Peacekeeping: The Perils of Paper Trails


March 23, 2007: The peacekeeping efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed great emphasis on reconstruction. That, not surprisingly, resulted in a lot of corruption. Now, prosecutors in countries where the peacekeepers came from are finding more and more peacekeepers who were into the corruption as much as the local. Recently, Finnish and American police uncovered reservists and active duty troops who had obtained payoffs from suppliers during reconstruction efforts overseas. It was hoped that troops from more affluent nations would be more resistant to the corrupt business practices so common in the Middle East and Afghanistan. However, it was that discovered, in some cases, that it was the Western troops who instigated the payoffs. Mostly, however, it was just the locals doing business the only way they knew it.

Corruption was a known problem in both countries, and NATO and U.S. peacekeepers were given training and advice on how to deal with it. The preferred solution was to have Western troops or officials handle the disbursement of money, but there were too many projects, and too many people involved. Lots money got into the hands of locals, and from there lots of that money disappeared. Iraqis and Afghans also had an advantage, when it came to stealing aids money, over their Western minders. The locals paid no taxes, often had no bank accounts and, in general, no paper trail. Not the same with Westerners, who have to worry about laundering illegal payments. In the West, there are too many financial records, and people auditing things, for large amounts of cash to easily go unnoticed.

This paper trail problem has apparently kept many Western peacekeepers honest, or at least more honest than they would otherwise be. But officials from less affluent, and less scrutinized, parts of the world, are, not surprisingly, more likely to make deals with corrupt officials on reconstruction projects. One of the benefits of poverty, is the lack of a paper trail.

The UN has struggled with this problems for years, as have NGOs (who deliver most of the relief aid in many parts of the world.) No one can even come up with comprehensive numbers on how great the corruption damage is. After all, the crooks don't want to advertise their guilt. But as auditing efforts increase, a lot more guilt is being uncovered. Historians have begun to adjust their studies of reconstruction and relief efforts, to take into account the enormous amounts of money that never gets to the people that need it the most. And as the recent indictments in Western nations demonstrates, no one is immune from the temptations.


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