What I'm reading on corruption, crime & conflict, 24 January 2022 edition (Part 1)
The liberal order, PEA & intelligence analysis, state capture, citizen attitudes on terrorism & bribery, smuggling, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Romans, Beowulf, cat videos and much more!
After a long hiatus where I’ve been busy with Covid teaching, trying to support my own kids through this super fun time, and setting up a new large pilot research programme called SOC ACE - the Serious Organised Crime & Anti-Corruption Evidence programme (and sister programme to SOAS ACE and Global Integrity ACE), I’m happy to return to this newsletter. I’ve missed doing this, and I’ve had a lot of feedback that suggests others have as well.
A couple of changes. The new title reflects what I’m working on now: much more focused on organised crime, corruption and conflict in a wide range of contexts, including non-‘development’ ones. More foreign policy and national security and less development/aid policy. Not entirely changed, of course, but different.
I start with what I’m now calling ‘Highlights’, longer comments on two pieces of reading, and then ‘Shorts’, named for how short my write-ups are rather than the pieces themselves. No set number for Shorts, just whatever I feel like. Finally, I’ve kept ‘Just for Fun’, three things that are, exactly that - just for fun, and proof that I do actually read/do things that don’t have to do with work. In the future, I may also add ‘Guest Readers’. We’ll see…
I’ve also split this in two, because it’s apparently too long for Substack now, so do keep an eye out for Part 2!
Other than that…welcome back to my reading newsletter, and I hope you enjoy it! I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it. And if you like it, please feel free to share it with friends or on Twitter etc.
The real crisis of global order (Alexander Cooley & Daniel H Nexon, Foreign Affairs)
Alexander Cooley and Daniel H Nexon’s piece on ‘The real crisis of global order’ for Foreign Affairs has far too much in it that’s worth reading to even begin to give it justice and is a genuine must read, particularly for anyone working on foreign policy, national security and strategy. Through use of a wide range of examples, they argue:
In their current form, liberal institutions cannot stem the rising illiberal tide; governments have struggled to prevent the diffusion of antidemocratic ideologies and tactics, both homegrown and imported. Liberal democracies must adapt to fend off threats on multiple levels. But there is a catch. Any attempt to grapple with this crisis will require policy decisions that are clearly illiberal or necessitate a new version of liberal order.
There’s so much in the piece, and I can’t just cut and paste it all here (though I would love to…). They discuss the emergence of what they describe as ‘asymmetric openness’, where technological innovations that created more open flows of knowledge and commerce, along with illiberal policy choices by liberal democracies and a number of evolving, adaptive authoritarian practices means we have ‘the strange reality that the contemporary liberal order works better for authoritarian regimes than it does for liberal democracies’. Liberal democracies face many threats from within, including ‘homegrown antidemocratic' forces’, and a backlash against the ideas underpinning political liberalism, including the belief in certain universal rights and values. Whether in the examples they include - the US, the UK, Hungary and Uganda - or beyond, illiberal forces connect together across borders in what’s often referred to as the so-called ‘culture wars’ to push back against the ideas underpinning universal human rights.
This has an impact on the area I personally work in as well. As Cooley and Nexon argue,
The Biden administration has correctly declared corruption to be a national security risk. But anticorruption measures will inspire blowback that also poses a national security concern. Aggressive measures will threaten politically connected oligarchs in Europe and elsewhere. Corrupt autocrats are likely to see a number of anti-kleptocracy efforts, such as expanding diligence requirements for service providers and prohibiting foreign officials from accepting bribes, as a serious threat to their regimes and will rally their publics against these new forms of “domestic interference.” Important steps for conserving liberalism, even defensive ones, will generate pushback against the liberal order—and not just from overseas. Anticorruption measures threaten a wide range of U.S. politicians, businesspeople, and consultants. In recent years, and especially after the 2016 election, such measures have become another source of partisan polarization.
