Corruption on Biden’s December Summit Agenda
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
In an article I wrote sixteen years ago, “Anti-corruption strategy in US foreign policy” published in the Jamaica Observer, August 28, 2005, I discussed anti-corruption as an important element in US foreign policy. Launched by President George W. Bush, his primary focus was US national security, specifically how corruption facilitated the threat from terrorism and international organized crimes. Bush’s national security strategy stressed the importance of promoting anti-corruption policies globally. Accordingly, his administration decided to streamline anti-corruption in US “economic engagement with other countries to underscore the benefits of policies that generate higher productivity and sustained economic growth, including rule of law and intolerance to corruption….”
In 2005, the USAID issued a comprehensive anti-corruption implementation plan, a part of the “USAID Anticorruption Strategy” (Strategy) which aimed at streamlining anti-corruption goals in USAID programs, including promotion of good governance and the rule of law in USAID beneficiary countries. The Strategy identified anti-corruption as fundamental to advancing US foreign policy and national security interests.
In the period hence, successive US governments have been inconsistent in implementing US anti-corruption policies. Arguably, US western hemispheric policy at times support some corrupt governments in furtherance of US national security and geopolitical interests. Corrupt governments in Central America and elsewhere in Latin America, as well as in the Caribbean, the most egregious in Haiti, have received US economic and security support in contravention of stated US anti-corruption policy. Thousands of miles away, support for the former grossly corrupt Afghan government is another case in point.
America itself experienced an unprecedented high level of corruption among US government officials during the four years of the Donald Trump administration. Contrasted with the eight years of President Barack Obama’s administration during which there were no corruption scandals and other US administrations, the Trump administration set historical lows in good governance, rule of law, and anti-corrupt practices. President Trump himself faced accusations of corruption, and several corruption related issues involving the former president and senior members of his administration remain under investigation and prosecution.
In this context president Joe Biden has included corruption as one of three major focal points of his planned Summits for Democracy, the first scheduled for December 9-10, 2021. According to President Biden, the challenge of our time is to demonstrate in practical ways what I refer to here as the ‘democracy dividends’, that is, “democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people and by addressing the greatest problems facing the greater world.” His December virtual Summit will bring together leaders from a diverse group of the world’s democracies. It will involve heads of state, civil society, philanthropy, and the private sector to galvanize commitments and initiatives across the three themes: defending against authoritarianism, fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. A second in-person summit will be held a year later to showcase progress on commitments made at the first summit.
I discussed in my recent article in The Ward Post, “Biden’s Summit to Address Challenges to Democracy, Corruption, and Human Rights,” some of the challenges to democracies around the world. I will discuss advancing respect for human rights in a subsequent article.
As I mentioned above, anti-corruption has been on the foreign policy agendas of successive US presidents, particularly since President Bush integrated anti-corruption in USAID programs in 2005. Emerging from perhaps the most corrupt administration in US history, President Biden’s “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” (NSS), issued June 3, 2021, highlighted the fight against corruption as a core US national security interest. A statement accompanying the NSS released by the White House states: “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to tackling corruption as an economic and national security priority and has pledged to support international efforts to bring transparency to the global financial system and close loopholes that undermine democracy.” The NSS emphasized that the Biden-Harris Administration would “take special aim at confronting corruption, which rots democracy from the inside and is increasingly weaponized by authoritarian states to undermine democratic institutions.”
Also in June 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration issued a National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) that established the fight against corruption as a core US national security interest. The NSSM directed a 200-day interagency review to provide a report and recommendations on how the US government and its international partners can modernize, coordinate, and resource efforts to better fight corruption. The Biden-Harris Administration has a personal interest in this process to prevent a repeat of the corrupt influence parlayed by the Trump administration around the world.
The US experience with the Trump administration clearly demonstrates the concern in the case of the US, in which an authoritarian-leaning president used his position to cause significant erosion in the integrity of the democratic process for corrupt purposes. But the review ordered by President Biden will not focus primarily on US own experience of the past four years. The primary focus will be to address how corrupt practices impact democracies around the world, with emphasis on threats to US national security interests. According to the White House statement, Biden’s Summit will seek to recruit other democracies to join the anti-corruption fight. He will find willing partners within the European Union which has a robust anti-corruption policy of its own.
There is no question the debilitating effects corruption have on democracies – good government and rue of law, the negative impact on economic development, and the threat to human security of the world’s population. Corruption is especially egregious in authoritarian regimes and in authoritarian-leaning governments.
The people of the Caribbean have a vested interest in ensuring that their nascent democracies are not threatened by creeping authoritarianism – Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago will celebrate 60 years as independent democracies in 2022. They must also guard against any Caribbean political leader who exist in a state of intellectual, moral, or social darkness by flirting with embrace of undemocratic tendencies on the margin of authoritarianism.
Citing an UN Development Program (UNDP) 2004 Anti-Corruption Practice Note, I wrote 16 years ago that “evidence across the globe confirms that corruption impacts the poor disproportionately” and that corruption “fosters an undemocratic environment characterized by uncertainty, unpredictability, and declining moral values and disrespect for constitutional institutions and authority.” In other words, the road to authoritarianism is paved with corruption and corrupt leaders.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
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