Finance and Statecraft Programme

This programme examines the weaponisation of finance as a tool of international statecraft through the lens of evolving threats and cross-sector responses.

Chin Leong Teoh / Alamy Stock Photo

The state-backed use of finance as a vector for exerting deniable malign influence undermines global stability and is a growing threat to democracy. From the weaponisation of corruption and the strategic use of disinformation and cyber attacks to the expanding application of sanctions and subsequent evasion tactics, malign actors continue to test the line between peace and war.

While many governments have begun to acknowledge the role of finance in their national security, the response to this global threat is unclear. And discussions of economic statecraft all too often fail to deep-dive into the financial dimension.

CFCS’s Finance and Statecraft Programme seeks to fill the gap by engaging with both the public and private sectors to establish a shared picture of the threats and identify actionable and cohesive responses.

Chin Leong Teoh / Alamy Stock Photo

Key focus areas:


Sanctions are now the preferred policy instrument to tackle a range of international security threats. However, there is a growing disconnect between their application and implementation, which is contributing to decreased effectiveness and an increase in unintended impacts. RUSI’s research on sanctions aims to enable policymakers and the private sector to design and implement appropriate, effective and equitable financial and economic sanctions. Our approach is unique and provides much-needed input to a debate that is often conducted in professional silos and dominated by political rhetoric.

In the lead-up to the UK’s exit from the EU, RUSI convened a high-level taskforce to assess questions relating to future UK sanctions policy. Our work also includes research on legislative developments in Washington and Brussels; the state of sanctions implementation across the EU; the use of economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool more broadly; the implementation of country-based sanctions regimes; the role of technology in sanctions evasion; and counterproliferation finance.

The SIFMANet Sanctions Brief

Active Financial Measures

‘Active financial measures’ is a term RUSI developed to describe the strategic use of financial tools or resources to advance a state’s interests. They are deployed by states or by individuals associated with (or who have profited from) corrupt or kleptocratic regimes in order to gain a foothold in democratic societies.

For decades, money linked to those who have profited from corrupt regimes has been invested in property, donated to cultural institutions and political parties, and used to pay the fees of Western lawyers, accountants and PR firms to cleanse the reputations of their clients. Money spent in this way undermines democracy, as it corrodes the integrity of our societies by influencing policy and weakening institutions. It also poses a strategic risk to our national security, as recognised by the UK’s Integrated Review and the US Strategy on Countering Corruption. This area of research aims to identify realistic ways in which democratic systems and open societies can safeguard themselves from the threat of active financial measures.

Counter-State Threats

This cross-disciplinary research explores state-based organised crime, illicit finance and cyber threats to the UK. Although not new, state-led organised crime comes in many and often hybrid organisational forms, bridging targeted intellectual property theft, state-led cyber operations and more. For example, as noted in the UK’s latest Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, ‘The distinction between nation states and criminal groups in terms of cyber-crime is becoming frequently more blurred’. Russia is just one state emulating approaches used by cybercriminals as it blurs the line between state and non-state activity in cyberspace.

As the Integrated Review notes, the UK ‘must improve [its] ability – and that of [its] allies and partners – to detect, understand, attribute and act in response to the spectrum of state threats’ it faces. It is to this mission that RUSI’s research and activities intends to contribute.


Virtual assets have risen in popularity and states are increasingly eyeing Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) as the next evolution in finance and currency exchange. While these emerging technologies have the potential to disrupt the status quo and improve financial inclusion, there remain uncharted and unknown risks of exploitation by illicit actors and adversary states.

This research stream seeks to understand the political, economic and technological challenges related to the regulation and monitoring of virtual assets, as well as the geopolitical and geo-economic implications of wide-scale adoption of CBDCs.


Access projects related to this programme of work.

RUSI State Threats Taskforce (STT)

Taskforce on a Transatlantic Response to Illicit Finance

European Sanctions and Illicit Finance Monitoring and Analysis Network (Eur...

Sanctions Taskforce

CPF Technical Assistance Programme