In analysis published with Westminster Foundation for Democracy last year on ‘Doing anticorruption democratically’, I also discuss this danger:
…there is emerging evidence that suggests the fight against corruption itself can harm democracy. This includes things like anticorruption messaging campaigns that leave people more likely to pay a bribe and less likely to feel they’re able to do anything themselves to fight back. Or how the reporting of corruption by investigative journalists and civil society can fuel populism and backlashes against democracy. Or where the politicisation of corruption in election campaigns can weaken democracy and may even lead to rising authoritarianism or violence. All of these are serious charges that need to be taken seriously; however it’s also important to remember that the real problem is not the anti-corruption interventions but rather the corruption and the impunity of the powerful, perceived or otherwise. The solution needs to be tackling impunity, but this definitely doesn’t mean we should continue doing the same anticorruption things in the same ways as we do now.
To do things differently, we need to have some pretty tough conversations, and Cooley and Nexon set out what they think some of these need to be. It’s not comfortable reading, to be sure, but it’s important reading. If liberal democracies are not able to talk about challenging tensions and trade-offs inherent in the current liberal order, then the authors provide a number of examples from history that suggest time is not on our side.
How to monitor political context - some practical advice (Duncan Green, From Poverty to Power/Oxfam)
Duncan Green’s blog on ‘How to monitor political context - some practical advice’ looks at World Vision’s approach to ‘Context monitoring for adaptive management’, which he says is being used for its Fragile Context Programme Approach. 'Context monitoring’ is described as ‘understanding your surroundings well enough to be able to actively make good and timely decisions on how to act as a team’, and is broken down as being about ‘indicators’ and ‘signals’. The analogy used is a car speedometer: indicators as current speed (what’s currently happening), and signals as something about to happen.
What I find most interesting about it, though, is that it uses some language used in intelligence analysis, but not all, and what’s missing is important. Intelligence analysts will talk about signals versus noise: gathering signals is important, but separating out what’s important from the ‘noise’ is vital. Stephen Marrin’s 2010 paper on ‘Preventing intelligence failures by learning from the past’ is well worth a read, and he explains nicely both why and how we need to separate out signal from noise, and how this relies on judgment, because they don’t come labelled in real life as they do on the dashboard of a car. This is about being very clear on the strengths and weaknesses of underpinning conceptual frameworks, for example, questioning the mental models we use, and finding ways to challenge the ever present risk of group think. To do this, he suggests building processes to include dissenting opinions, alternative analysis and ‘devil’s advocates’.
While there’s a lot to commend in the World Vision approach, there’s nothing in it as a process to help separate out the noise. David Hudson, Sam Waldock and I tried to do this a bit in our ‘Everyday Political Analysis’ framework, by including something on the need for triangulation and a few suggestions, but that’s not really enough. I can’t actually think of many political (economy) analysis (PEA) frameworks that build these sorts of processes in or that acknowledge their underpinning conceptual frameworks, let alone set out what these do and don’t allow us to assess in ways that enable readers to then exercise their own judgment or to triangulate against other sources. I’ve also not seen other practices that intelligence analysts use that would be really good to see in PEA, such as explicitly setting out probability and confidence levels. (Please get in touch if you have a good example I’ve missed!)
Years ago, Jonathan Fisher and I warned that PEA was becoming akin to intelligence gathering and the risks this posed for country ownership of development plans and activities. While some of my own thinking about this has changed over the years, I do still think we need to be more honest about the similarities between PEA and intelligence gathering and analysis. To be absolutely clear, I’m not saying that PEA is a form of intelligence; what makes an analytical product intelligence isn’t what it says or how it’s done, but rather who does it and why it’s done. However, on the what and the how, where there are similarities between the process of conducting political analysis and intelligence, the field is missing out on some important potential crossover lessons that could lead to improvements for both. Keep an eye on this SOC ACE project, where I’m working with colleagues on something related to this now.