Thieves of State

Why Corruption Threatens Global Security

by Sarah Chayes

Number of pages: 272

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

BBB Library: Technology and Globalization

ISBN: 978-0393352283

About the Author

Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Editorial Review

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 northern 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.

Book Reviews

“Chayes’s “Thieves of State” makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism. She calls this a “basic fact,” showing that where there is poor governance — specifically, no appeal to the rule of law and no protected right of property — people begin a search for spiritual purity that puts them on a path to radicalization.” — New York Times

“Chayes develops a muscular new vocabulary for talking about the problem of corruption." — The New Yorker

“The central idea of Sarah Chayes’s radical new book, Thieves of State, is that corruption – be it bribes, vote-rigging, embezzlement, nepotism or any of its many forms – 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.” — The Guardian

“The target of her zeal is government corruption around the world — an old challenge but one she recasts in urgent and novel terms.”— Washington Post

“Thieves of State by Sarah Chayes is informative, thought-provoking, very interesting and concisely written.” —Huffington Post

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Wisdom to Share

Acute government corruption may in fact lay at the root of some of the world’s most dangerous and disruptive security challenges, among them the spread of violent extremism.

Taliban violence was also designed to sever Afghans’ contacts with international officials.

The sovereign must list himself, without intermediary, to what his subjects have to say to him.

Anticorruption efforts should be focused on those that were most “meaningful to the people.”

The link between kleptocracy and violent religious extremism wasn’t just an Afghanistan thing. It was a global phenomenon.

The first violation of human rights is corruption.

Many Nigerians believe the political elites are deliberately trying to give that violence a sectarian cast, as the country is increasingly described in north vs. south, Muslim vs. Christian terms. The elites, say ordinary Nigerians, are the only ones with anything to gain in such a contest. The poor suffer equally no matter who is in power.

In periods of acute, self-serving behavior on the part of public leaders, Christians and Muslims alike have often sought a corrective in strict codes of personal behavior derived from the precepts of puritanical religion. And they have imposed it, if necessary, by force.

Acutely corrupt governance doesn’t just aid terrorist organizations by driving indignant citizens into their arms; it provides haven and logistical support for those very same groups, as officials avert their eyes in exchange for a bribe.