the risks to states, principally the United States, and to international organizations, like the World Bank, of engaging in anti-corruption campaigns based on their power to limit aid, based on their unilateral assessment of corruption, and with little attention to the legal prosecution of corrupt officials as a predicate for action against states. Larry Catá Backer, Soft Extra Territorialism and American Anti-Corruption Campaigns, Law at the End of the Day, September 12, 2006. I suggested that the greatest risk of this form of anti-corruption campaign was its power to corrupt the actors seeking to fight corruption.

But my criticism of the American and World Bank efforts should not be read as an endorsement or defense of the states and other actors who are the objects of these anti-corruption campaigns. The Americans and the World Bank are attempting to do right. My hope is that this well motivated effort to “do right” not go wrong. But the states and other actors that are the object of these campaigns do themselves no favor by intensifying their resistance to anti-corruption . Indeed, as I suggest below, these states only deepen and institutionalize their own corruption by their attempts to deflect attention away from their moral and ethical delits to the difficulties inherent in any global policing of their bad conduct by the Americans and the World Bank. States that tolerate corruption, by whatever standard measured, and who prefer to resist efforts to reduce corruption are themselves furthering the corruption of the political community, deepening cultures of corruption as a fixture of state policy, and making it likely that such states will lose all power to regulate relationships that may be corrupt either at the hands of an increasingly intrusive international establishment or by action of global networks of private actors.

For this purpose one need go no farther than the reporting in Steven Weisman, Drive on Corruption Angers Some at World Bank, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 14, 2006, at C-1. The representatives of the states that tend to be the objects of anti-corruption efforts (as well as other states that tend to profit from the corruption of others, notable among them, France, which for years permitted its firms to deduct the costs of foreign bribery as a business expense), have refined their objections to anti-corruption campaigns to a well oiled cant that I have reduced to its four integrated but essential parts. No one ought to be impressed but that is the nature of mantra—the greatest effect of which is to dull the mind and reinvent thief as victim. I have taken that invitation and discuss each in turn.

1. Anti-corruption campaigns result in a loss of national reputation that unfairly produce substantial negative financial effects (“a widespread fear that countries will be categorized in the future as corrupt, and that lending will be shut off in a selective way.¨ Id.):

This is probably the most complex and important of the critiques. Yet at its foundation it is a critique steeped in irony. It effectively admits that strategies that target countries are effective. That repeated targeting can have systemic effects (by affecting reputation) and that reputation effects can translate into higher costs of capital—that is borrowing becomes more expensive (the risks are greater or the lender internalizes the costs and inefficiencies of corruption), or unavailable. Reduced to its simplest level the critique suggests that anti-corruption campaigns are bad because they work. In this guise the argument is both pathetic and manipulative. The feebleness of the argument is obvious. Its manipulative potential perhaps less so—it seeks to suggest that the thievery of state or state supported middlemen in the delivery of services to individuals ought to be invisible and excusable to avoid even greater suffering among the individuals affected (both by the conduct of the thieves and those who withhold aid or make aid more expensive). It intimates a “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument, the sort of argument that terrorists groups make when munitions deliberately placed in family homes or hospitals are threatened with destruction. And these arguments have been effective—quite effective—in the West. They seek to manipulate Western cultural norms—especially its recent tendency towards an almost irrational concern with “the innocent”—to retain a power to steal, seen as a lower order delit in the hierarchy of Western values.

This pathetic manipulation also goes to the principled part of this critique—that this labeling is unfair. Unfairness might arise under one of two circumstances—(1) that the reputation is undeserved, or (2) that the reputation, while deserved, is arbitrarily applied to some but not all states deserving the reputation (and thus these labeled states bear an unfair and disproportionate cost of corruption).

Undeserved reputation for corruption, especially when the labeling originates within the policy setting of another state (the United States primarily) or from international organizations (the World Bank in this case), can result from action taken on the basis of bad or untrue information or from a cynical application of the corruption campaign to advance the interests of the labeling state or organization. With respect to the former, of course, every state or other affected organization has the power to correct bad information. Indeed, the success of the opponents of American and World Bank anti-corruption campaigns attests to their powers of persuasion (as well as to their resources and connections to the international media). Surely resources devoted to convincing the world of the general failings of anti-corruption campaigns can also be used to vindicate reputations unfairly sullied.

