Let me first thank Jeff Abramson and the entire Forum on the Arms Trade steering committee for inviting me to engage with your network of civil society experts and exchange ideas on promoting a more responsible arms trade – in particular, how we can better address the risk that arms trade and security assistance will contribute to corruption. Thank you all for hosting me today.
Good morning to all of you participating in today’s event. As Bill kindly stated in his introduction, I am Mira Resnick, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Regional Security in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM). In this capacity, I oversee PM’s Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers and the management of Foreign Military Sales, Excess Defense Articles, and Third-Party Transfers. I also oversee PM’s Office of Security Assistance and its Security Sector Assistance programs.
I’m looking forward to the panel today, especially hearing from the panelists—such experts in this field: Michael Picard, Jodi Vittori, and moderator Bill Hartung.
Countering Corruption as a Core National Security Interest
Before I speak directly on the State Department’s efforts related to arms transfers and security assistance, I want to focus on the larger perspective for a moment to highlight the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader approach to corruption. In its first year, the Biden-Harris Administration formally made countering corruption a core U.S. national security interest and worked to rally our partners in the fight against corruption, including by hosting the Summit for Democracy last December. Many democratic leaders took the opportunity to announce new commitments to fight corruption at home and overseas, and we are now working with our partners to turn these words into concrete progress through the Year of Action.
The Administration also released the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, which provides a comprehensive approach to how the United States will work domestically and internationally, with governmental and non-governmental partners, to prevent, limit, and respond to corruption and related crimes. Also in December, Secretary Blinken announced a new position of Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption. The Coordinator will integrate and elevate the fight against corruption across all aspects of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance, working closely with interagency and international partners, and will oversee implementation of the new Strategy.
The State Department and other agencies are now in the process of developing and implementing initiatives to support each of the strategy’s five pillars. In brief, the pillars are: 1) modernizing, coordinating, and resourcing U.S. government anti-corruption efforts; 2) curbing illicit finance; 3) holding corrupt actors accountable; 4) strengthening multilateral anti-corruption efforts; and 5) improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance to advance anti-corruption objectives. Now, each of these pillars can help address the more specific risks that arms sales and security assistance might contribute to corruption. But, Pillar five includes a line of effort to explicitly address the security sector, which I will return to in a moment.
Russia’s War against Ukraine
Since we are still in the early stages of implementing the Strategy, this session is well-timed to solicit ideas from civil society about how we can best achieve the Strategy’s objectives. And it is well-timed because of how the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine has brought renewed urgency to our collective efforts against corruption. President Putin’s premeditated war of choice on Ukraine is an assault on key principles of the international system that have helped preserve peace and security among nations over the last 80 years.
We can also say that Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine was, in part, a reaction to our Ukrainian partners’ efforts to combat corruption. Just before the invasion, Putin himself expressed concern with U.S. support to Ukraine’s anti-corruption institutions. It is well documented how corruption has bolstered the Kremlin, which uses corrupt oligarchs and their affiliates to promote and carry out its dangerous and destabilizing agenda domestically and abroad.
The U.S. government is working with allies and partners around the world to uncover corruption and promote accountability, not least in the context of the war against Ukraine. In addition to economic sanctions against key oligarchs, we have imposed visa restrictions on Russian oligarchs, their family members, and their close associates. We have also announced U.S. and international task forces to track down these oligarchs’ assets. Our coordinated efforts with our Allies and partners demonstrate the impact of collective action and put Russia’s kleptocrats on notice they cannot support a violent regime and operate with impunity.
At the same time, we are perhaps seeing the corrosive effects of this systemic corruption in Russia’s performance on the battlefield. While it is too early to draw conclusions, we have seen the same anecdotes in open-source reporting – expired rations, lack of fuel, and outdated and poorly maintained equipment – that point to the waste, misuse, and abuse of “public” resources designated for Russia’s military. This may be a case where the ill effects of the Kremlin’s kleptocracy are degrading Russia’s combat effectiveness. Nevertheless, we have to recognize that the lesson applies to U.S. security partners the same as it does to our competitors. Corruption in the security sector is not simply a moral issue or question of good governance; it is a matter of whether we can rely on a partner to employ the capabilities we have helped them develop and to perform in a professional manner.
