Security Sector Reform: time for a strategic assessment (1/3)

 Is the European Union a real actor in SSR operations?

In the two following weeks we will publish three posts that show different dimensions of the issues related to security sector reform (SSR). These posts are based on three presentations in different arenas and build on the work the author completed for Ifri on this subject. If you want to dig deeper, these two papers (in French) might be of interest for you: one on SSR in general (as a bureaucratic or strategic process) or another specifically on Côte d’Ivoire.

Until now the European Union External Affairs Service and the EU Commission had differing concepts for the Security Sector Reform (SSR). Under the impulsion of Federica Mogherini, the two EU institutions are currently reviewing their SSR documents so as to devise a common strategy in that respect. Can the EU play a greater role in the security sector reform? What are the lessons to be learned from past EU-sponsored SSR missions?

The feeling today regarding SSR missions in Europe is mostly one of caution. The results are not as good as one could have expected 15 years ago, when the concept was developed by the British government, the OECD and the EU. Three main problems can explain the failures and successes of these experiences.

Brigadier General Antonio Maggi, the Commander of the European Union Training Mission in Somali (EUTM) hands over a certificate of completion to one of the Somalia National Army soldiers who completed a three months training in military intelligence and Non-Commissioned Officers' course on 25 March 2015. AMISOM Photo / Raymond Baguma

Brigadier General Antonio Maggi, the Commander of the EUTM in Somali hands over a certificate of completion to one of the Somalia National Army soldiers who completed a three months training in military intelligence and Non-Commissioned Officers’ course on 25 March 2015. Photo Raymond Baguma

Examples of the gap between ambitious objectives and limited results

The concept of SSR has been promoted as an ambitious process, capable of bringing back peace, stability and democracy to the post-conflict countries, while allowing international peacekeeping forces to redeploy quickly. Reformed security forces were to be less corrupt, more respectful of human rights and of political neutrality. Here are some examples showing the gap between the expected results and where we are now.

SSR was either a failure, like in the Central African Republic (CAR), where efforts in 2008 by a European Commission and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) mission to do SSR stopped before the latter really started (see for example: here OR here). The case is similar in Guinea Bissau (with EU SSR), just like in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which remains a mess (as shown by the Congolese battalion thrown away from the UN mission in CAR). In other places, if not a failure, SSR has been a quite unsatisfactory process, as in Mali where EUTM and EUCAP did certainly improve the situation of the security forces, as well as their efficiency and respect for human rights, but could not change the strategic balance or contribute to the political settlement of the political crisis which remains unresolved. At last some cases are promising but still fragile, like in Côte d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone (see post 3/3).

Three common problems

Peacemeal operations. A typical problem of SSR missions is that there is often only one part of the security sector that is targeted, without coordination with the rest of it; and even that institution’s reform remains of limited scope. For example, while there is an obvious need for a comprehensive SSR in the CAR, the EU Military Advisory Mission (EUMAM RCA) focuses only on the military side, and more precisely on the ministry of Defense and the military headquarters. The mission will not engage in operational training nor in equipment support, even if the CAR Army is in terrible shape. While the SSR concept originally concentrated on the importance of implementing a “comprehensive approach”, de facto SSR is about silo thinking.

Lack of political leadership from local governments that engage in SSR is often a problem (Kabila in the DRC & Bozize in the CAR are examples of lack of ownership; Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone may be considered examples of ownership). To be sure, lack of political leadership from the EU is also an issue, as shown in the difficulty of engaging the EU in the CAR, in spite of strong pressure from the French. This raises the question: “When nobody wants to go, isn’t it better not to go at all?”

There are absurd and sometimes dangerous notions about what a “good security sector” and what a “bad security reform” are. Of course, we all know that militaries sometimes do coups and do not always respect human rights. But, hey, that is exactly the reason why SSR is needed! We should not focus on the police only because some European regulations forbid the use of the Commission’s funding to equip the military. Because doing so could make the situation even worse.

What else could be done, and how?

The EU can say NO. SSR is expensive and dangerous. Always. When the situation is not ripe, when intervening is more dangerous than not getting involved, it is better for the EU not to go. But it should be based on the knowledge of the country and a strategic calculus and not on problems related to budget, force generation, limited strategic interest for the country or ideological principles about supporting a military force.

When the EU does decide to go, there are 3 principles that one should remember.

Think global, act local. The OECD papers on SSR had their flaws but also quite brilliant ideas. They recommended all SSR should start by an audit and a strategic planning for action that takes into account global dimensions of the security sector. Having such a comprehensive approach then allows identifying measures having a leverage effect. The EU cannot do everything in SSR but it can position itself to have a strategic effect, even with limited means. To do that, the EU needs to keep involved in the local arena and cooperate with the institution in charge of coordinating the SSR process in the field, like the National Security Council in Côte d’Ivoire. And it should get involved in the sector that is more likely to make a difference, considering the local needs, “who does what”, and the EU added value.

The EU is never alone. SSR coordination is complicated and often feels like “herding cats”. The EU could play a useful role in making sure other donors are involved in a synergetic and positive process to increase local ownership, efficiency and promotion of European values (democracy, human rights). This coordination role could be a central one for the EU.

SSR is not about ideology, but about what works best for a given country. It is important for the EU to think strategically and not bureaucratically about its involvement in SSR and accept that sometimes it should support a “Costa Rican option” for the country where it intervenes (meaning the absence of an army) while it should heavily support the army in a different state. Of course, development donors do not like armies – but that is the very reason why SSR was developed.

Can the EU play a greater role in SSR? Yes, of course. Should it play a greater role? Yes, but if the EU wants to reduce the risks inherent to SSR, it needs to learn the lessons from its past failures: think global, act local, work at herding the cats and avoid ideology and bureaucracy to be a real strategic actor.

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