But what about the problem of anti-corruption campaigns as a screen used to hide the real intent of the campaigners—that is the cynical advancement foreign policy goals of the United States (and in this case, it would be argued, that of its running dog, the World Bank)? There is a kernel of truth in this suggestion. See Larry Catá Backer, Soft Extra Territorialism and American Anti-Corruption Campaigns, Law at the End of the Day, September 12, 2006, available at . Yet the argument proves too much by far. If corruption is a problem, and if interference from outside sovereigns, like the United States, poses a danger of a different sort of corruption, then it might be possible to avoid the latter by fixing the former—or at least by attempting its repair. Yet what emerges from a review of the activities of complaining nations is s deployment of capital not to fight corruption but to fight interference with their internal affairs by other states (also affected by this corruption) that seek to take matters into their own hands. This argument thus actually strengthens the position of American and World Bank anti-corruption interventionists. It suggests that the only reason for outside interest in fighting corruption are interests other than the reduction of corruption. It shifts attention away from internal corruption to international power politics—leaving the field clear for the maintenance of a status quo for corruption. It suggests, at its limits, that corruption ought to be permitted to flourish as a means of combating foreign interventionism. But this is perversion. It suggests that criminality is a foreign policy positive in the hands of corrupt states and an excuse to avoid taking politically difficult action internally to curb corruption within the private and the state sectors.

The deserved-reputation-for-corruption-imperfectly-imposed critique suggests a different set of arguments. Again there is a kernel of truth in the suggestion. The risks of prosecutorial discretion are real. See Larry Catá Backer, A Caution From Lord Mummery: On the Uselessness of Law, LAW AT THE END OF THE DAY. Yet it also implies perversity. It suggests that because anti-corruption campaign implementation is inefficient, no state ought to have an obligation to solve its corruption problem. Unless all states are lifted form corruption at once and in equal measure, the campaign against corruption will itself be corrupt (at worst) and unfair (at best). Again, the argument seeks to externalize and deepen a set of excuses to avoid an internal confrontation with corruption. The difficulty wit corruption is thus not the inability of the state to confront the issue, but the problem of unfairly imposed systems of foreign efforts to eradicate the problem. It suggests, again, a certain passivity on the parts of states with corruption problems (or perhaps a certain paralysis). It then inverts the implementation problem into a reason not only for doing nothing, but also for resisting outside efforts to bring pressure to bear. Yet, consider the result—states subject to outside anti-corruption campaigns now bend their policy to effectively defend corruption within their borders (and as exported through the cross border dealings of the corrupt in those states).

And that, ultimately, is the tragedy of these arguments. It externalizes and inverts blame. It seeks to demonize external efforts to reduce official or systemic theft. It makes states subject to corruption into the great international champions of corruption. Now THAT is corruption indeed!

2. While anti-corruption efforts are important, they ought not to get in the way of development strategies (“But getting rid of corruption is not a silver bullet. The bank should not overemphasize its anti corruption agenda at the expense of other policies required for development.” Steven Weisman, Drive on Corruption Angers Some at World Bank, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 14, 2006, at C-1 (quoting Robert Dañino, a former senior vice president of the World Bank)):

Here, an argument intimated in the “unfairness” critique takes center stage. It plays on as astute assessment of Western norm structures, implies a hierarchy of wrongs, suggests that the wrongs against which the United States and the World Bank proceeds is “less wrong” than the wrongs perpetrated against deserving individuals (the objects of the aid programs) and thus anti-corruption campaigns do more harm than good when they effect (as they will inevitably tend to effect) the ability to deliver goods to the deserving poor. Thus, recent reports described that the board members of the World Bank (heroically?) “forced the deletion of language suggesting that the United Nations’ goal of reducing world poverty by 50 percent by 2015 would have to take second place to the bank’s drive against corruption.” Steven Weisman, Drive on Corruption Angers Some at World Bank, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 14, 2006, at C-4.

