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Buying Peace or Fuelling War: The Role of Corruption in Armed Conflicts


P Le Billon  (2003)
14 pages (100KB)

What is the relationship between corruption and the outbreak, duration and termination of conflicts? Donors and analysts consider corruption a primary explanation for a whole range of development problems. Yet this study, by the University of British Columbia, suggests that corruption is partially driven by internal processes of capital accumulation and global structural forces.

Corruption may have a corrosive effect on economies and rule-based institutions, but it also forms part of the fabric of social and political relationships. This endogenous character means that conflict may be engendered more by changes in the pattern of corruption than by corruption itself. Such changes, frequently associated with domestic or external shocks, can lead to armed conflict as increasingly violent forms of competitive corruption between factions encourage war by rewarding belligerents. Controversially, bribing belligerents can facilitate a transition to peace; but economic sanctions, that try to force change rather than motivational incentives, have dominated international conflict resolution instruments. While buying peace, with financial incentives, can present a short-term solution, the key challenge for peace-building initiatives and fiscal reforms is to shift individual incentives and rewards away from the competition for immediate corrupt gains. This may be facilitated by placing public revenues under international supervision during peace processes.

Domestic or external shocks affecting the pattern of corruption may contribute to conflict, particularly when corruption is pervasive. Such external shocks include the international de-legitimisation of authoritarian rule together with the enforcement of new international standards in public finance, democracy and ‘good governance’, which have, over the last decade, resulted in a decline in public rents and a readjustment towards the private sector. While some of the resulting conflicts have opened dialogue and promoted positive reforms in societies, others have degenerated into large-scale violence and even further illegitimate and predatory rule characterised by a shift from monopolistic forms of corruption to criminal and competitive ones. In turn, corruption played a role in the prolonging of these conflicts.

  • Historic underdevelopment ensures that local accumulation rests heavily on the appropriation of public resources and political power.
  • Rather than the driving force of developmental failure and conflict, corruption is both its symptom and the most efficient means for individuals or groups to cope with a political economy of uncertainty and disorder, through the proper cultivation of social relations.
  • Controversially, without efforts to create legitimate political processes, attempts to root out corruption may lead to anarchy rather than economic efficiency by de-stabilising the existing hierarchy and order, thereby aggravating internal conflict.
  • Corruption is therefore not in itself a sufficient or even necessary factor in the outbreak of armed conflicts.

Different types of corruption have different relations with conflict, thus requiring differentiation of the types and an examination of the factors affecting their legitimacy and functions.

  • Corruption can lead to, and sustain violent conflict, in the context of patrimonial regimes that are degenerating under local or international shocks and pressures for reform.
  • Yet corruption can sustain a degree of stability and even peaceful consensus when it is politically intelligent and economically benign.
  • This apparent contradiction is explained by the legitimacy of pervasive corruption and the effectiveness of corruption as an instrument to build a political and economic order within a context of relative disorder.

Source: Le Billon, P., 2003, ‘Buying Peace or Fuelling War: The Role of Corruption in Armed Conflicts’, Journal of International Development, vol.15, pp.413-426.

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