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Wilson Perspectives: Combatting Corruption

This collection of essays provides a series of snapshots of how specific countries, international institutions, business, environmental NGOs, and women’s groups are confronting (or not confronting, as the case may be) corruption.

Protests in Sao Paulo, March 16 2015

By Jane Harman, President, Director, and CEO, Wilson Center; and John Engler, President, Business Roundtable

Corruption comes in many forms — bribery, theft, bureaucratic arbitrariness — which inevitably affect all layers of society. “Grand corruption,” and ways to confront it, was the subject of Judge Mark Wolf’s February 3, 2016, lecture kicking off the Wilson Center’s Rule of Law Initiative, which highlights legal developments inside individual countries and other major international law issues. Judge Wolf’s lecture was followed by a lively and informative discussion in which Governor John Engler from the Business Roundtable was a key participant.

The Wilson Center and the Business Roundtable share a common interest in highlighting the problem of corruption. The fight against corruption equally engages the public and private sectors. It knows no borders. It further adds cost to doing business while undermining U.S. and global competitiveness. Therefore, this collection of essays provides a series of snapshots of how specific countries, international institutions, business, environmental NGOs, and women’s groups are confronting (or not confronting, as the case may be) corruption. This succinct, up-to-date assessment underscores the stakes involved, and what might be done, to overcome such deep-rooted and entrenched corrupt practices.


National Will, International Support, and the Fight against Corruption
By Meg Lundsager
A shared national will to confront corruption is necessary for countries to succeed while international institutions can provide support and advice to increase likelihood of success.

Hard Cases

Russian Corruption: The Kremlin Fails to Tackle its Biggest Problem
By William Pomeranz and Matthew Rojansky
That corruption exists on a grand scale and at the highest levels of government is not news in Russia. What is particularly discouraging is that Russia presently lacks even the basic tools or credible resolve to fight it.

The Mixed Rationales and Mixed Results of China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign
By Robert Daly
What corruption entails and how it can best be combatted is contingent on political culture, as demonstrated by the world’s foremost case—China.

Corruption’s Destabilizing Effects in Afghanistan
By Michael Kugelman
In Afghanistan, a country convulsed by conflict and violence, corruption poses clear and present dangers to security.

What Does Corruption Mean in the Middle East, Exactly?
By Marina Ottaway
It is easy to decry corruption in the Middle East and North Africa, but do we really understand its manifestations and boundaries?

Hopeful Approaches

Brazilians Rise Against Corruption
By Paulo Sotero
Affirming the rule of law in South America’s largest country, a new generation of judges and prosecutors confronts a culture of impunity with ample public support.

A Glimmer of Hope in Central America
By Eric L. Olson
An innovative international mechanism in Guatemala recently demonstrated its ability to help the attorney general to undertake a complex corruption investigation that forced the president’s resignation.

Can Africa Automate Its Way Out of Corruption?
By Elizabeth M. Ramey
As a country trying to reverse its longstanding reputation for graft, Kenya is a case study in using technology to address public sector corruption; yet the short and long-term efficacy of such projects remain to be seen.

A New Opportunity for Corruption: Resources Responding to Climate Change

Corruption, Climate Change, and Vulnerability in Small Island States
By Roger-Mark De Souza
The links between corruption, environmental management, and development require greater attention, particularly for small, trailblazing countries trying to prevent the worst effects of climate change and find a sustainable way to develop.

Women and Corruption

Women and Corruption: Perceptions Aside
By Gwen K. Young and Kendra Heideman
Women are especially subject to the impact of corruption, and women’s exercise of public sector leadership promotes certain kinds of anticorruption efforts.


In the Hunt for “Level Playing Field,” Anticorruption Efforts Play a Major Role
By John Engler
The United States has a leading role to play in the global fight against corruption.



Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

Indo-Pacific Program

The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more

Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and US institutions in all sectors. The Brazil Institute plays this role by producing independent research and programs that bridge the gap between scholarship and policy, and by serving as a crossroads for leading policymakers, scholars and private sector representatives who are committed to addressing Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.  Read more

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Global Risk and Resilience Program

The Global Risk and Resilience Program (GRRP) seeks to support the development of inclusive, resilient networks in local communities facing global change. By providing a platform for sharing lessons, mapping knowledge, and linking people and ideas, GRRP and its affiliated programs empower policymakers, practitioners, and community members to participate in the global dialogue on sustainability and resilience. Empowered communities are better able to develop flexible, diverse, and equitable networks of resilience that can improve their health, preserve their natural resources, and build peace between people in a changing world.  Read more

Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The Kissinger Institute works to ensure that China policy serves American long-term interests and is founded in understanding of historical and cultural factors in bilateral relations and in accurate assessment of the aspirations of China’s government and people.  Read more

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more