But this argument contains within it a bit of bathos as well. As John Githongo, living in exile from his native Kenya for his anti-corruption activities, has suggested: “Let’s face it, promotion at the World Bank comes form spending money. . . If you’re in the field, and too many complaints about corruption interrupt your spending, it has an impact on your career trajectory.” Id.

The argument ultimately goes to the issue of conflation—what does one put together and what does one keep separate. On the one hand opponents of anti-corruption campaigns suggest that it is important to separate anti-corruption efforts from programs in aid of the most deserving of state to state aid. Alternatively they suggest that using outside pressure of any kind ultimately hurts the most innocent citizens of the corrupt state targeted. The greatest victim of anti-corruption campaigns are the most innocent and vulnerable portions of a targeted political community. On the other hand, there is a bit of the inversion of victimhood to this argument. Much like the bandits who hold police responsible for the deaths of the hostages that the bandits killed (the usual explanation is something like: “we told them that any intervention will force us to kill the hostages”), states targeted for anti-corruption campaigns argue that the intervening states will be completely responsible for the misery suffered by the vulnerable “innocents” who are the real victims of anti-corruption campaigns.

The ethical inversion in this repositioning should be extraordinary. The conflation it suggests is false. Yet it works, as both conflation and inversion! It ought not. States who hold their own vulnerable populations hostage to their refusals to confront great systemic issues of theft (itself increasing the misery of these vulnerable populations) commit two wrongs—a failure to confront theft and a deliberate campaign against the welfare of their citizens. It ought not to be able to beg for foreign funds (to make old wrongs right, to alleviate the misery of the suffering, to aid in development, etc.), then use those funds for the pleasure of the corrupt, deepening or at least extending the misery of the ignored target populations, and then suggest that anti-corruption campaigns are both unrelated to the aid demanded and any effort to reify this relationship will only work to the detriment of the target populations (and the receiving states would see to that!). Such states ought to be made to answer for both its diversion of funds (whether internally or externally generated) and the effects of those diversions on the rights of the poor and the state’s obligations to its political community.

3. Corruption is an internal matter for a state and neither other states nor international organizations ought to divert assets to anti-corruption efforts (“’The bank,’ a board member said, ‘should not become a world policeman pointing its moral finger and conditioning everything on whether or not a country is believed to be corrupt. The more the bank goes beyond its old mandate of reducing poverty, the more problems will come up.’” Steven Weisman, Drive on Corruption Angers Some at World Bank, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 14, 2006, at C-4):

The anti-corruption argument assumes a bizarre form when it is put up against the argument I consider here—that anti-corruption campaigns are a matter of internal governance and that outside attempts to impose such governance rules serve as a cover for forced harmonization of rules to the benefit of the outside powers. Again, there is a kernel of truth in this suggestion. See Larry Catá Backer, Soft Extra Territorialism and American Anti-Corruption Campaigns, Law at the End of the Day, September 12, 2006. Extraterritorially applied campaigns against perceived criminal conduct can serve as a means of forcing a harmonization of understanding of both criminality and the particular behaviors that constitutes such criminality without regard to the desires, practices, understanding or wishes of the target state. But this argument, to be effective, requires some expression of a counter vision of anti-corruption, or even a clear statement of the rejection of the idea of corruption as a crime as understood in the West.

It would be courageous for a corrupt state to declare that it is quite content with the behaviors of its officials, that such conduct is culturally sanctioned, that it reflects the will of the people, that it maximizes efficiency and cultural or social objectives in that political community, that it rejects Western notions of corruption (its definition meaning and application) and that it would continue to give expression to its national cultural norms even against the desires of other foreign and even powerful states. It would be harder to argue with this position. But no state has taken this position. All are eager to climb on some sort of internationalizes anti-corruption bandwagon, at least as formally expressed in global instruments. But none seeks to actually engage these norms internally. It is as if states found it convenient to agree with international standards (perhaps as a means of acquiring something valuable in exchange—in which case they could be said to have sold their cultural and social mores for the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver, and perhaps that ought to be actionable as well!) with no intention of actually conforming their behavior to those standards. After all, those standards would not be well known internally. States could keep two sets of laws—one to show the international community and the other for internal consumption. Many states seeking to modernize, from 19th century Japan and China, to modern Lain America, have at times been tempted by this two books formula. The People’s Republic of China confronts this issue as it seeks to enter the global marketplace. For Muslim majority states, this issue goes to the core of their relationship with non-Muslim majority states.

