Shifting norms: development policy and the role of security sector reform in advancing human security.

Author:Riley, John
Position::P. 147-171 - Report


Security Sector Reform (SSR) is a technical model guides practitioners' efforts to transform states' security services into institutions which can face challenges "in a manner that is consistent with democratic norms, and sound principles of governance and the rule of law." (1) Given that SSR is a highly specialized development model, it is not surprising that it has received virtually no attention from academics. One of this article's purposes is to address this gap.

There are at least two reasons why international relations scholars ought to care about SSR. First, SSR was a seminal part of the West's strategy to combat terrorism and provide development assistance. Between 2005 and 2012, the Organization of Economic and Co-operation and Development-Development Assistance Committee (OECDDAC) committed over $3 billion to SSR projects. (2) The United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), OECD, and virtually every western donor state, including the United States, officially endorsed the SSR model. (3) As Andrew Rathmel observed, SSR was the "central plank" in the coalitions' stabilization and reconstruction efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (4) The international community explicitly followed the SSR model as they played the role of midwife to the birth of South Sudan. (5) Consequently, SSR's successes and failures have had tremendous implications for the world's security. To be clear though, the SSR model is hardly beyond reproach. Civil wars in South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq have cast considerable doubt on the future utility of the SSR model. Rather, the point being made here is that SSR represented a radical break in the western development and security communities approach to nation-state building and post conflict reconstruction. Setting aside the future of SSR, the Western Development Community's (WDC) adoption of SSR at the turn of the twenty first century was an issue of high policy importance.

Second, SSR represents much more than just another development model. SSR is a novel approach to development insofar as it adopts a holistic strategy. It is the result of a fundamental change in how donors and international development actors engage the security sectors of weak states. As reviewed below, a normative shift from a state-centric to a human-centric conception of security occurred in the 1990s. Commitment to this new norm, however, would mean little unless the norm was somehow mapped onto critical actors' approaches to development. SSR provided the diagram. Perceived success of SSR in Sierra Leone in the 2000s amplified the growing recognition that the traditional train and equip development model was inefficient and inconsistent with a holistic approach to security. Seeking to capitalise on perceived successes in Sierra Leone, organisations such as the OECD, EU, and the UN formalised the SSR model because it came to be seen as a viable strategy to advance the human-security norm in developing countries. Non-governmental organizations and think tanks committed to the human security norm produced a considerable number of working and policy papers that helped craft, formalize, and disseminate SSR programs.

Put differently, the SSR model was adopted because it advanced an ideational outlook. As such, SSR is an articulation of the way central actors in international relations understood what constitutes an appropriate relationship between a government and its citizens. However, the rise of SSR was not simply a story of western political advisers teaching governments how to think about their security. Questions about a state's security involve fundamental issues about material capabilities and the ability to maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In the precarious world in which post-conflict governments reside and most SSR takes place, security remains the paramount issue. SSR requires governments to place the security and well-being of their citizens on par with the need to maintain the territorial security of their state. Often these reforms recommend that that the government dramatically downsize the military and demobilise the same security services that ushered a regime to power. Not surprisingly, governments receiving SSR assistance can come to see themselves as targets of western reforms that will weaken their ability to govern effectively. As one interviewee at the forefront of the development community put it, "SSR is an effort in social engineering." (6) Consequently, SSR offers international relations scholars a view of international norm emergence, acceptance, and institutionalisation.

This paper seeks to explain the development and implementation of SSR and unfolds in the followings steps. After reviewing the set of policies known cumulatively as SSR, theoretical expectations are specified. Realist and liberal explanations for the development of SSR are specified and are contrasted against a constructivist approach to the issue. In particular, Finnemore and Sikkink work on the norm life cycle is reviewed. The findings section examines the introduction of holistic development in the British Department for International Development (DFID) and the emergence of a SSR model in post-civil war Sierra Leone. Particular attention is paid to the OECD, EU, and UN. The final section discusses the role of power, societal pressures, and ideas in the adoption of SSR.

Security Sector Reform

The concept of SSR, also commonly referred to as "Security System Reform," is most comprehensively described in the OECD Handbook on Security System Reform. It argues that "for [states] to escape from a downward spiral wherein insecurity, criminalization and underdevelopment are mutually reinforcing, socio-economic and security dimensions must be tackled simultaneously." It encompasses traditional security actors, oversight bodies, justice, law enforcement institutions, and non-statutory security forces... as well as civil society. (7) SSR is often referred to as a "holistic approach" to development. (8) However, it is not simply the scope of the SSR approach, but the goals of the program that make it remarkable.

Albrecht and Jackson describe SSR as designed to reach four objectives: effective governance, oversight and accountability in the security sector; improved delivery of security and justice services; development of local leadership and ownership of the reform process; and sustainability of justice and security service delivery. (9) Taken together, these four objectives constitute a liberal approach to statebuilding. (10)

In contrast to its audacious goals, SSR is often considered (or even sold as) a mechanical, technical, and managerial process and it is this technical approach that obscures what at its core is a highly political process. (11) In practice, SSR is carried out by teams of practitioners and advisors who, frequently at the national level, reform constitutions, reprioritize budgets, draft strategic development plans, and in post-conflict environments, demobilize and reintegrate soldiers and former rebels. Police forces and legal systems are reformed, and educational and economic initiatives introduced, all under the overarching belief that the WDC can influence a country's transformation into a democracy with respect for the basic rights of its citizenry.

The novelty of the SSR approach becomes especially apparent when compared to the previous train and equip model at the security-development nexus, which sought to stabilize the government through the transfer of arms and training of its military. (12) The government's track-record often mattered little, and aid was largely calculated in-terms of geo-strategic interests. (13) Human rights, central to SSR, were of tertiary importance in the train and equip approach.

In summary, SSR represents a seminal change in the WDC's approach to development, reflecting the idea of human security at the policy level. Considering SSR and its aim to transform weak states into more stable, transparent, and democratic regimes, it is clear that the approach is attempting to move beyond traditional conceptions of state security and recast the concept of security.

Why were SSR policies adopted, and how did the shift towards human security in development come about? These questions cannot be answered simply by pointing towards SSR as an efficacious set of policies; In contrast, the startling lack of success in stabilizing and improving the human rights records of some countries in which donors most committedly engaged in SSR underpins the case for more...

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