The Interplay between Corruption and Terrorism

Misfortune seldom comes alone.

When comparing last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International (2016) and the Global Terrorism Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace (2016) one finds 4 mutual countries among the top 10 of each score and when expanded to the top 20, there are another 4 commonalities. Also, countries that are most haunted by terrorism seem to be situated in the world’s most corrupt regions. The cohesive trend between the two ancient evils, at which the former costs up to 3 trillion $ (about the German GDP of 2016) and the other costs 30.000 lives annually, is undisputable.

Countermeasures to fight the two phenomena seem inefficient and lack refinement. While corruption has been neglected for too long, the war on terror has cost about 1,5 million lives and 1,5 trillion $ since 9/11, only considering actions by the US.


Why is there a cohesive trend between corruption and terrorism and is the interplay strong enough to open new ways to fight them by tackling both simultaneously?

Corruption supports terrorism in 2 ways: Motivation and facilitation.

Motivation in that context means that terrorists attack governments out of frustration that originates in the officials’ corruption and that nations lose trust in corrupt states which triggers the terrorists’ sympathy among the people. Corrupt states are usually incapable of providing even the most basic public services like i.e. medical aid or food distribution. Terror groups fill these gaps to become the manifested good guys next to the bad government. Corruption’s devastating effects on society are also unequal income distribution, less social expenses and strong social inequality, all of which create a brood nest for the emergence and popularity of terror organizations. One example of social inequality that comes through corruption is the lack of job opportunities which, in some extreme cases, can lead the desperate population into the arms of terrorists as the only career option available. Finally, corruption not only undermines job opportunities but also the possibility of education, which in turn stands in a negative relationship with terrorism rates.

Facilitation through corruption means that the so created instability and missing rule of law lower the cost and risk of engaging into terrorism. Thereby, corruption calls for conflict through the creation of inequality, by diminishing security functions of the state and by making political positions more valuable and sought after. Lastly, corruption facilitates illegal activities such as drug-, arms- and human trade (to name just a few), that terrorists conduct intensely for two reasons: high profit margins to finance themselves and the damage and terror it causes for certain states. Latter is confirmed by the Taliban that tolerate the cultivation and consumption of marihuana while they also promote the export of opium and heroin into western countries but forbid its consumption in Afghanistan.

To conclude, corruption stands as a crucial factor for the emergence and preservation of terrorism. Vice versa, terrorism can also empower corruption.

While conducting highly illegal activities that must be backed up by corrupt officials, terrorists pay high bribes to the corrupt. That way, terrorism contributes to the success of corrupt governments and the attractiveness of corruption itself. Finally, weak and less developed countries are most likely to fall victim to high corruption rates; an issue that can be observed on the Corruption Perceptions Index map by Transparency International (2016). Terrorism, which is most harmful to already underdeveloped economies, further undermines the receptive countries’ development and mutually contributes to more corruption.

To fight the interplay it must first be conceptualized. This may happen through extensive research combined with investigations. Since corruption and terrorism are anchored globally and in all business areas, no one should be excluded when fighting the interplay. To take the grip of corruption and terrorism in society, extensive education on the two topics is advised.

Finally and most importantly, corruption and terrorism should no more be treated as two separate topics. Much rather, the interplay as such should be fought through collective and coordinated countermeasures.



Corruption Perceptions Index (2016), [online] Available at:

Global Terrorism Index (2016), [online] Available at:









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