Sadly, the reality is somewhat different. States that seek to internalize the prosecution of corruption don’t. There are no trials. There are no sweeping efforts to round up those responsible. States do not focus their prosecutorial and judicial systems to the task. They leave it to others and then complain when the others act effectively. The argument actually, thus suggests its opposite—do not interfere with our internal affairs, expect little from us, but continue to provide us with aid to relieve the sufferings of our poor, make up for centuries of abusive relationships, aid our development, and ask no questions. For all its faults in implementation, even the Chinese anti-corruption efforts appear as a welcome principled contrast to this stance.

4. Anti-Corruption campaigns are the subterfuge through which the United States and its running dogs, like the World Bank, will seek global domination (“Some bank officials say that the widespread concern about Mr., Wolfowitz’s approach reflects lingering doubts among many international aid specialists about his selection for the bank post by President Bush.” Steven Weisman, Drive on Corruption Angers Some at World Bank, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 14, 2006, at C-4):

This last argument actually gets to the heart of the matter. In a sense, the first three arguments present principled objections to foreign anti-corruption campaigns with extra territorial direct or indirect effect. They have as their basis, law (sovereignty and process rights within a nation state), politics and culture. But this last argument, an argument that goes to power, is probably the one that provides the greatest motivation among many of the states resisting anti-corruption campaigns. More than anything else, the opposition to American led anti corruption campaigns, whether originating in the White House or through the World Bank, can be best understood as a sort of knee jerk opposition to anything that might be understood as a marker of American hegemony. Thus, it is not objection to foreign standards that vexes, it is objection to foreign standards formulated by Americans that causes concern. Likewise, it is not foreign determinations of corruption that annoys, but determinations made by Americans or people or institutions seen to be instrumentalities of the American state that enrages.

In this anti-American crusade, targeted states find an interesting ally—the Europeans who continue to seek to undo the political settlement of the Second World War by undermining American power when they can. Direct challenge is usually difficult, but challenges in global bodies, and masked in theoretical constructs, work just as well. So let us stand on principle, our British and French friends will suggest—the principle that American projects are always suspect as grounded in imperial objects and hegemonic intent.

At the World Bank, of course, all of this is bound up in the politics-of-the-seraglio backstabbing of its American backed President, Mr. Wolfowitz. Thus, World Bank mandarins anonymously spread doubt about the qualifications of the World Bank President. “The doubts center on Mr. Wolfowitz’s role as a leading advocate of the American invasion of Iraq, with many critics contending that his zeal on corruption reminds them of what they say was his messianic but unrealistic faith that installing democracy by force in Iraq, and by other means through the Middle East, would bring stability to the region.” Steven Weisman, Drive on Corruption Angers Some at World Bank, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 14, 2006, at C-1. But the attacks are not merely on character. Thus, there is a suggestion of internal distrust “in part, because according to some, he has not given enough credit to his predecessor, James D. Wolfensohn, who spoke out against corruption and set up the Bank’s first investigation unit in the late 1990’s.” Id.

The anti-corruption debate, thus, serves as a proxy for higher stakes politics, on the one hand, and for the lowest order internal power playing, on the other. It serves the interests of states seeing to hobble American power, in general, and to punish the Americans for their adventurism in Iraq, on the other, by getting at the perceived architect of that policy, now at the World Bank. The critique against anti-corruption campaigns, then, is not about corruption, but about power, American power in particular. Its consequence, of course, is that corruption itself becomes an object to protect as a means to “getting back” at the Americans, their war in Iraq, their attempt to aid in the assertion of internationally recognized behavior norms, and the architect of American foreign wars.

States act in the service of corruption when they use corruption as a proxy for other battles. Their critiques thus ought to lose a substantial amount of legitimacy. There are no ethics to these critiques. Their inversion of principle constitutes ethical perversion. And that is a shame. While states quarrel over the power to fight corruption, corruption will continue to thrive. As states protect their rights to act against corruption, cultures of corruption will become more deeply embedded. Again, and perhaps as always, individuals lose in the service of other causes.

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