Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Thoughts on security sector reform in post-war fragile states

Last week I met with my supervisor-to-be at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) . I will do a 10 week internship within the research cluster FOI Studies in African Security during the second half of the semester. Hopefully I will be able to use my findings from the field research in the CAR not only for my master thesis but also during the internship at FOI. This autumn NAI and FOI will continue their cooperation and arrange a Lecture Series on African Security with focus on Central Africa in which I will be involved, although the CAR is not on the agenda. In addition I will be given the opportunity to use my findings from the field study to write a short report. This report will have a clear policy focus in contrast to the thesis which is theoretically driven with more advanced requirements on scientific method. I think this is a great chance to use the material for two different purposes even if the research questions guiding the studies can and will be closely related.  This way I also have some time to work with the material collected in the CAR at FOI, it is a fantastic opportunity and I am really happy that I am given this chance.  

This week the main task is to formulate a clear research question that can guide my study. As I started to plan this field study in November last year and received funding for it I obviously do have some kind of provisional plan and a preliminary research question. The research question has however changed and will probably do so again during the course of time.  At the moment it is quite diffuse and therefore I need to further work on it while taking into account that the realities on the ground might not “fit” into the theoretical proposition. Basically this means that I have to keep an open mind to whatever explanations and answers I will find once I am out there. Nevertheless the study has to be theoretically motivated and of course connected to previous research. Later today I am meeting with my supervisor at the DPCR in Uppsala to discuss the research design. Below I try to illuminate why SSR is interesting from a peacebuilding perspective, share some of my ideas and give a snap shot of some previous research related to the subject. Here I do not go into discussions about definitions of contested concepts like peace, security etc. although I am aware that I need to take care of this at a later stage. 

Since the end of the 1990’s SSR has been used as a strategy to prevent conflicts and consolidate peace in fragile states emerging from war. In 2005 OECD/DAC published the OECD DAC Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice . This document has served as the basis for most donors’ strategies on SSR even though there are differences in the interpretation. In theory at least SSR takes on a people centered approach to security based on the concept of human security .  The security sector is understood in a broad sense comprising not only core security actors like the military, police and intelligence services but also the judiciary, government ministries, parliament, civil society, media and non-state security forces like militias, vigilantes and rebel groups. 

SSR is often used as a means to promote democratic governance of the state security institutions while also improving these institutions’ capacity to provide security to the population. It is important to differentiate between SSR in post-war contexts, in transitional democracies and in developed countries. As a peace and conflict researcher I focus on SSR in post-war societies which includes a third objective, namely to contribute to the overarching objective of building peace. This illustrates how post-war SSR is conceived of both as a process of democratisation and a method for building peace, encapsulating the idea of peace and democracy as two mutually reinforcing goals. Research shows however that in practice efforts to promote peace and democracy sometimes clash; democratisation can have unwanted effects on peace and vice versa. 

In an article Robert Egnell and Peter Halldén demonstrate how problematic it is to provide technical solutions to complex socio-political processes which often is the case in foreign supported SSR. The Westphalian understanding of the state does not always fit the informal power networks and social realities on the ground. The authors argue (p.45) that increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the armed forces without reforming the political power structures may have serious consequences in terms of human and regional security as the police and military are embedded in the informal network structures in which “big men” struggle for power. Mats Utas and Magnus Jörgel have written an interesting report describing these types of networks in conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the Mano River Basin Area.

This shows how important it is for the international actors to understand existing structures of power when supporting SSR. Failure to do so together with unequal support to capacity building one the one hand (i.e. enhancing the capacity of existing armed forces) and support to democratic governance on the other (i.e. strengthening democratic control of the state security forces) might have undesired outcomes. This legitimacy-efficiency dilemma is crystallised in SSR in post-war fragile states; the only actors (domestic) with capacity to provide security have often committed atrocities during the conflict and are in many cases still connected to the former leaders of the armed group through informal networks. Thus to increase the capacity of those security actors is quite problematic from a legitimacy point of view, particularly so when programmes dealing with accountability and governance are lagging behind. 

This brings me to the rather complicated concept of local ownership. The question of local ownership in SSR; who should design and implement the reforms of the security sector and which actors should be reformed is particularly puzzling in fragile post-war states. It has been described how the state in many cases is a minority provider of security in these contexts where the security forces often are perpetuators of insecurity and injustice. As I mentioned last week foreign supported SSR in fragile post-war states is often state-centric although the state in many cases is unable to deliver security and justice to its population. In such a context it is not, at least not to me, obvious who to work with. 

The decision to involve certain actors and exclude others in the SSR process has important implications for the outcome in cases when security and policing de facto is provided by informal security actors. John Heathershaw and Daniel Lambach points to the fact that actors who actually provide security are often left out of the SSR process. In a report on the role of informal security providers in the SSR process in Liberia Ana Kantor and Mariam Persson describe how already functioning mechanisms for security provision are neglected when informal security actors are excluded from the process. This approach might implicitly violate the principle of local ownership which leads to the question; which locals are we talking about and what are these locals meant to ‘own’? This question and how it relates to SSR has been examined in depth by Timothy Donais et. al.

Hellmüller identifies two ambiguities of the term local ownership with regards to peacebuilding; firstly international actors chose the national elite and not local leaders as their counterparts, secondly the local actors that are involved are only given ownership over a pre-defined process and do not participate in the decision-making process. As for international actors and their support to SSR, research shows that even though donors often emphasize the importance of local ownership, it is often the outsiders’ view of security that determines the character and substance of the SSR process. In an article Barry Ryan  describes how people’s everyday security concerns often diverge from the priorities of the international actors; when social actors are excluded from the SSR process the perceptions of the population are easily overlooked.

As this brief summary shows it is not obvious which locals the concept local ownership refers to. From a peace and conflict perspective I think it would be interesting to look at this issue from a less normative point of view than that of who should be involved. Although the assumption that peace is desirable is highly normative I believe it would be fruitful to examine how the involvement of certain local actors or the exclusion of others affect the SSR process and its ability to contribute to peace. If I break down post-war SSR in two distinct processes; capacity building and democratisation and then look at how it affects peace through local ownership I might be able to identify what mechanisms are at work. It is, as far as I know, unclear how different types of local ownership in post-war SSR affects the larger process of peacebuilding. It might be of interest to donors and other international actors to understand how different types of local ownership shape and influence SSR processes and ultimately the chances for lasting peace. If the aim of SSR in post-war societies is to build peace it is important to understand how local actors can contribute to this process and what possible dilemmas might emerge.  

I hope to be able to come up with an interesting and clear research question out of this rather abstract discussion. In those situations of confusion it is great to have an experienced and competent professor to turn to; he can hopefully help me to formulate something concrete out of this. We’ll see where I end up in a couple of days.  

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