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Q&A with future Defence and Security Programme Director, Katherine Dixon

Written by Leah Wawro on Monday, 2 February 2015

We’re delighted that Katherine Dixon will be joining us as our new Programme Director in the spring. We sat down with her to discuss her new role and her vision for the Defence and Security Programme in the years ahead.


We’re delighted that Katherine Dixon will be joining us as our new Programme Director in the spring. We sat down with her to discuss her new role and her vision for the Defence and Security Programme in the years ahead.

What drew you to the position?

Moving to Transparency International feels like a natural step. 

The tendency in foreign policy circles is to view corruption as an unfortunate by-product of a failing or undemocratic state – more a symptom than a root cause of instability. TI’s work forced me to look at the big foreign policy challenges I’d worked on in government through an entirely different lens.  

Corruption distorts the motivations of those who hold power. And when governments cease to act in the interests of those they pretend to serve it’s easy to understand how people become drawn to those outside the system who do listen and do seem to care – however radical the ideology. This of course has been the story of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of ISIS in Iraq. But it’s also the underlying cause of the revolutions in Ukraine, the Arab Spring, and why the Chinese leadership is looking so understandably nervous.

Do you have any priorities for when you take the reins at the DSP?

There’s a huge amount to build on.  I’d definitely like to see the Defence and Security Programme become the leading centre of excellence for building anti-corruption systems into the defence and security establishments of post conflict states.

But corruption in the defence and security institutions affects more than just internal stability.   Governments which are accountable to their citizens and motivated in the national interest are far more likely to generate predictable and cooperative relations with their neighbours and are far likely more to contribute to the development of a just and stable international system. So I think the next natural step is to use the TI-DSP Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index to apply a little more pressure on some developed and emerging economies to raise standards.  

You’ve moved from a position in government to a civil society organisation- a big change. What do you think will be the biggest challenge…and/or what are you looking forward to?

Clearly I’ll need to get used to influencing from outside the room.

But it’s also liberating to escape the endless crises that hit the Foreign Secretary’s desk.  I’m looking forward to having a little more autonomy the freedom to focus on longer term challenges, and to rediscovering my own voice.

You have a background in counter-proliferation. Do you see a link between counter-proliferation and anti-corruption work?

Definitely.  International arms sales funded by the proceeds of corruption, have helped many a shady regime maintain a grip of power. And TI’s Defence and Security Programme can take no small credit for ensuring this issue has been recognised in the International Arms Trade Treaty. 

Conversely most cases of nuclear proliferation over the last 40 or 50 years have involved some sort of corruption. It’s probably fair say that corruption is, by definition, a necessary component in the illicit transfer of sensitive technology.

TI as a movement has been exploring a more assertive approach including a campaign to Unmask the Corrupt, while balancing this with our traditional approach of engaging with governments and companies.  Do you think there might be merit in adopting this approach into our defence & security programme?

Yes – though it depends what we’re trying to achieve. Where developed states are failing to take serious action to root out corruption from within their defence and security establishments civil society has a vital role in ensuring governments are held to account. But this kind of approach is less relevant when we’re working alongside aid programmes to build capacity in third countries.

You’re a woman in a leadership position in a field (defence & security) often dominated by men. Do you have any thoughts on how women can succeed in leadership positions and be supported by their organisations?

For me leadership involves some combination of good ideas or vision and the ability to inspire confidence. Some people in this world do seem to have a distinct head start when it comes to the second part of the equation. They just walk into the room without appearing to question for one moment their right to be there, whether people will listen to them or take what they have to say seriously.

I’ve certainly never felt that way.  But the one thing that’s always stopped this from really mattering is that I’ve always ended up caring so much about whatever I’m dedicating my time to that others’ biases towards me conscious or otherwise, hardly seem relevant. I just end up completely focussed on what I’m trying to achieve or persuade someone of. So I think the answer for me has always been to be very serious about what I’m doing. 

Do you think it’s possible to discuss corruption with regimes in countries where there is a high prevalence of corruption?

Yes.  I’m fundamentally an optimist about human nature.  I’m sure for some people it can be just as frustrating and soul destroying working within a corrupt system as it is for those observing from the outside. Many would-be reformers can see the injustices but feel powerless to effect change. They might face a choice: compromise their integrity in the hope of rising to a position of influence, or keep their integrity but remain powerless. So the challenge has to be finding the right people at the right time, to understand the unique system of constraints in which they are operating and to support these individuals to take the often brave and long path towards reform. 

What kind of impact do you think that a relatively small NGO can have on such a difficult problem?

Transparency International’s record speaks for itself – a small group of highly capable and motivated individuals have placed corruption squarely on the global political agenda. TI has created internationally recognised indices set international standards, and pushed many national governments into enacting some pretty bold legislation.  As policy makers become increasingly trapped in the 24hr news cycle, a relatively small NGO with talented people, and which remains focussed in what it does, seems like the very best place to have impact.

 

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Leah Wawro

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