Corruption Considerations in Security Cooperation and Assistance
Pillar Five of the Countering Corruption Strategy, which I mentioned earlier, tasks the U.S. government with integrating anti-corruption considerations into security cooperation and assistance. It calls on us to develop protocols for assessing corruption risks before initiating security assistance activities, including by assessing the nature and causes of corruption in the security sector and the political will of partner governments to undertake anti-corruption reforms. The Strategy asks us to develop mitigation measures where substantial corruption risks are identified, and to weigh the costs and benefits of proceeding with assistance in such cases. It also calls on us to include more deliberate considerations of security sector governance in assistance planning processes, educate our workforce on this, and consider how we might incorporate standards for security sector governance into the review of security assistance programs and arms transfer cases. Finally, the Strategy calls for enhanced training to incorporate anti-corruption considerations into security cooperation and assistance, and to leverage security assistance to help establish internal accountability mechanisms within the security sector.
These lines of effort make up only a small part of the overall Strategy – less than a page, in fact – but each one represents a significant level of effort when it is unpacked. In PM we are moving out on these initiatives in coordination with our Department of Defense colleagues, and indeed our initiatives have begun to take shape.
For example, the Biden-Harris Administration has been working to update the Conventional Arms Transfer, or CAT, Policy to ensure it reflects the President’s goal of revitalizing U.S. leadership on democracy and human rights (among other priorities). As we review the policy, we seek to elevate human rights, stress the principles of responsible use, and security sector governance as part of our holistic approach. Part of evaluating our partners’ security sector governance in arms transfer decisions is assessing the level of security sector corruption, and the risk arms will be diverted or otherwise affected by corrupt practices.
Many of the United States’ closest Allies and strategic partners use the Foreign Military Sales process because it is the most transparent, accountable, and efficient way to obtain the best defense technologies and services in the world. The underlying design premise of modern U.S. defense equipment is that it is operated, sustained, and maintained by effective institutions with a trained and educated workforce. The United States is committed to support beyond the delivery of technologies and training on those systems, recognizing everything a partner may need to successfully perform a security role, to include successfully developing, absorbing, employing, and sustaining capabilities. We assist partners in their efforts to improve the security sector governance and core management competencies necessary to effectively and responsibly address shared security challenges. Through this uniquely American approach to security cooperation, the United States ensures its foreign partners receive all the necessary training, education, and institutional capacity to effectively employ and sustain U.S.-origin defense equipment.
In PM, we have also placed a greater emphasis on institutional capacity building to strengthen partners’ security sector governance. Our Global Defense Reform Program, or GDRP, provides strategic advisory support to partner nations to work in institutions and areas that are susceptible to corruption, fraud, abuse, waste, and poor management. GDRP projects, complementing DoD institutional capacity building efforts, help to tackle corruption by establishing systems and building institutional capacity in several areas, including planning, budget, and financial management; human resource management; oversight, accountability, and interagency coordination; and procurement and acquisitions. Creating systems of transparency and accountability in the security sector reduces opportunities for corruption that undermine democratic governance. We are also enhancing coordination with our colleagues in USAID and the bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and International Narcotics and Law enforcement, whose assistance programs help build the capacity of civil society, judicial, and parliamentary institutions to oversee security institutions.
Further, we have taken important strides in building new analytical frameworks – using both internal U.S. government data and third-party sources like Transparency International’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) – to assess corruption risks and the strength of partners’ overall security sector governance. This is a still a work in progress, but we are seeking to institutionalize the integration of these evidence bases into the arms transfer review process.
Finally, in those instances where U.S. companies seek formal U.S. government advocacy for foreign commercial defense procurements, a process that is managed by the Department of Commerce’s Advocacy Center, anti-corruption considerations are firmly embedded in that process. For instance, as a condition of receiving U.S. government advocacy, corporate officials must sign an agreement with Commerce in which they confirm (a) their company will not engage in the bribery of foreign public officials in connection with the project or procurement; and (b) they will maintain and enforce a corporate policy that prohibits the bribery of foreign public officials. Beyond this commitment by American firms, our whole-of-government advocacy efforts seek to “level the playing field” for U.S. companies, countering corruption by encouraging transparency throughout the procurement process, and aggressively addressing actual or suspected bribery and corruption by foreign firms and government officials as soon as it comes to our attention.
Other efforts – such as enhancing training and educating the officers and workforce (both in State and DoD) who oversee security assistance and arms transfers, and developing a common operating picture across the entire security cooperation enterprise – pose longer-term challenges, but we are committed to advancing these shared objectives. I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of how the State Department is approaching corruption risks in the security sector, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions for how we can better tackle those risks together.