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How exposing corrupt regimes can serve US security

Foreign corruption undermines development, US interests, and ultimately US security. The fight against foreign corruption and the success of US policy are linked. That's why the US needs to implement country reports on corruption to increase transparency and encourage change.

By William Courtney, Louise Shelley, and Kenneth Yalowitz / May 25, 2011

Washington, Arlington, Va., and Hanover, N.H.

Corruption in many foreign countries, ranging from Pakistan to Mexico, directly threatens American security interests. It's high time for the US government to recognize this and attack the problem head on, starting with the issuance of annual country reports. Like the widely praised US Department of State country reports on human rights, the corruption summaries would name names and detail abuses. Some foreign leaders will object, but this risk is worth running.

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The fight against foreign corruption and the success of US policy are linked.

In Afghanistan, the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai is undermined by a half-brother who is said to be a drug lord and crooked power broker.

In Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zadari has only a tenuous hold in part because of his notoriety for greed. In one case, he reportedly obtained a $200 million kickback from Dassaut Aviation, and in another, a Swiss court convicted him of money laundering.

In Libya Muammar Gaddafi draws on a vast, ill-gotten fortune to import mercenaries.

Drug cartels challenge governance in Mexico by corrupting police and officials as they dominate the illicit wholesale drug trade in Mexico and into the United States.

RELATED: The 8 worst countries on Transparency International's list

The 2010 Transparency International index of corruption perceptions reveals a striking correlation. Places where US troops are fighting and dying, or where America faces serious nuclear threats, are among the most corrupt. Of 178 countries ranked, the bottom one-fifth includes: Pakistan, Iran, Libya, Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

How country reports will help US interests

How can country reports on corruption serve US interests?

First, exposing corruption may reduce security risks. If over the years more had been done to unveil corruption in Pakistan and Afghanistan and help those countries to develop and reform, conflicts there might be diminished.

In Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a flood of illicit trade helped stalemate peace negotiations, and war between Russia and Georgia followed in August 2008. Trade in "blood diamonds" has funded civil conflict in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, and both Congos.

ALSO BY THESE AUTHORS: A wake-up call for Georgia, Ukraine – and the West

Second, uncovering corruption may inspire those seeking freedoms. WikiLeaks revelations of US embassy assessments of corruption in Tunisia and Egypt – seen as credible – helped spur protesters who toppled their autocrats.

Third, greater transparency will highlight waste, capital flight, and flows of "black money." Banks that facilitate the looting of national treasuries will be bared. Dubai is a haven for those shunting billions into lavish lifestyles. For example, the flight of money from Russia, much of it tarnished, reduces domestic investment.

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