The world is blowing up. Every day a new blaze seems to ignite: the bloody implosion of Iraq and Syria; the East-West standoff in Ukraine; abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria. Is there some thread tying these frightening international security crises together? In a riveting account that weaves history with fast-moving reportage and insider accounts from the Afghanistan war, Sarah Chayes identifies the unexpected link: corruption.

Since the late 1990s, corruption has reached such an extent that some governments resemble glorified criminal gangs, bent solely on their own enrichment. These kleptocrats drive indignant populations to extremes―ranging from revolution to militant puritanical religion. Chayes plunges readers into some of the most venal environments on earth and examines what emerges: Afghans returning to the Taliban, Egyptians overthrowing the Mubarak government (but also redesigning Al-Qaeda), and Nigerians embracing both radical evangelical Christianity and the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. In many such places, rigid moral codes are put forth as an antidote to the collapse of public integrity.

 

The pattern, moreover, pervades history. Through deep archival research, Chayes reveals that canonical political thinkers such as John Locke and Machiavelli, as well as the great medieval Islamic statesman Nizam al-Mulk, all named corruption as a threat to the realm. In a thrilling argument connecting the Protestant Reformation to the Arab Spring, Thieves of State presents a powerful new way to understand global extremism. And it makes a compelling case that we must confront corruption, for it is a cause―not a result―of global instability.

The Guardian: On living in Afghanistan and sleeping with a Kalashnikov

Interview by Tim Lewis
March 15, 2015

The central idea of Sarah Chayes’s radical new book, Thieves of State, is that corruption ... unsettles local populations and directly threatens global security. The US author saw this happen in Afghanistan – where she lived for almost a decade after 9/11 – and believes the same patterns operated during the Arab spring, in the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria and, more recently, in Ukraine.
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Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Reviews

 

'Corruption creeps in, unnoticed, “like some odorless gas,” Sarah Chayes writes in her new book, “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security,”* and confounds policy objectives without attracting much policy attention. '

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The theme of Sarah Chayes’s “Thieves of State” is that corruption can’t be ignored as a source of international instability. The injustice of it enrages people. Corruption thus becomes “an important driver of conflict worldwide,” as Ms. Chayes puts it. 

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From Foreign Affairs

Chayes points to diplomatic, financial, and intelligence tools that outsiders could use to fight extreme corruption...U.S. and European military and humanitarian officials understand the problem, but more often than not, they end up as enablers of the corruption, working through intermediaries who are themselves part of the racket. 

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From the Daily Kos...

Thieves of State is an important work three years after publication, not only because it reveals so much that is wrong with our military/diplomatic intervention in trouble spots, but because today, within these 262 pages, we are able to recognize exactly how our current government is operating... Read...