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Opinion

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.

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Fourth, transparency will shed more light on how dictators stay in power. Mr. Gaddafi has a praetorian guard backed by billions of dollars in hoarded gold. In Nigeria, the Abacha regime has funded authoritarian, sometimes brutal rule by stealing from the country's oil industry.

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Fifth, naming names will inform public debate and perhaps bolster consensus to combat the theft of public resources. Anti-corruption gains in Ghana and steps in Brazil and Chile to open government procurement processes raise expectations.

In Russia, a report by former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, now a dissident, is catalyzing debate about corruption involving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Information on corruption worldwide that abets trafficking in humans, for example, will encourage public outcry against this travesty.

A better method for data collection and sharing

Elevating anti-corruption in US foreign policy requires sharing more information to help people demand accountability from their governments. Yet US data on corruption is often a step-child, a by-product of information gathered for other purposes.

Instead, collecting and analyzing corruption data, as well as following money trails, should be a mandate for the national security community. As with human rights, every US embassy ought to designate an officer responsible for reporting on corruption.

Annual country reports will supplement other anti-corruption tools. Washington should freeze assets not only for politically exposed persons who loot their countries' resources but also, when merited, against dictators who violently suppress their own people.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act forbids US firms from paying bribes overseas. Although it has cost them some business, the Act and the threat of shareholder lawsuits are healthy deterrents.

Corruption reports will shine light everywhere and ought not to disadvantage American companies. Thirty-eight countries adhere to the anti-bribery convention of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but most are already among the least corrupt.

Fighting corruption must become a priority for US foreign policy. Given its corrosive impact on American interests and on international security and development, foreign corruption should no longer be swept under the rug to preserve diplomatic nicety.

William Courtney was US ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia. Louise Shelley is university professor and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption center at George Mason University. Kenneth Yalowitz is director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and was US ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.

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