Promoting peace and democracy through security sector reform
Since the late 1990s, security sector reform (SSR) has emerged as a principal activity for promoting peace and stability. The SSR concept has a four-fold heritage:
- the traditional civil-military relations approach, developed in the 1970s, focused on the need for armed forces to be supervised by civilian authorities
- the democratic control approach, developed in the late 1980s, stressed the importance of going beyond civilian control to focus more broadly on democratic control, transparency and accountability mechanisms
- the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s OSCE approach, and the adoption of the 1994 ‘Code of Conduct’, which expanded the democratic control approach to non-military security forces such as police and paramilitary forces, and intelligence services
- a people-centred human security perspective, introduced in the 1990s, which established links between the security system and society-at-large, focusing on threats to individuals’ socio-economic and political conditions, and on communal and personal safety.
Experts from academic centres, think tanks, international organisations, governments, advocacy groups and non-governmental organisations have converged to consider the role of security forces in enforcing state and human security. By supporting these networks, the UK has played a leading role in formalising the SSR concept, which was officially endorsed by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in 1997.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) has adopted guidelines and political and operational principles relating to SSR. In its approach, SSR seeks to increase security forces’ abilities to meet a range of security needs, consistent with democratic norms and governance, transparency and legal principles. SSR extends beyond the narrow focus of security assistance on defence, intelligence and policing. Instead, it adopts a comprehensive and coordinated approach to reforming various sectors of the security system: defence, police, justice, parliamentary and public security oversight; transparency in defence budgets; and respect for human rights in the exercise of functions.
Accordingly, the overall purposes of the SSR concept include:
- enforcing both state and human security
- improving armed and security forces’ efficiency by reinforcing their professionalism and ethics
- promoting democratic governance of the security sector, by supporting the institutions responsible for supervising security institutions (including parliaments, independent institutions such as ombudsmen, the media, auditors and civil society)
- developing a holistic, comprehensive approach to SSR by coordinating reforms – at national and international levels
- encouraging partner country ownership.
SSR is often criticised for being an ideal standard rather than an operational concept. It is also often seen to be primarily donor-driven. The most significant reason for donor agencies to engage in SSR is the prospect of reducing conflicts and its potential to reduce poverty. Consequently, donors’ support to SSR processes has been focused on post-conflict environments. In recipient countries, operational challenges include the financial cost of reform, lack of donor coordination and coherence, difficulties in evaluating SSR, and lack of capacity and expertise.
The integration of development actors in the security debate has also led to disagreements due to conflicting agendas. Medhane Tadesse’s article draws attention to the pivotal role played by non-African actors such as the United States African Command (AFRICOM), through which the USA is trying to push its anti-terrorism agenda. European actors, including the European Union and the UK, with less controversial agendas, are also major stakeholders of SSR processes on the African continent.
Yet, other articles in this issue of insights demonstrate that, far from being exclusively driven by international stakeholders, security reform processes have been initiated and framed in many Southern countries, without the SSR label and without any external intervention. The articles also show that, far from being a concept exclusively focused on post-conflict environments, SSR has also been implemented in stable environments, including non-democratic ones.
This insights illustrates a diversity of political terrains and unevenness in progress between and within regions, and between states and their security sectors. In this respect SSR has resulted very much in mixed approaches and outcomes. Africa is often considered the continent where SSR is most applicable. However, experiences across the continent vary. As Gavin Cawthra highlights, South Africa has been a pioneer of security sector reform and is a unique example of an indigenously driven process. In Zimbabwe, however, the police and military forces provide strong support to Robert Mugabe’s regime, whilst the outcomes of the SSR process in the Democratic Republic of Congo are uncertain. The recent seizure of power by the military – or with their complicity – in several countries (Mauritania, Guinea and Madagascar and, to a lesser extent, Niger) is dramatic evidence of the lack of improvement in security governance in Francophone Africa. Yet, as Boubacar N’Diaye shows, the situation is very complex and some processes do result in more professional and accountable security forces.
Some articles illustrate the ambiguity of security reforms undertaken by some elected governments, which are less democratic. In Latin America, which, arguably, has made the most progress in placing security reforms on the agenda, a kind of ‘social authoritarianism’ is emerging. This could endanger the democratisation of the security apparatus, as Lucia Dammert shows.
Herman Kraft demonstrates the dangers associated with the possible fraying of still fragile democratic cultures in South-East Asia, and increasing political apathy in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. His examples suggest that SSR is still primarily associated with the traditional approach of civil-military relations, which values civilian control but does not consider security governance.
Most of the regimes In South Asia (including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) are largely resistant to reform, and are not particularly accountable, as shown by Mallika Joseph.
Salam Kawakibi describes how, in the Middle East, dialogue, coalition-building and mapping of the security sector are good starting points, but real questions remain as to how far these can push the region onto a path of reform, particularly given the countervailing forces in the region (oil and embedded authoritarianism, fundamentalism, terrorism, Palestine, Iranian nuclearisation and so on).
Other actors play an important role in SSR processes. Herman Kraft and Mallika Joseph mention regional organisations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Elsewhere, regional organisations such as the African Union, and sub-regional organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have been increasingly involved in the formalisation of normative SSR doctrines at the regional level.
However, although these organisations have had strong norm-setting roles in some instances, they have not always succeeded in influencing the actions of individual members. The United Nations is also becoming increasingly involved in SSR-related issues and civil society organisations in some countries also play a central role.
In spite of repeated calls for a comprehensive approach to foster democratic governance, SSR processes have, on the whole, tended to focus exclusively on technical aspects of reform. Today, new concepts are emerging, such as security sector governance (SSG) and security sector development (SSD), which are increasingly considered more politically and normatively informative than the SSR concept.
Governance Team, Institute of Development
Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton
BN1 9RE, UK
T +44 1273 915703