In recent years international organisations and development agencies have become aware that development and peace processes cannot be effective or take place in situations of threat, social disorder or violence. They have thus focussed on Security Sector Reform (SSR) as an integral part of third party intervention. This issue of the Berghof Dialogue Series contains contributions from six authors. It examines the arguments for engagement with the security sector and provides an analysis of the dilemmas that arise and suggestions for how they might be overcome.
The lead paper by Herbert Wulf describes the historical development of thinking about SSR. It acknowledges past scepticism in the development community but also notes the reorientation required of the conflict resolution and development communities to engage with the issue. He offers a typology of different states’ capacities and commitment to reform and suggests that varied approaches are required.
The other articles offer the following responses:
- Laurie Nathan and Najib Azca consider what is often referred to as South Africa’s successful process of conflict transformation and SSR. Failure does not always indicate lack of political will, though finding a way to reconcile different agendas of groups is a political, not technical process. They argue that in Indonesia community tensions have led to conflict perpetuating and the power-based model of social cohesion being maintained. Thus these tensions have worked against SSR.
- Nicole Ball offers the security sector institutional assessment tool as a way to analyse what kind of reforms are both necessary and feasible. This focuses on the state’s role in the security sector and indicates the essentially political nature of SSR. For example, the prospects for reform are particularly poor in authoritarian states.
- Marina Caparini notes that SSR is rarely achieved in practice, arguing that it requires a holistic approach with inter-agency cooperation. However, interagency rivalry is often more evident.
- Vanessa Farr argues that the weakest sections of society are often acutely aware of issues that are normally overlooked in SSR. Yet it is insufficient to merely listen to their perspectives. Rather, they need some form of leverage to ensure that their concerns are incorporated into any SSR programme.
The authors offer the following recommendations for those working in conflict transformation:
- When creating new structures and systems, what to do about past abuses of human rights under the old regime is unclear. Those implicated may impede such processes unless granted immunity, but this is generally unsatisfactory.
- The existence of non-formal military units often makes reform more difficult, but there may be scope for disarmament and demobilisation or integration into state security services.
- Clarity is important given that much is done under the label of SSR yet falls far short of the mark. For example, in the name of major or perceived security challenges, such as the war on terror, compromises are being made in tolerating human rights abuses and militarisation.
- Unless there is an informed public debate where the individual can consider what they require from the security sector and ensure that those concerns have priority, the dominant culture will reflect a militarist mindset. This is where the conflict transformation community can make an important contribution in areas such as systems of civil oversight of the security services, and raising awareness of human rights issues among military personnel.