In Towards a Global Consensus Against Corruption: International Agreements as Products of Diffusion and Signals of CommitmentMathis Lohaus explores the similarities and differences between international anti-corruption agreements, drawing particularly on the cases of the Organization of American States and the African Union. This effective and concise analysis is underpinned by a meticulous account of the drafting history of the relevant treaties and draws on a broad and up-to-date range of sources, finds Anton Moiseienko.

Towards a Global Consensus Against Corruption: International Agreements as Products of Diffusion and Signals of Commitment. Mathis Lohaus. Routledge. 2019.

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Like unhappy families, anti-corruption treaties are all different. Mathis Lohaus’s book, Towards a Global Consensus Against Corruption, explains how and why. To do that, he focuses on the role played by international organisations whose members adopt anti-corruption treaties.

Lohaus’s argument is twofold, and neatly encapsulated in the book’s subtitle, ‘International Agreements as Products of Diffusion and Signals of Commitment’. On the one hand, international organisations look to each other to see what issues others are addressing and how. Drawing on political science literature, Lohaus calls this ‘diffusion’. On the other hand, they signal their anti-corruption commitment to different audiences, and so their responses vary accordingly.

Central to this study is the comparison of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union (AU). The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which was negotiated by the OAS, entered into force in 1997 as the world’s first anti-corruption treaty. As Lohaus explains, this followed domestic developments in several American states that wished to highlight their intolerance of corruption. On the other hand, the AU’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption was driven predominantly by aid donors’ and civil society concerns about rampant corruption on the continent.

Lohaus hypothesises that playing to domestic audiences is more common among democratic countries and is likely to result in focused, narrowly drafted agreements with a mechanism to monitor compliance. The author calls these agreements ‘enforcement cooperation’. They include, for instance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention and the EU’s anti-corruption instruments.

In contrast, trying to please external actors, such as international development agencies, more often results in ‘illusory giants’, which cover extensive ground but lack any follow-up arrangements, such as the AU’s Convention and anti-corruption protocols adopted by the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community.

Finally, treaties that are neither as limited in scope and well-monitored as ‘enforcement cooperation’ nor as broad and devoid of any real bite as ‘illusory giants’ go into a third basket, which Lohaus calls ‘compromise plus peer review’. This third category of agreements involves a compromise between anti-corruption objectives and ‘concerns about sovereignty and compliance costs’, and so features ‘follow-up mechanisms with varying degrees of strength and transparency’ (72).

Image Credit: John Kerry speaks at Anti-Corruption Summit, London, 2016 (US Department of State Public Domain)

In addition to providing this classification, the author explores, based on the OAS and AU examples, how treaty drafters learn from each other’s experience and include provisions similar to those in existing anti-corruption treaties or, in the case of the OAS, member states’ domestic legislation.

This analysis is underpinned by a meticulous account of the respective treaties’ drafting history, as well as a broad and up-to-date range of sources. Lohaus makes his arguments in an effective and concise manner. For instance, he has dispensed with platitudes, almost obligatory in the literature on the subject, about corruption being difficult to define or culturally contingent. Instead, he has taken a road less travelled and mapped out how exactly anti-corruption treaties differ in their coverage and why.

Where the author’s brevity has served him slightly less well is in answering one of life’s most important, and ruthless, questions: so what? The book’s last chapter, which outlines the implications of the study, focuses in part on anti-corruption treaties as a case study for analysing ‘diffusion’ and exploring ‘comparative regionalism’. While probably titillating for political theorists, these considerations are of limited relevance for readers less well-versed in political science but with an interest in anti-corruption policies.

It is only in the closing pages that the consequences for fighting corruption are explored. Three proposals are briefly outlined, all of them quite similar and, on the face of it, involving greater domestic enforcement of criminal laws against corruption. The first involves action by states against corruption taking place beyond their borders on the basis of laws with extraterritorial application. The second proposal is using international treaties to advocate changes in domestic anti-corruption policies at the state level. Finally, the third approach is to ‘prosecute former and current officials and make every effort to seize their assets’ (166). These suggestions are neither particularly detailed nor follow naturally from the book’s narrative, thus resembling a slightly underwhelming finale of a successful TV series.

This may be partly a consequence of the author’s focus on international organisations rather than their member states. In a section on agency in international organisations, Lohaus cogently explains this choice. But the fact remains that it is at the level of states – not international organisations – that laws are implemented, court hearings held, suspects apprehended and assets seized.

So, improving outcomes in fighting corruption requires an understanding of what makes states tick. Their binding international commitments are but one part of the landscape, alongside domestic laws and political priorities, non-binding international undertakings (such as those given at the London Anti-Corruption Summit) and law enforcement capabilities.

Lohaus is of course aware of this, and by no means starry-eyed about the impact of international organisations. He notes, for instance, that ‘half of the [OECD] member states have never imposed a sanction for foreign bribery’ (165), despite the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention boasting a relatively robust peer review mechanism. Moreover, states too are adept in the game of promulgating laws that they never intend to properly enforce, as summed up in American lawyer Michael Reisman’s faux Latin term ‘lex simulata’ (laws of purely symbolic import that are never truly meant to be enforced), which he used in the late 1970s to describe laws against overseas bribery.

In fact, Lohaus points out in his conclusions that ‘the connection between the transnational and domestic layers’ is key. But that poses the question of how this transmission can be ensured. Developing his theme of ‘illusory giants’ and exploring what makes an effective monitoring mechanism could perhaps be a fruitful line of future enquiry, with case studies drawn not only from the world of anti-corruption but also other areas of law. In short, given the quality of the author’s work, I cannot but feel that it should be a starting point for further analysis, rather than the last word on the subject.


Anton Moiseienko is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Financial Crime & Security Studies at RUSI, a London-based think tank.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

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