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Public Integrity

For a Special Issue on

Strategic Corruption: Conceptualizing the geostrategic dimensions of transnational corruption

Abstract deadline
08 May 2024

Manuscript deadline
30 October 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Nedim Hogic, University of Oslo
[email protected]

Oksana Huss, University of Bologna
[email protected]

Bertram Lang, University of Göttingen
[email protected]

Joseph Pozsgai-Alvarez, University of Osaka
[email protected]

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Strategic Corruption: Conceptualizing the geostrategic dimensions of transnational corruption

Context / Relevance

For over two decades, the Euro-American academic and civil society debate primarily focused on corruption as a socio-economic problem, as a hindrance to development and good public service delivery, or as a major cause for global financial injustices. Since 2020, however, we have witnessed a rapid emergence of a new anti-corruption paradigm in international politics, which focuses on “strategic corruption” as a security threat, particularly for democratic countries.

The Russian regime’s and its cronies’ blatant uses of transnational corruption to weaken Ukraine internally as well as to undermine Western support before and after the February 2022 invasion have clearly demonstrated the international security dimensions of transnational bribery and money laundering. More broadly, US foreign policy under the Biden administration has since 2020 equaled the fight against corruption with the global defense of democracy against external authoritarian assaults, pointing to the “weaponization” of corruption not only by Russia but also by China, Iran, and other authoritarian regimes. Meanwhile, the “Qatar-gate” scandal in the European Parliament has shown Europe’s own vulnerabilities to strategic bribery of its elites by foreign governments. 

 

Conceptual challenge for academia

So far, the public debate around the issue has been led mostly in the para-academic world of think tank and NGO reports, OpEds, as well as governmental foreign and development policy documents. The conceptual challenge for academic researchers working on the issue is thus two-fold: For one, whether and how to employ the notion of “strategic corruption” in academic research to generate new and relevant insights, all while maintaining a critical analytical distance to policy discourses and the agendas of political actors using the same term in various ways and contexts? Secondly, how to define and operationalize the concept to make it distinguishable from other popular terms in the debate (notably including “kleptocracy”, “grand corruption”, “corrosive capital”, “malign influence” or “weaponized corruption”), sufficiently abstract to be usefully applicable beyond single cases but also sufficiently precise to prevent it from becoming a catch-all term for all sorts of elite corruption?

Definitions

  • Zelikow et al (2020) have established the direction of the debate, by singling out a foreign country’s “national strategy” as a driver of strategic corruption. They distinguish it from grand or bureaucratic corruption insofar as “the corrupt inducements are wielded against a target country by foreigners as a part of their own country’s national strategy”. 
  • Building on Zelikow et al, Huss and Pozsgai-Alvarez (2022) offered an early definition of strategic corruption as “a country’s weaponization of corruption against other states in pursuit of national goals.”
  • Acknowledging this key point of reference in the debate while striving for a more academic definition, Lang (forthcoming in de Sousa/Coroado) argues that “strategic corruption refers to a state agent’s use of financial or other means to incentivize a public power-holder in another country or international organization to abuse their entrusted power for the strategic gain of the corrupting state.”
  • We take this understanding as a working definition for the study of different forms of transnational corruption that are exploited not (only or primarily) for private enrichment but on behalf of a state agent in the pursuit of geostrategic goals while explicitly inviting controversy as to the most suitable delineation of the phenomenon.

Questions

With the growing political interest in its political and security dimensions, research and advocacy work on transnational corruption is enjoying growing attention more broadly, which is clearly an opportunity for the field. Yet, especially for academic researchers, this securitization also comes with a host of questions and challenges: 

  • How does strategic corruption work and how are affected societies reacting to it? 
  • How can “strategic corruption” be distinguished from, and how does it relate to other forms of (transnational and domestic) corruption?
  • What cases exist of strategic/weaponized corruption? 
  • In studying state-sponsored transnational corruption, how can we determine the “strategic” elements in it, what are other drivers, and in how far does this distinction matter?
  • What is really new about strategic corruption in the 21st century? What has changed compared to earlier instances of the use of corruption to foreign policy ends in history?
  • In how far is strategic corruption specifically linked to authoritarian countries’ foreign policy strategy?
  • What are the consequences of strategic/weaponized corruption and how can they be studied?
  • Are there conceptual, theoretical, or empirical challenges to the concept of strategic/weaponized corruption? 
  • What about Global South perspectives on the issue? Implications for and insights from non-Western countries?
  • What policies, mechanisms, instruments, or tools can be adopted and implemented to prevent, control, and/or limit the impact of strategic/weaponized corruption? Which preventive mechanisms or deterrence strategies exist or are being explored?
  • What challenges does the securitization of corruption bring to the policy topics that touch upon related issues, such as corrosive capital, evasion of sanctions, money laundering, foreign investment screening, citizenship-investment schemes and lobbying? 

Building on insights from a panel at the ECPR General Conference 2023, we seek to address these and related questions, to conceptualize and lay the groundwork for a sound academic research agenda on the issue in the coming years.

Goal and Scope of the Special Issue

The special issue/symposium seeks to combine conceptual articles that advance this debate with empirical studies, notably different case studies of suspected or proven instances of “strategic corruption”, the mechanisms and enablers behind it as well as cases where a coherent state strategy may not be the actual driver or most relevant factor. Methodologically, this special issue seeks to facilitate a broad interdisciplinary discussion, thus, contributions including, but not limited to law, political science, sociology, criminology, psychology, history, geopolitics, geoeconomics, and political philosophy are welcome.

 

Submission Instructions

We invite extended abstracts no longer than 700 words to be submitted by May 8th, 2024. Based on these abstracts, an editorial decision will invite the submission of full manuscripts at the beginning of June.

Successful manuscripts will focus on, or directly and explicitly relate to, the concepts of “strategic corruption” or “weaponized corruption”, and address at least one of the abovementioned questions. Manuscripts should be between 7000-8000 words (including footnotes and list of references), using 12-point Times New Roman font, 1.5 line spacing, and APA in-text citation style for references.

Final submissions must contain two separate files: (1) an original research manuscript and (2) an anonymized version to be sent out to peer review. Final manuscripts will be expected by October 30, 2024. The expected publication date is February 2025.

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