Combating corruption is a cornerstone of the OSCE’s work. Under the banner of “good governance” and “rule of law,” the OSCE provides expertise at its secretariat in Vienna and at field missions in certain participating states on how best to build integrity and expunge corrupt activity throughout the region. In order to be more effective in combatting corruption, however, OSCE officials need to adopt a new, more thorough strategy for deploying its capabilities.
Increasingly, transnational corruption has become a central threat to international security. Modern technologies in combination with archaic financial practices and legal frameworks have enabled the anonymous movement of money across the world. In the OSCE context, this development is coupled with several countries in which the rule of law remains weak, providing ample opportunities for the abuse of official office for private gain. These conditions give rise to a cabal of individuals across this region who steal in their own countries and launder ill-gotten gains to countries where the rule of law is strong. This practice enables corrupt officials to protect gains from rivals as well as to hide them from those who would expose their wrongdoing. There are countless examples of this behavior, including the Azerbaijani laundromat and the Russian laundromat. However, due to the opaque nature of this activity, there are likely countless more that have yet to come to light.
Corruption has a devastating impact on communities and politics throughout many OSCE participating States. It corrodes the democratic process and the rule of law, encourages attacks on journalists and civil society actors who attempt to uncover corruption or campaign for cleaner government, and provides a back door for malign influence.
In countries where funds are stolen, corrupt officials siphon investment in necessary infrastructure and public services that impact the lives of every citizen. Countries where funds are hidden suffer from similarly negative effects on the daily life of citizens like rent hikes caused by money laundering in real estate. This generates resentment among citizens and instability that translate to tangible security risks such as the collapse or overthrow of governments and vulnerability to foreign intervention. The situation in Ukraine over the last few years has been demonstrative of both of these tendencies.
To fight back against the threat posed by transnational corruption, officials and experts should consider a new strategy. First, countries where the rule of law remains intact should adopt best practices aimed at creating a more robust financial and legal architecture that cannot so easily be abused by global criminals and corrupt officials. Second, countries should adopt and use laws to identify and disable these individuals globally and to synchronize these laws among states in order to make them stronger. The U.S. Global Magnitsky Act, which enables the U.S. government to implement asset freezes and visa bans on individuals identified as being engaged in grand corruption, is a powerful model. Finally, countries where the rule of law is strong should support and provide assistance for the strengthening of the rule of law in countries where it remains weak.
The OSCE is a natural forum in which to pursue all three of these prongs. Best practices are shared at the many conferences and seminars held in the category of so-called Second Dimension issues (e.g. economic and environmental issues), such as the Economic & Environmental Forum, held three times a year, and the Economic Dimension Implementation Meeting, held once a year. In addition, OSCE field missions, which provide on-the-ground expertise and assistance to host governments, work to curb corruption in the region. For example, the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina recently produced a report on corruption in the judiciary.
Policy synchronization should also be pursued through the OSCE framework, though the chances of success in the current political environment are limited. This is due to corrupt elites throughout the region who are able to exert undue influence and, in some cases, outright rule their respective states. Nonetheless, it has never been more important that these states be held to their OSCE commitments. Opportunities can appear suddenly and, should they return to compliance with their freely undertaken commitments, the OSCE will be ready.