The Strategic Costs of Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian Corruption by Austin Bay for Town Hall
Often a bribe is more destructive than a bullet.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO could never defeat the endemic corruption that riddled the Afghan government and army. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, U.S. military and diplomatic assessments insistently bemoan the damage corruption does to Ukraine’s economy, civil institutions and war effort.
Military analysts use the buzz phrase “weaponized corruption” to describe 21st century gray-area warfare corruption tactics and techniques employed by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin and Xi Jinping’s China.
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Corruption, however, is a very ancient and effective weapon of war. The Roman historian Sallust tells us in the late second century B.C., Berber rebel Jugurtha used bribery, murder and raids to build a personal power base in Numidia (modern-day Algeria). Jugurtha repeatedly thwarted Roman army efforts to defeat him.
With its legions bogged in a no-win North African sand trap, Roman authorities co-opted Jugurtha’s father-in-law and ally, Bocchus. They bribed Bocchus by promising him territory. The palm-greased in-law sent Jugurtha to Rome in chains.
Bribery, used as a weapon, secured Rome’s strategic goal. Of course, Roman soldiers gave Bocchus a heavily armed reason to accept Rome’s deal. From Rome’s perspective, the combination of legions and bribery defeated Jugurtha.
Both Russia and China use corruption to further espionage and propaganda campaigns and undermine vulnerable nations.
As I pointed out in a recent column, Communist China has been particularly effective in purchasing favorable media coverage and stymieing criticism. China has co-opted American scientists with grants (disguised bribes) in order to gain access to their research.
Russia targets leaders and institutions everywhere but particularly in three nations it covets: Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Ukrainian government contends the Russian-backed war in its Donbas region prevents it from effectively pursuing economic and political reform. The war slows reform, but since 2015 many Western creditors disagree argue Ukraine hasn’t treated corruption as the grave security vulnerability it is.