Security Sector Reform: time for a strategic assessment (2/3)

SSR & unexpected consequences

In the two following weeks we will publish three posts that show different dimensions of 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 Ivory Coast.

Security Sector Reform

Sgt. 1st Class Grady Hyatt (kneeling) assists in training Republic of Sierra Leone Soldiers in the use of the Romanian 81/82 millimeter mortar. Hyatt works with a British Army counterpart (foreground adusting motar tube) from the Unitied Kingdom’s International Military Assistance Training Team known as IMATT.

I was asked what the unexpected consequences of SSR are. The answer is simple. There are no unexpected consequences of SSR. Let me explain.When you know that fire burns and you burn yourself by putting your finger in the fire, this is not a surprise, this is not unexpected. It’s just the proof that:

  1. Either you forgot fire does burn. Indeed, we have been doing SSR since the 1990s. Yet we burn ourselves over and over and do the same mistakes over and over because we never learn.
  2. Or you’re a very courageous fireman who wants to save someone. Indeed SSR, like fire, is dangerous, bloody, and tough, but we need firemen to do the job or the house will burn and we, the neighbors, will be next.
  3. Or you’re a practical and scientific-minded man and you want to try new ways to deal with the fire so that we can use it to warm and secure us. Indeed, the problem is not the fire itself or SSR itself but how we deal with it. Devising new ways to do SSR or rather learning the lessons we gather allow us to master the fire and the SSR and avoid unexpected consequences in the future.

What’s often seen as unexpected results from SSR but are in fact not so unexpected

Coups: Security sector reform often aims at transforming civil-military relations, as reformers know that they are problematic. This also means that coups in the reformed countries are not surprising and can be expected, even if they show that SSR was powerless in transforming sufficiently those civil-military relations. SSR can even contribute to destabilize civil-military relations as transformation takes place. In Sierra Leone in 1997, a coup took place after a British and American military cooperation program revealed the corruption of the military hierarchy.In Burundi,following a coup attempt, Netherlands stopped its SSR program there. But this was not unexpected by the Dutch, as two years before, they were already thinking of revising their SSR or even leaving. I don’t even need to mention Guinea Bissau, where the EU also stopped its SSR after a coup in April 2012.

Corruption: SSR often aims at fighting corruption within the security sector but has had limited success. Is it unexpected? Even in Sierra Leone, which is often promoted as a SSR success story (see part 3/3) and where the UK really invested in fighting corruption, problems of corruption persisted and there has been rumors of politicization of the security institutions. However, why should the return to old patronage practices, in a society where they remain the stronger insurance policy,come as a surprise?

Fluctuating political will in favor of reform: In Ivory Coast,while SSR should ideally imply more cohesion and ethnic balance within the armed forces,the Army is controlled by the former rebels, all coming from the North. This is, however, understandable when one knows that those same rebels helped the President in 2011 totake control of the country after he was elected in 2010. And today those ex-rebels are key actors to control the frontier and to stop jihadists in Grand Bassam. Even in a country where the President showed a strong will to promote SSR, allowing for a formal SSR that is perfect on paper, one should not expect him to target and reform an institution that more or less does the job.In Democratic Republic of Congo, there have been lots of SSR efforts, lots of partners, but little done. This is partly due to the lack of political will of the President, which is quite understandable. Indeed the President knows the Army is a bigger threat to his power than controlling the East. He needs to control the Army, even if it requires weakening it, including by having generals that cannot read a map and letting armed forces loot the population. Andhe will make sure that he has his men in control, including by parallel hierarchies. And this requires resisting an externally-driven SSR that tries to do the contrary. Why is this unexpected?

How to avoid “unexpected” results in the future?

It is all about how to handle fire to avoid surprise: know the fire, adapt to it and its timing, and keep focused.

Intelligence-led SSR. Based on the example I just gave, you surely noticed that there is no unexpected results with SSR if one understands 3 things: 1/ SSR; 2/ the country where it takes place and its strategic and bureaucratic environment; 3/ the donors. Like prevention of conflict or protection of civilians, SSR is all about early warning, intelligence, analysis, planning and intelligence-led action.

Adaptation: Be flexible and have the right people in the field to deal with all players. A EU SSR pilot in country should be visiting prisons, talking to judges, observing military training, and chatting with the President about how well his institutions are doing. Military cooperation that works is a network that facilitates communications between local institutions that do not talk to each other. For example, an African officer explained me that he asked “his” French Army advisor to talk to the Gendarmerie French advisor who talked to the local gendarmerie to organize something between the localsArmy and Gendarmerie. The EU may not need to fund the complete network to irrigate the security sector but it should make sure it connects all networks together to find local solutions to local problems.

Not be arrogant: Antoine Glaser published a book on French arrogance in Africa, but I remember a Sierra Leonean telling me of a British general in charge of the International Military Advisory Teamin Sierra Leone who was so contemptuous that no Sierra Leonan ever wanted to tell him anything. And of course this made his work a failure.People matter: the EU has no solutions to bring to fragile states, it only has resources, including human.

Strategic endurance: All SSR is about staying focused, getting ready and keeping trying, by looking for the right timing. Guinea Conakry is a very interesting example. I’m not a specialist of this country but according to a Guinean officer who knew very well the SSR in his country, it all started with DaddisCamara. Then, the next transitional president built the ground for the SSR to take place. So, when Alpha Condé was elected the foundation had been laid for real reform to take place. Who would have bet on Daddis at the time? No one. It’s never too early or too late to test the SSR ground. Ownership takes time to build from within. And of course, Guinea Conakry still has progress to do. On the contrary,when built from outside ownership does not last. And when such limited windows of opportunity do open it’s important to be quick and build momentum with concrete results and things to deliver that the politicians can show as their SSR successes.

Of course the EU support to SSR can jeopardize the stability and the sovereignty of the host country. SSR always results in tensions within the governance of a country and of the civil-military relations, but well, post-conflict also does, makes winners and losers, and still we do not want to avoid stopping war. Therefore, to mitigate risks, one should take the following measures: knowledge/intelligence, adaptation and strategic endurance.

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