Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 20:49 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 20:49 | SYDNEY

Bribery in world politics: Why are the stakes so low?


Sam Roggeveen


27 October 2008 12:55

What motivates any bribe is the hope or even expectation that 'everyone has a price'. If the inducement is sufficiently large, it is argued, you can talk anyone into anything. Now I doubt this is true all the time, and it may be that, as Judah Grunstein argues at World Politics Review, Iran is simply too attached to its uranium enrichment program to ever give it up, no matter what is offered to them.

But although I agree with Judah that the West ought to be thinking about the type of inducements it is offering Iran, I do wonder if we've yet come close to meeting Iran's price.

I've lost track of exactly where the E3-3* negotiations with Iran are at, but this joint letter to Iran from June this year is a good sample of the kind of 'bribe' currently being made to Tehran in exchange for its enrichment program. It contains some vague but seemingly generous offers, including 'support' for the construction of reactors in Iran.  

I'd like to know how they settled on these particular measures. If they've privately agreed to offer Iran three reactors, why not six? Or ten? In fact, why not a multi-billion dollar economic package that rebuilds the Iranian economy entirely, if they agree to give up enrichment?

The obvious objection to such a package is that Iran will just pocket it and then resume its bad behaviour, and that is certainly a risk. But that would constitute a blatant act of treachery against the US, China, Russia and the EU, who would all have a major stake in any agreement. And it would give a united UN Security Council a legitimate pretext for stronger sanctions or military action.

The downside risk of not trying bigger bribes is, of course, war. And let's put aside the human costs for a moment to consider purely the economic costs, which could be massive. A series of air raids would probably be affordable, but the Iraq adventure should remind us that war is unpredictable, and the cost could go way higher. My point is that we should be prepared to consider this bribery strategy on pure cost-benefit grounds: if we're prepared to pay X amount of dollars in military spending to curb Iran's ambition, we should also examine whether using that same amount in bribes could bring about a better end result.

One thing the West has in its favour in its negotations with Iran and North Korea is money. The West has it, and they want it. I don't think we're making full use of that advantage.

* UK, France, Germany, US, Russia and China.